Being a fan of endurance running, speed has never really been my primary focus (at least not since I quit competition running at the age of 16). Still, it sucks being stuck in the slow lane. And while I’m usually not burdened by a need to compete, especially not during trail runs, it’s always nice to see some kind of improvement when running specific distances or races.
Increasing your endurance is easy: just run a little bit longer every day. Increasing your speed seems to be a harder nut to crack, but there are a few simple ways to do it. Simple, however, doesn’t equal easy, so prepare to sweat! Also, bear in mind that I’m not a licensed coach. I basically just run a lot.
Become a catwalk model
Probably the easiest way in effort, but the hardest way to learn, is to improve your posture while running. Running up straight increases the length of your stride and hence your running speed. Try to mind & correct your posture every few minutes until it becomes an automatism.
Become A’nold Schwarzenegger
Another way to prolong your stride is to get more strength. Do some squats or put a treadmill at max incline and walk half an hour or so. Feel those quadriceps and calves burn. Give them some rest and let super-compensation do the rest of the work.
Of course, most speed can be gained to speed-oriented training sessions. And those come in all forms & intensities, so it’s up to you. Just make sure to don’t overdo the high intensity ones and allow your body enough time to recover.
Probably the most fun way to increase your speed, fartlek or speed play has you increase your speed in a playful way. In theory, a fartlek workout is just an endurance run with some faster, close to race pace, intervals in the middle. What and how many of these you do, and how much time you leave in between, is totally up to you.
I find myself doing this more or less automatically when I’m running forests I know. It’s so much fun to speed over narrow winding trails that I hardly notice the effort I’m putting in. Try squeezing in 5 times 1 minute at your 5k pace with a minute in between. Don’t get held hostage by a scheme though: If you’re having a great day, leave less time in between, make the last one a bit longer or add an extra interval. If things aren’t going as awesome as you’d like, take some more rest in between. Just don’t go too easy on yourself.
Rather simple: after a warmup of about 10 minutes, speed up for about half an hour. The pace should not feel comfortable and talking should be close to impossible. It’s not race speed, but it’s close. Don’t forget another 10 minutes cool down at the end.
This is the real deal! After a warm up, you’re going to alternate between fast runs & short periods of recovery. Within interval, there’s an endless list of possibilities. You can do relatively long intervals (think 1k at 5k race speed, 2 minutes rest and then repeat 3 times) which will make you more resistant to fatigue during high-speed running, short ones (think 10 times 150m at 1k speed or faster with 100m in between or 6 times 400m at that with 1 min in between if you’re feeling ambitious) which will increase your pure speed and at the same time your recovery speed, pyramids (100m fast, 100m slow, 200m fast, 200m slow, 400m fast, 400m slow, 800m fast, 400m slow, 400m fast, 200m slow, 200m fast, 100m slow, 100m fast. Then take 5 minutes to recover and go at it again. You can make the pyramid “steeper” if you’re having a good day), or basically any variation on this.
The basic rule in interval sessions is that the time you take in between your fast parts is too short to fully recover. So while the first few repeats might go reasonably smooth, you’re going to be (or should be) deep in the red zone by the time you finish. So don’t do this session too often. As far as I know even pros don’t do this more than once a week.