Improving your performance is one of the things that make running enjoyable. However, wanting to increase your capacity is one thing, but knowing when and how to run faster and longer is another.
Like everything worth doing, increasing your pace or mileage will take time and effort. It takes time, dedication and a lot of sweat. However, with the proper preparation and approach, you can see noticeable gains in both your short and long runs. Here’s how to ensure you’re ready for the challenge when it’s time to take your runs to the next level.
Running Faster or Longer: What Comes First?
If you love improving your fitness, you may be keen to increase your speed and mileage simultaneously – the old ‘two birds, one stone’ approach. However, it’s essential to undertake these challenges separately. It would be best if you didn’t attempt to go faster and longer on the same runs, as you’ll be placing too much pressure on your body.
However, if you take these challenges slowly and separately, allowing your body to have adequate rest and recovery between them, you can work towards improving your pace on one run and your mileage on another. This approach will also increase variation, as your slower, longer runs boost your aerobic energy, while your short, fast runs (with breaks) are a great way to boost your anaerobic energy.
Building up your mileage is also a great way to help you run faster, as it gets your body used to running under pressure. So, if you’re considering trying one or the other first, slowly increase how long you can run for first.
Over time, if you approach each of these areas with care and dedication, you will notice that you can run faster and longer. It’s worth working to understand what you can do to improve your capacity for both of these challenges before you start. Here’s how.
Preparing to run faster and longer
Whether you’d like to improve your speed or mileage (or both), you can do a few things that will enhance your capacity and improve your performance. Before embarking on faster or longer runs, spend some time ensuring you have the following elements covered each and every time.
Always warm up and cool down
A proper warm-up and cool-down are essential for every session if you want to improve your running performance. A pre-run warm-up will loosen up your joints, get the blood flowing to your muscles and mentally prepare you. A post-run cool-down will aid recovery, allowing your core temperature to ease and reducing the amount of lactic acid build-up and muscle soreness.
Including both of these with each run will mean your body is primed for both the workout and recovery. Your muscles will also be less likely to harmfully tear or twist while running, reducing the risk of injury.
Make recovery your #1 goal
The best way to build mileage or speed is to recover well. This approach ensures you do what’s best for your body after each run so you are fully prepared for your next one. Tracking your sleep and monitoring your recovery from exercise before planning your next run is a great way to prioritize recovery and boost your capacity to increase mileage or speed slowly.
Other ways to enhance your recovery include monitoring your nutrition (more on this below) and reducing unnecessary stress in your life. Both of these will help aid your ability to be alert and energetic during the day and relax during the evenings so you can sleep better. A daily mindfulness or meditation practice will also help minimize stress and maximize your recovery.
Fuel your runs
When adding to your runs, whether aiming to be faster or longer, you must ensure you have the extra energy to burn. Increasing mileage or speed means increasing your calorie intake. Protein, fibre and carbohydrates are critical for fuelling your runs, so pay attention to what and how much you eat.
Certain foods can also affect how you run, so it’s essential to listen to your stomach if it becomes upset while working out and think about what you have recently eaten. Sugary drinks and fried or spicy foods are obvious no-nos, but you also may be surprised to discover that dairy or high-fibre foods like beans, broccoli and berries may cause stomach pains during your runs.
Include some strength training
If you want to increase your speed or mileage, your body needs to be ready to cope with this. Resistance training will build your capacity for endurance by strengthening your muscles, bones and joints and preventing fatigue. The general rule of thumb is: lift more weights now, run faster and longer later. Of course, you don’t need to join a gym to build muscle – try some easy strength exercises for runners at home.
Even if you’ve been happily running without doing any strength training, the increased pressure of going faster or longer will also mean an increased risk of injury. So, before you even think about upping your runs, make resistance training a part of your weekly workouts. The other benefit is that it’s likely to decrease the energy your runs use. A 2003 study from the University of Alabama, USA, found that trained distance runners improved their running economy by up to 8% from regular strength training.
Focus on your form
Another way to ensure you are ready to up the ante on your runs is to ensure your running form is correct. A 2017 study from Loughborough University, UK, found that a “substantial portion” of the variance in running economy and performance was down to technique. With the proper running technique, you can fight the risk of fatigue and injuries by being efficient with your energy and form.
Two key areas to pay attention to are your posture and your foot strike. Do you mainly run while looking at your feet or up and head? Does your foot strike the ground with your heels first or the front of your foot? Could you change your form that would make it more effective? Pay attention to how your body feels during a run to identify your best form.
Invest in the right shoes
Before you challenge yourself to improve your performance, ensure you have the right gear. A good quality pair of running shoes can make an enormous difference to your running form and economy, improving your capacity to run longer and faster.
If you brought some great running shoes a while back and aren’t sure whether it’s time to replace them, there are some critical signs of ‘shoe death‘ to look out for. If the material is too worn in, there are cracks, or you don’t think your soles are bouncing back like they used to, it’s probably time to replace your running shoes before you start pushing your capacity to do more.
How to run longer
Working your way towards longer runs takes time and dedication. It truly is a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ approach, even though the only person you’re competing against is yourself.
Here are some tips for increasing your mileage:
- If this is your first time running for longer, only increase your distance by 10% each week.
- If you’re returning to longer runs, only increase your distance by 10-15% each week.
- Every fourth week, keep your mileage the same as the previous week to give your capacity a slight rest.
- Never try a longer run on tired, aching legs. Make sure you’re always adequately recovered.
- Work out what motivates you – be it tracking your metrics, listening to a great running playlist or joining a running club.
- Start by doing run/walks to reach your distance goal if you find you can’t run that far at first.
- Stop and do some mid-run stretches if you feel yourself tiring before continuing your run.
How to run faster
Increasing your running pace also takes time but is rewarding. It’s all about giving yourself a variety of challenges so you can improve your capacity for speed in a range of runs.
Here are some tips for increasing your speed:
- Focus on your breathing during faster runs to help ensure your getting the right amount of oxygen. Try to sync your breathing with your steps, such as two steps in and three steps out.
- Try shorter strides by running with shorter steps and landing on the balls on your feet. This style will increase your efficiency and speed.
- Include a drill at the start of your regular runs, doing some light jogging, then a short sprint, and then returning to a jog again.
- Sprinting up a hill and then walking back down is an excellent form of interval training that will build your lower body strength and create a great challenge for improving your time.
- Try a tempo run, where you run slightly faster than your average pace for 5 minutes before dropping back to a jog. Over time you can gradually increase the length of these challenging sections.
How to run faster and longer: conclusions
As you can see, increasing your speed or mileage requires very different focus areas. Trying to manage them both on the same run would not only be contradictory, but it would also place an undue amount of pressure on your body.
Focusing on one area for improvement for a specific run is ideal, and you can always mix them up or focus on your longer runs first before attempting to increase your speed too. Both challenges require you to be in excellent form, so remember first to check the following:
- you are prioritizing your recovery after every run.
- you are eating and hydrating properly
- have good running form and do supportive exercises
- have the right gear for your runs
With all these, you’ll be ready to focus on your improvement and enjoy smashing some goals with your runs!
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.