Working your butt off to increase your pace? You’re not alone. A new multi-university study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, shows that runners have actually gotten faster, on average, in the past decade.
For the study, researchers compared the finish times and ages of 408,296 runners who participated in 10 of the largest 10-K running races in the United States between 2002 and 2011. As the years went by, there were more and more runners crossing the finish line in less than an hour—and the average finish time of the top 10, 100, and 1,000 runners decreased significantly each year.
“There’s been a massive rise in runners who are interested in speed work,” says Brandon T. Vallair, owner of Run for Speed in Dallas. Are you one of them? If so, try to run at least three times per week—and follow one of Vallair’s get-faster tips below during each run. You’ll likely set a new “PR” at your next race!
Incorporate Intervals Into Your Run
It’s tempting to start sprinting as soon as you hit the pavement if your goal is to, well, run faster overall. But actually, it’s better to take a more gradual approach with intervals, says Vallair. His advice: Time yourself doing a couple short intervals at a pace that feels sustainable to you, and then work a few intervals of running faster than that into your next workout. “If it takes you two minutes and 30 seconds to run 400 meters at your current pace, for example, then try to do the same distance in two minutes and 15 seconds—and keep trying until you succeed,” he says. Those 15 seconds might seem like a small improvement, but they go a long way.
Yeah, yeah, they’re terrible. We know. But! They definitely help you get faster over time. To get the hill effect, start one of your treadmill runs with a slow quarter-mile warm-up on a flat surface. Then, run up a small hill at your normal race pace and go slightly faster at the end. After that, run very slowly down that same hill (you can even walk), and repeat four to six times, suggests Vallair. Finally, cool down with another quarter-mile slow run on a flat surface. “Running uphill at a normal pace equates to a much faster pace on the road,” says Vallair.
Go on a Long, Slow Run—But Pick Up the Pace at the End
If you can make a habit of finishing off every long run with a sprint, it’ll become so routine that it’ll be easy to do it during races, too, says Vallair. “You always want to finish strong,” he says. “After all, a strong finish could be the difference between reaching your PR or not.”