Running faster requires patience

19. July 2018

Those who regularly participate in runs will find that their priorities shift over time: they either want to run further and increase their distance or run faster over the same distance. 

But how? If you start doing five 50-minute runs instead of three 50-minute running training units and otherwise keep everything else the same, you will see little improvement. It's just like cooking. If you cook your favourite meal every day, it won’t necessarily taste better, you will merely become more efficient at cooking it. 

New ingredients bring speed into play

The basic recipe in terms of speed is: if you want to become faster, then you also need to run faster during training from time to time. Sounds simple, but it’s not so easy. Doing a lot of fast training units will increase your running pace relatively rapidly, however, faster running not only means great gains, it also places increased stress on the musculoskeletal system and a higher load on the metabolism and immune system at the same time. Fast, intensive runs will drain the body if you don’t schedule enough recovery time in between. You also shouldn’t do the speed builders too often: as a guideline, the ratio of intensive to slower units is 1:3. The following also applies: due to the increased load on the muscles, tendons and joints, they should be maintained by accompanying measures such as strengthening and stretching exercises. 

Speed needs a solid foundation

Runners should plan to build their fitness levels like they would a house. Start with the foundation, slowly put up the walls, then build the floors and terraces and then the attic and balcony at the end. And as with a house, the walls and the foundation need to be constantly maintained if you don’t want to deal with any adverse consequences from above. Building up your running is based on two corner stones: the comprehensive promotion of the cardiovascular system and regular strength training.

Using strength training equipment, free weights, or your own body weight is a matter of taste and depends on your specific goals. The bottom line is that you need to integrate strength training into your everyday training on a regular basis. Competitive athletes serve as role models here: internationally, there are no top runners who have managed to stay at the top for several years without incorporating accompanying measures such as strength exercises into their running training.


When training the cardiovascular system, you can take a healthy approach or an athletic approach if you want to become faster. If you are doing sports purely for health reasons, then intensity levels 1-3 will serve you well. However, if you want to become faster, then you should also integrate intensity levels 4-5 into your everyday sport. 

Level 1 = walking/long jog
Level 2 = light continuous run
Level 3 = medium to fast continuous run, light speed variation
Level 4 = fast continuous run, fast speed variation, extensive interval training, tempo continuous run
Level 5 = intensive interval training, short periods at racing speed

The speed builders

Speed variations: The concept of speed variation was developed by the Swedish national coach Gustaf “Gösta” Holmér in 1930 and is still regarded as one of the most effective forms of training for medium- and long-distance running. In practical training, essentially two variants with different variations have evolved: 

  • In «multi-terrain speed variation» you adapt the load and recovery to the type of terrain you are running on. For example, I run up the hill fast and then recover on the flat stretch. Or I run to the small forest hut at high speed and then hit a lower speed until the next curve. The intensity of the load is constantly changing, which makes this training extremely varied. And the body is repeatedly challenged with new inputs.
  • In «programmed speed variation» you use your watch to alternate between faster and slower sections. It is similar to interval training, only the loads in speed variation are considerably shorter.

Interval training: Interval training is deemed to be THE "miracle cure" when it comes to improving your running pace. In interval training, the individual high intensity phases and the intervening periods of rest are clearly defined. 

In extensive interval training the selected intensity level is just so high (intensity levels 3 and 4) that the fast sections can be frequently repeated and only need to be interrupted by short breaks. This means, for example, running 8 x 3 minutes at a fast pace and then taking a 90-seconds walk break. The total duration of the fast sections in an extensive interval training unit amounts to around 20 to 30 minutes.

In intensive interval training the running pace is higher (level 4 to even 5) than that of extensive interval training and the breaks are correspondingly longer (for example: 10 x 400 metres at a fast pace with a 2-minute break). In interval training you can also work with your heart rate. For example, run 400 metres fast and then march until your heart rate falls below a certain level (e.g. 120), then run fast again etc. The high tempo in interval training improves concentration and the ability to focus on the running technique. Interval training can be done on the track, on the road or also off-road on measured distances. An entire interval training unit including the warm up and wind down only lasts around one hour. In intensive interval training, the total duration of the fast sections amounts to around 10 to 15 minutes.

Hill runs: Hill runs are a special form of interval training. They place particularly high demands on the local muscular endurance and circulatory system. One possible variant might be to run quickly up a hill 12-times for 300 m at a time. Then take a break for as long as it takes for you to do a relaxed jog back to the starting point. This is then followed by a fast hill run again. 

Sprint runs: It is recommended that you do 2 to 3 sprint runs before an intensive training unit (as preparation) or after a continuous run (as a rhythm change). The running pace is continuously increased over a distance of 100-120 m and the last 20 metres are then run at a submaximal pace before slowly slowing down.