How can I improve my running speed?

I am a slow runner. In fact, last week I was running and I was passed by a glacier. How can I improve my speed?

    Photo: Jan Rillich via Flickr

Biomechanists have long known that there are two ways to improve running speed. Increase your stride length and increase your stride frequency. It makes sense, right? But how can you do that? Both require increased flexibility and sport-specific strength, as well as improved neuromuscular efficiency. Fortunately, you can work on these things with a few specific drills. For all of these drills, complete each three to six times. Recovery between each should entail either walking back to the starting point of your drill or one to two minutes easy walking.

Running Strides
These efforts should be anywhere from 50 to 150 meters in length, and can be done after your daily run. The interval should be done as a build-up effort; that is, starting at a low speed, build to near 5K race pace, and then gradually ease off the gas to the finish. You should be focused on maintaining an upright posture, lifting your knees, and executing a proper arm swing.

High Knees
These efforts may be more accurately described as "fast knees." They are short, 20- to 50-meter efforts that require you to lift your thighs parallel to the ground while running, repeatedly, as fast as you can. Horizontal speed is not important with this drill, but vertical speed is paramount.

Power Skips
Although possibly the hardest of the three drills for many people, these are good for specifically improving strength in the ankles and calves. Go back to your childhood and re-learn how to skip. Make it more explosive by attempting to vault as high as possible with each push-off. Your thigh and opposite upper arm should raise parallel to the ground at the same time. These should be most often done in 20 to 50-meter intervals as well.

Incorporating these drills into your running program will increase your running dexterity, strength, and neuromuscular conditioning, and will help you to run faster next year.

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