How Can I Increase My Running Speed in Middle Age? 8 Easy and Safe Tips

Whether you are a new or experienced runner, once you have established a running routine, you likely want to run faster.  Running faster is a simple metric that indicates we are improving, but the older one gets the harder it is to run faster and there is more risk for injury.  Despite these obstacles, it is possible as I’ve managed to succeed along with many other older runners.

Running faster in middle age is achievable with consistency, training with specific workouts and drills, along with a clear goal to directs the workouts.  As we age, the risk of injury increases and running faster only increases those risks, but one can still improve in speed safely with a more targeted approach. 

To run faster you will need to train your heart, lungs, muscles, and mind to optimize your efficiency and power.  While there are some techniques that can allow you to run faster without training (see here), to become a faster runner while minimizing the risk of injury you should first identify your goal and then work out a plan including the tips below for the best chance of success.

Define and Set SMART goals to reinforce success

To run faster you will first need to define your goal as this will influence the mix of training that you will need.  For example, training to run a faster mile will involve a slightly different approach than running a faster marathon.

Many of the below tips will be used regardless of the distance, but the workouts and exercises that are emphasized will look different.  For example, to run a faster marathon you will need to focus more on weekly milage and the long run.  A faster mile will have more emphasis on the speed drills.

Set goals that follow a SMART framework which are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely for the greatest gains.  Being prepared mentally with a SMART goal will greatly affect your outcome while also keeping the level of effort and training within a reasonable limit to reduce the risk the injury.

To learn more on setting SMART performance goals see my article here.  To set a specific pace goal you will want to keep your current abilities in mind, but don’t set the bar too low either.  It turns out that we don’t slow down as much as you may think as we age. 

Some studies show that the average person slows down by 1% per year between age 35-40, while other studies show little or no decline until age 55 for long distance running such as marathons. 2011 study here.

 The below chart appeared in an article in 2022 from data collected for the Amy Physical Fitness Test (APFT).  It is interesting to note the decline in each 5 year period after age 36 is as little as 5-10 seconds per age group with only a 1 minute decline for males in the top 1% from age 32-36 to 57-61. 

Table from Medical News Today for 2 mile run in May of 2022 here

As mentioned, you will want to keep your current abilities in mind when setting a reasonable, realistic, and attainable goal for running faster in a short period of time.  With training and consistency, you will likely improve over current abilities although perhaps not compared to when you were 20 if you were a college runner.

Consistency is the key factor in running faster

Running is a skill and like other skills you get better with consistent practice.  Almost every coach and runner will likely say that consistency is a key ingredient to becoming a faster runner.

Consistency should not be confused with running every day.  Most people will not be able to run every day nor is it recommended.  The body needs to recover properly from the workouts as this is when the body grow stronger.  If you don’t allow the body to recover properly, not only will you not improve, but you will likely end up injured.

Consistency has more do with a keeping to the weekly workout schedule including the strength training exercises, speed drills, long run, and planned rest days.  Weekly schedules with all these ingredients compounded over time is where the real magic happens.

If you are not seeing progress or failed to reach your goal, it is likely you are not as consistent as you think in executing your plan.  Be honest and evaluate your schedule.  Are you skipping some of the workouts below or not resting as you should?  You may realize that consistency was really the missing ingredient.

For more on the importance of consistency and tips for being more consistent see my article here.

Candence drills to increase turnover for faster running

Candence drills increases leg turnover, shortens the stride for building speed, and reduces fatigue.  This drill also helps improve running form and corrects for overstriding, which can lead to injuries.

Each coach or training program will likely have slight variations of this drills.  I prefer to follow Jeff Galloways recommendations as he is a reputable coach with a particular emphasis on injury prevention and lifelong running.  Below are some simple instructions following his methods of cadence drills.

Candence is important to run faster.  You will need a higher cadence or leg turnover for running faster.  The long-distance experienced runners including pros tend to run around 170-180 steps per minute, but it really depends on the person.  By working on increasing your cadence without any additional effort you will be training your body to run faster without the risk of injury that usually comes with speed drills.

How to Do Candence Drills:

Acceleration gliders to improve running mechanics

Acceleration gliders improve running form and efficiency.  The body is adapting to running faster, but also gets more efficient as accelerating.  In the deceleration the body can learn to coast or glide off the momentum from the faster running thus conserving more resources. 

This drill is much easier than strides (mentioned below) as the time spent at a high speed is very short and thus the risk of injury is very low.  While the risk of injury is low, it is still teaching the body to run faster which is needed to actual run well – faster.

This drill is also particularly helpful when transitioning between running and walking to keep the overall pace of your run to be as quick as possible.  The run walk run method is a great method to use when beginning to run, for running longer distances, or really any running workout (see below for more information). 

How to do Acceleration Gliders:

Strides to improve neuromuscular coordination

Strides are like acceleration gliders but are slightly more challenging.  The focus on strides is running at an intense pace with good form and fast cadence.  You should still be relaxed as it improves your neuromuscular coordination.

Strides are great because you get to practice running fast without the stress on the musculoskeletal system.  Because the risk of injury is low, you can do them as often you like.  You can do them at any time during an easy run or at the end of an easy run.  They can also be used as a in preparation for harder speed workouts.

How to do Strides:

The drills should be done once a week to reap the benefits of the drills.  There are various videos you can watch on the drills, but following the guidelines outlined above will likely be sufficient.

One long run per week for increasing cardio stamina

The long run builds stamina, stronger muscles, and improves running efficiency.  The long run is excellent for building aerobic endurance which is needed for most runs including the mile.

If you are working on your long-distance speed than you likely already know the long run is the most important run of the week.  When adjusting workouts due to time constraints, you should not miss this run.

A long run is excellent for improving speed for all distances as it builds more mitochondria and new capillaries.  You also learn to run more efficiently as the body will naturally try to conserve resources in a fatigued state.

The long run is simply the longest run of your week.  This could be 5 miles or 15 miles depending on your goals and current training.  The important thing to remember is the long should be done at an easy and relaxed pace.  The goal is to build stamina.

Use Run/Walk/Run method for improving long distance times

Jeff Galloway made this method very popular, and it has seen a lot of success.  It is great at eliminating fatigue and reducing injury.  The walk breaks allow the body to adapt and keeps the legs fresher for longer distances

Quicker recover and ability to run faster in marathons are the observed benefits of ones who adopt this method.  Jeff Galloway reported seeing experienced marathons drop total time by average of 13 minutes using the run/walk/run method in the race. 

Utilizing the run/walk/run method can also allow ones to increase their mileage and their long run distance while reducing fatigue and injury.  This makes getting the increased training needed for longer distances easier and safer.  This method is great for new and experienced runners regardless of the distance run.

See chart below as recommended by Jeff Galloway for the run/walk ratios you can use.  After years of experience Jeff Galloway now recommends not talking longer than a 30 second max walk break for optimal running times.

Current Mile paceRun/Walk Ratio
7:006 min run/ 30 sec walk
7:305 min run/ 30 sec walk
8:004 min run/ 30 sec walk or 2/15
8:303 min run/ 30 sec walk or 2/20
9:002 min run/30 sec walk or 80/20
9:30 – 10:4590 sec run/30 sec run or 60/20 or 45/15
10:45-12:1560 sec run/20 sec walk or 40/20 or 30/15
12:15 -14:3030 sec run/30 sec walk or 20/20 or 15/15
14:30-15:4515 sec run/30 sec walk
15:45-17:0010 sec run/ 30 sec walk

See link here for more information and other estimated race pace finish times.

Strength training improves power and speed

Strength training improves running economy, neuromuscular coordination, and makes you stronger for every push off.  This all translates into faster running without any added effort.

Strength training can also help us run faster by preventing injuries.  By remaining healthy we can be more consistent in our workouts which will keep us on target with our training plan and goals. 

The benefits of strength training are indisputable.  The problem is that as runners, well we basically only want to run.  It can be difficult to incorporate a weekly strength training program, but it may be the only way we will see our pace get faster.  See my article here for some simple and easy exercises to incorporate into your week.

Key Takeaways

Running faster in middle age is possible with a clear goal, consistency, specific drills, and targeted workouts that are all geared to reduce the risk of injury.  While our bodies naturally decline as we age, the rate that our running speed declines is not very drastic, and we can still likely improve over current paces.

If you have just started running in middle age you will likely see increases in performances and speed for many years.  For the life-long runner, while you may not be setting 5K records in middle age, you may still be able to set me records in the longer distances or have faster times in your age group.

Regardless of our age or current abilities, most want to get better and there are more than enough experiences and studies to show that it can be done with a little effort and planning. I’ve been running for 6 years now and have set new a 1-mile personal record just a few months ago at the age of 47 while training for a marathon.  By using some or all of the tips above you may also reach your running goals this year AND be injury free! 

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