Some people run for pleasure, others for exercise. Some are seeking a physical challenge and a form of competition. Whatever your reasons for hitting the trail or taking on the open road, however, you probably have some interest in improving your performance over time.
In all honesty, simply sticking with a running program should help you to improve to a degree. As your body becomes accustomed to the activity, you should be able to increase your distance and stamina with little problem.
That said, many runners also have a desire to go faster. If you're interested in decreasing the amount of time it takes you to run a mile, not to mention sustain the pace for several miles at a stretch, here are a few tips to get you on track.
This kind of goes without saying, but "regular" practice could mean running once a week to some people or running daily to others. You'll have to figure out what works for you, but if you want to improve your performance and decrease your mile time, you should probably commit to jogging at least 2-3 times each week.
Eventually your body will become accustomed to any repeated activity, and after a time, say several weeks, you will stop seeing improvement unless you change up your routine. There are a couple of ways to do this with running and the first you may want to try is interval training.
This simple switch entails adding short sprints to your regular running routine. If you're used to jogging along at a steady and comfortable pace, you're not going to get any faster. By adding timed sprints to every workout (say 30-60 seconds sprinting to two minutes of slower jogging) you should start to see decreased mile times even when you're jogging at your "comfortable" pace.
Running works very specific muscle groups, mainly in your lower body. However, you can improve running performance by strengthening other areas of the body like your core, as well as working different muscle groups in the lower body.
For example, improving overall muscle tone and balance in the body could help to increase your stamina, contributing to faster mile times. With comprehensive cross training, you'll see improvement in all kinds of fitness challenges, running included.
Most people start out running on flat surfaces because...well...hills are hard work. As you may have guessed, this is exactly the type of challenge that could shake up your standard running routine and help to improve performance.
Just make sure to be careful when running up and down hills. The stresses of adding hills could increase your risk of injury if you aren't careful. Take the time to learn about proper posture and stride for hill running to avoid injury and gain the greatest benefit from this challenge.
Join a Running Club
A little competition is a great way to push yourself when it comes to exercise, and joining a running club could provide just the motivation you need to increase your speed. When you have faster runners to pace you, you'll end up winded, to be sure, but you're also likely to see improvement in your mile time.
Sign up for a Race
It's all too easy to sleep through the alarm or plop down on the couch instead of sticking to your running schedule. However, this becomes more difficult when you know you have a race coming up that you want to be prepared for.
Signing up for races can not only push you to increase the distance you're running, but also improve your endurance, stamina, and speed, especially if you're competitive. (Brian has this problem, always stops running if he is not signed up for a race)
Diet and Weight Loss
All you have to do is run with 10 pounds of weight in a backpack to see how much a little extra weight could be dragging you down. If you've been meaning to lose a few pounds, your interest in improving your mile time could be a great motivator.
In addition, you may be dragging on your runs because of improper diet. Running takes a lot of energy. Proper hydration and nutrition are essential to improving performance.
If you're plagued by sore joints, shin splints, heat/friction rashes, and other issues of discomfort associated with running, it's time to spring for some proper gear. Anyone who runs frequently will get plenty of use value out of appropriate jogging shoes, apparel and accessories, so spend a little more for increased comfort and performance.