If you are just starting out as a runner, then you will probably be keen to improve your performance in terms of both speed and distance as quickly as possible. There are various ways to do this, but here are 3 top tips to get you running faster and farther.
1. Improve your strength.
When someone says that you need to hit the gym and begin working on your strength training to improve your running speed, you could be forgiven for remarking that muscle bound weight lifters are not much in evidence at running events. However, we are not talking about trying to bench press your own weight and then some here.
Speed and endurance when running are both dependent upon what is referred to as your posterior chain of muscles and strengthening these will markedly improve your performance. When referring to your posterior chain, we mean the muscles that run through from your foot up into your lower back and, in particular, include your calves; which are the muscles making up the rear portion of your lower legs, your hamstrings; which are groups of muscles running along the back of your thighs, and your glutes; which make up the major part of your buttocks.
Strengthening these muscle groups does not mean having to spend hours in the gym every day, but requires a good solid workout of between 45 minutes and one hour, 2 or 3 times a week.
2. Improve your breathing.
The human body needs oxygen to function and the harder the body works, the more oxygen it needs. As you exercise your heart beat quickens and the flow of blood around your body is significantly increased. This is vital because, as your muscles are put to work their demand for oxygen increases. For many runners breathing and exertion do not seem to sit well together, and both their speed and endurance are limited by their inability to breath properly. Control the cadence of your breathing however and your speed and endurance will both increase.
Your breathing cadence is simply the ratio of the number of strides you run while inhaling, to the number of strides you take while exhaling. A cadence of 3:3 therefore means that your run three strides as you breath in, and 3 strides as you breath out.
Setting your cadence is something that takes both practice and time but most beginners will find that they have a cadence of either 3:3 or 3:2. For the best results you should aim to achieve a cadence of 2:2.
3. Step up your distance gradually.
Improving both your strength and your breathing will help you to improve your speed, and will also lay the foundation needed for you to run farther. Increasing your distance does however mean pushing through something of a mental barrier, and so this needs to be done slowly and, ideally, with a little bit of friendly encouragement.
If you are currently running 5 miles a day, then do not try to push this up to 10 miles a day over the course of a couple of weeks. Apart from being an unrealistic target, your failure to reach it will dent your confidence more than a little. Set yourself a target of increasing your distance by about 5% each week or, if you are feeling really ambitious, 10% each week. Do not however exceed this figure. This might not seem much of an increase, but you will be surprised at just how quickly your ability to cover distance improves.
Adding distance is much harder than adding speed for most beginners, and so it also helps if you can train with a running partner, so that you can encourage each other.