If you’re like me, you thrive in the eyes of competition.  You live to run fast races and do better than you thought you could.  Better yet, you’re looking to beat your own personal record and you’re ready to make an investment so you can do it.  I’m here to make you faster, and this guide is for you.

1. Don’t Take the Shortcuts.

While you might be able to huff and puff your way to a personal best mile time, this is a guide that will teach you how to truly shave time (and effort) off your mile.  The first step to truly increasing your mile time is to build up your endurance.  Get to the point where you can run three miles without stopping.  Then increase to five miles without stopping.  When you get to the point where you feel like you could run eight miles without stopping you’ve got a great base for improving your athletic performance significantly.  Long runs will make a mile feel much shorter, but when you’ve got a good base it’s time to start mixing up your workout.

Instead of running the same distance at the same pace everyday, start incorporating cross training that will make you stronger.  Also, set into some speed work.  This can include hills, fartleks, interval training and much more.

A lot of people suggest that you make sure you can handle the demand of speed work before you start.  Some people say you should make sure you can run eight miles straight while others suggest building a base for two months prior to meeting the demands of speed workouts.  Then when you’re ready, spread them out at a frequency of two or three times per week.

When it comes to speed workouts it’s also important to incorporate a warm up and cool down so that your body isn’t shocked by the sudden acceleration.  Some people suggest a three mile warm up and cool down, but this varies with each individual.

2. Hill Workouts

Hill workouts are a staple for a lot of competitive runners. It’s extremely difficult but when it comes to training you usually get back what you put in, meaning hill training is one of the best ways to improve your strength, running economy, power, VO2 max, lactate turn-point, and more.  It’s also a great means for becoming more mentally tough, which is a significant contributor to running better races.

Many runners suggest doing a hill workout a week, and if you can’t find a hill in your neighborhood that’s of the appropriate elevation you can use this guide to designing effective hill workouts for the treadmill.  Otherwise, consider incorporating regular up and down hill workouts that improve your running economy while building endurance.

One of my favorite hill workouts are affectionately deamed hill blasters.  To do hill blasters, you run 10 to 20 repeats of 30 second sprints up a steep hill at a 10-15% incline.  Once you get to the end of your 30 second sprint, spend the next 60 seconds jogging/walking down the hill and giving yourself a rest.  Then start sprinting back up again as hard as you can.  Concentrate on maintaining consistent effort (even if your speed ends up decreasing) and gradually build up the number of sprint repetitions you do as you become fitter and stronger.

3. Fartlek Workouts

Another staple in your speed workout arsenal is the fartlek.  Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish and it’s a flexible speed training workout that can be customized for any level of runner.  A lot of people do fartleks on the track, but you can also track fartleks by light poles or other landmarks.  Another alternative is to run fartleks by time.

One of the most common fartlek patterns is to sprint the straights and jog the curves on a track.  If you run toward landmarks though, you can pick up the pace slowly, hold a sprint for 20 strides while focusing on relaxing your body, and then jog until you see your next landmark.

4. Tempo Run

Another great workout for increasing your lactate threshold (the point at which your body fatigues) is the tempo run.  If your overall goal is to run a 5K, do a 20 minute tempo run.  If you’re training for a 10K, four to six miles are called for while half-marathon runners should shoot for eight miles of tempo runs.  Marathon runners top the charts with an average distance of a ten mile tempo run.  If you want more information about how to customize a tempo run for you, check out this link.

If you’re consistent about employing these great workouts and working hard you’ll be shocked the next time you run a mile for time.  It will feel easier, but perhaps more important, you’ll run much faster.  This kind of training may not be hard, but when you start seeing shorter times it’s certainly worth it.