Whether you are running for fun or competitively it’s nice to know you’re getting better and improving. The good news is that everyone can get better, no matter what you’re shape or size is as our bodies are built to improve. Over the years, coaches and scientists have tested various ways that improve our bodies ability to deal with running faster.

It’s simple to get better, but the bad news is that no old theory ‘no pain no gain’ is kind of relevant here, and some form of pain in short bursts shows that you’re improving your body.

Warm Up!

One of the most useful and most often ignored tips, a full warm-up based on dynamic stretching and pulse-raising exercises (save the static-hold stretches for the end) prepares your body for the punishment it’s about to go through, massively reduces the risk of injury and means you can push hard right from the word go. With pretty much every event now having a group warm-up before a race begins there is really no excuse for missing this one.

Ref: Chaouachi. (2010). 

Run Up Hills

With pretty much every obstacle race nowadays throwing increasingly steep hills at us, this should be an integral part of your training. Hill repeats are an efficient way to build running strength and technique. Find a fairly steep hill that’s about 100 meters long. Run hard to the top of the hill, and slowly jog back down. Start with 3 to 4 repeats once a week, and gradually work your way up to 6 to 7 repeats.

When you have built up your confidence, try going a little faster on the downhill as this is proven to improve the speed of foot turnover and acceleration.

Ref: Ebben et al. (2008). 

Strength Train

All that running you do in training works a very specific set of muscle groups and energy systems and can lead to areas being neglected or imbalances developing. An effective, relative strength program cannot only offset this and improve the running economy but can help your body absorb the impact of your feet hitting the ground.

To improve relative strength, runners should master bodyweight moves like the pull-up, push-up, single-leg squat, and lunge. After mastering bodyweight exercises, begin to focus on traditional strength exercises like back squats and deadlifts. Rather than sticking with lighter weights and targeting higher reps, work down to the 3-5 rep range. This approach targets type II muscle fibres — those responsible for power generation and maximal strength. By increasing type II muscle fibres, runners will be able to produce and absorb more force even over distance.

Ref: Johnson et al. (1997). Duvall, J. (2014). 

Work on the Abs

Studies of core stability training – the abdominals and erector spinae (lower back) muscles – has shown improvements in speed over 5000m as well as running economy. By strengthening the obliques (the muscles along the side of your torso responsible for twisting motions), runners can prevent any unwanted rotation while running thereby saving energy and resulting in more speed! Besides this, when summer comes and it’s time to race topless, you’ll be happy with that time spent on your abs!

Ref: Byars et al. (2011). Sato et al. (2009).

Sprinting and Interval Running

By putting, in short, speedy workouts at least once a week you can improve your body’s recovery rate, the speed of lactic acid clearance in your muscles and lead to significant improvements in running speed before fatigue sets in. Very useful during a race where you might have to dash between obstacles or for your sprint finish! Not only this but working in short bursts can give you time to focus on and correct your technique and posture while running.

To put it quite simply: if you practice running fast then you will be able to run fast!

Find out how fast you are:

  • Try 10 x 100m top speed intervals with 100m walk for rest or
  • 4 x 400m top speed with 200m walk for rest. Maintain a constant speed through each interval.

Ref: Saraslanidis et al. (2009) and Ferley et al. (2013).

Fartlek Runs

Not only a funny name – Fartlek training is Swedish for ‘speed play’ and involves varying your pace at random intervals throughout your run. For example, you might choose to run at an easy pace but between two trees or lampposts, you switch to a full sprint. Everybody who has had to slow down and speed up around obstacles or even speed up to overtake any slowcoaches will feel the benefit of Fartlek!

Ref: Kurz et al. (2000). 

Eat Correctly

By fueling your body correctly, you will have the energy to put a decent effort into your training and racing. A good everyday diet/nutrition plan based on whole, unprocessed foods will keep your body healthy and as a bonus, if you lose weight you will naturally get faster!

Make sure you fuel before and after workouts, then avoid overindulging on non-training days!

Ref: Rüst et al. (2012). 

Race Often

By racing regularly you can get used to what it feels like running against others rather than out by yourself on the trails. A lot of people tend to run faster on race day so by being better prepared for the speed you are going to be putting in can give you a much-needed advantage.

Parkrun offer a free 5k every Saturday morning all over the country.

Practise Obstacles

Obstacle racing is of course not all about running – by practising climbing over walls, crawling, swimming, jumping over hurdles and/or carrying objects quickly and efficiently will prove to give you a distinct advantage over those who haven’t remembered that OCR is a full-body sport!

Not only that but by practising efficiency over these obstacles will prevent them from draining too much of your energy, meaning that you can continue running at your desired pace rather than take a rest!

Don’t forget To Rest

Having quality rest allows your body to come back stronger, and faster, next time. Running and training everyday leads to fatigue, injury risk and even a mental burnout within a training regime – having one full day off with doing nothing allows glycogen stores to replenish and you can come back fresher tomorrow!