Building Running Speed

How do you build running speed? You have to run more.

This is pretty much the answer for any question about running. To run further, faster, or longer, you have to run more. There is just more intricacies to building running speed than building running endurance, where the actual answer is just to run more. There are a bunch of ways to build running speed:

  1. Build lower body muscles — sprinting requires power, power requires muscles. Muscles are built fast through lifting.
  2. Speed work — Intervals, fartleks, and tempo-runs; all will work on speed over short distances to build speed for longer distances.
  3. Running uphill — Running intervals uphill will build leg muscle and strength fast for sprinting on flat ground.
  4. Running downhill — influences your stride (lengthening it). I find it rips up my quads so I’m not really going to talk about this.

Out of these three (ignoring the fourth) methods, all of them can be used to build speed as a short- or long-distance runner. However, the first step to running faster is to have a strong mileage base beneath you to work off of. Running high mileage will stress your body, and having it used to the rigors of high-mileage training will ready them to accept the stress of speed on top of a lower-mileage plan. Essentially, you are trading the “effort of distance” for the effort of speed when you begin speed training with a good base, and can therefore avoid injury by having prepared yourself for this new stress.

After you have built a significant mileage base and have begun adding speed to your workouts to prepare for a race or racing season, one can add in speed workouts to introduce faster running. If one is running further, tempo runs which include a warm up and cool down sandwiching a run held at a consistent fast pace can help lower ones natural running pace. This is simply one kind of speed work, one can also add short sprints into their regular run, called a ‘fartlek’ where the speed and intensity of a run is varied throughout. Finally, there are regular interval workouts where a distance is sprinted repeatedly with recovery times or distances inbetween.


In addition to speed workouts, which I’ve already covered, hill workouts work similarly. Find a hill (or a highway on-ramp, I’ve heard people running on those but I do not recommend it.) and conquer it. A quarter- to half-mile hill will work best. Hill work is done similarly to speed work, except hills are involved. I trust that you can do the math here and figure it out. Try 8x.25 mile uphill intervals, timed with the walk down, with the rest interval being equal to the time it took you to get up and down. This can be easily replicated on a treadmill, or even done with a partner AND a treadmill, where one runs up the hill on the treadmill and the other rests, waiting for their turn. If you think that’s a weird idea, Advanced Marathoning is its origin, so take it up with Pfitzinger.

Finally, to build muscle strength through lifting workouts, leg and core workouts are key. Ab exercises are key, including planks, push ups, v-ups (or “suitcases”), etc. Adding resistance to these moves (such as weighted crunches or toe-touches) will increase their impact. Lunges, squats, deadlifts, hamstring curls, and olympic moves such as the clean, when done with proper form, will aid leg strength and increase your sprinting power.

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