Contrary to popular belief, becoming a faster runner doesn't just mean lacing up your sneakers and hitting the sidewalk more frequently. There are so many factors that go into becoming a faster runner, from having enough energy to taking care of your muscles.
Want to ace your next race? Keep these 10 things in mind:
1. Getting enough sleep is crucial.
Those early morning runs won't do much for your pace if you're skipping out on sleep for them. Research shows that sleep deprivation leads to moodiness, depression, weight gain1, impaired brain activity2, and so much more. It's not easy to run faster when you're exhausted, and it might even be dangerous. So get those seven to nine hours in.
2. Eat the right foods before your run.
If running on an empty stomach isn't your thing, make sure you're fueling up with the right snacks pre-run. Registered dietitian Miranda Hammer suggests keeping it simple with a banana and peanut butter (the fruit/fat combination will give you fast fuel), or half of a cup of oatmeal with almond milk and fresh berries (frozen is fine too).
3. Make sure you're eating the right foods afterward, too.
The "I just went for a run so I deserve a pint of ice cream" excuse is a compelling one, but it's not the best choice for muscle recovery. Miranda suggests a combination of protein and carbohydrates, like chia pudding with nut milk and fresh fruit, a lentil salad with fresh spinach, and chickpea and quinoa salad.
4. Warm up properly.
Getting out of bed and going for a run immediately is smart—just make sure you warm up first. Running coach Andia Winslow suggests practicing dynamic stretching, which builds momentum and fires up the central nervous system. Try ankle rolling, calf stretches, walking lunges, and Frankenstein walks (straight-leg marching).
5. Cool down with care.
Whether it's dropping into a few of your favorite yoga poses or taking a few minutes to stretch each of your tired muscles, stretching after every single run is key to increasing mobility and speed.
6. Take advantage of music.
In his book Inside Sport Psychology, Dr. Costas Karageorghis says that music can boost workout performance by 15 percent. So if your running time isn't improving and you've been running to slow tunes or no music at all, try putting together a playlist that gets you pumped up (Beyonce, anyone?).
7. Practice active recovery.
Running seven days a week isn't the best idea. Not only is it hard on the joints and ligaments, but it will slow you down. So make sure you're mixing it up with yoga and strength-training a few times a week, or some form of active recovery. "[Active recovery] should have a focus on posture, prepare you for more work, keep you injury-free, or work through one, and make you feel human again," says active recovery expert Rebecca Kennedy. "It's a smile from the inside out."
8. Wear the right shoes.
While there are several theories out there about how to find the best running shoes for your feet, running in a good pair of kicks is key when it comes to keeping your pace up. It comes down to how a shoe feels on you—but many runners think less support is better, as it strengthens the muscles in the arches of your feet.
9. Take advantage of hills.
The best way to get faster? Run uphill. If that sounds torturous, keep this in mind: Running uphill for 10 seconds, as fast as you can, is enough to build an impressive amount of speed and muscle.
This might sound like an obvious one, but drinking enough water is key for strong, fast runs. Dehydration is dangerous and leads to exhaustion, which is a big problem when you're trying to pick up speed.
Good luck out there!
Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist and former Senior Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen where she analyzed new research on human behavior, looked at the intersection of wellness and women's empowerment, and took deep dives into the latest sex and relationship trends. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis. She has written for HuffPost, Glamour, and NBC News, among others, and is a certified yoga instructor.