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Do you remember running your very first mile? Usually a middle school staple, the mile was often incredibly challenging and seemed more like a never-ending punishment than a celebratory physical milestone. Nevertheless, how intimidating that first mile may have seemed at first, the achievement of meeting the challenge was worth the sweat and tears. Working toward a faster time can be easier when you know how to improve running speed.

If you’re a regular runner and by now have done more than your fair share of 5ks, it might be time to look to your next challenge. The 26.2 miles of a marathon requires time, endurance, stamina, and mental stamina. But with the right training, going from a 5k to a marathon can be your greatest milestone, yet! Follow these basic steps to improve running speed.

Build

One of the most important things to remember when starting out on your first marathon training program is to have a game plan that adds mileage progressively. Much like how you wouldn’t pick up the heaviest weights in the gym your first time in, don’t run your entire marathon the first day out. Consistently building mileage each week along and combining it with few shorter runs can help your body adapt to the new demands you’re putting on it.  

how to improve running speed

Interval Training

When trying to build endurance and speed, break up long runs with interval training exercises like fartlek. Fartlek, or speed play, includes short bursts of high-intensity sprinting with equal, or shorter rest time. Download a Tabata-style app like Tabata Stopwatch Pro or Tabata Timer for HIIT. You can also create your own standardized intervals by alternating one block of sprinting with one block of rest.

Strength Training

Since marathon-training can take anywhere from 12-20 weeks, it’s important to stay injury-free. Work to even out muscular imbalances in your body through regular strength training. Focus on creating a solid core, back muscles, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Improving postural alignment will help keep you from overusing or underusing certain muscle groups that could lead to injury.

Cross Train

Combine the previous two on this list into one to create a productive cross-training session. The purpose of cross-training is to improve your aerobic conditioning, increase your physical strengths, helps prevent injury, and it keeps your workouts from going stale. Implement at least one workout each week that includes an activity like swimming, yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, or tennis.

Rest

Along with scheduling your weekly workouts, make sure to schedule out your rest days. In the excitement of a runner’s high, it can be easy to forget to take some time out to let your muscles recover. Take at least two days a week off during your training.

The key to successfully completing your first marathon-training program that will also increase your speed and distance is balance. Vary your 4-5 weekly workouts with a balance of your runs (advancing in mileage every 1-2 weeks), interval training, cross-training, strength training, and rest. Pace yourself, train hard, and go the distance!