If you want to run faster than a cheetah you, need to know a little about cheetah first.The cheetah, found in Africa and the Middle East, is perhaps the most graceful of the big cats – and even if your name is Usain Bolt, your chances of claiming victory in a sprint are pretty slim. The fastest land mammal of them all, in most races it’ll leave you eating its dust. But what can you do to at least make a contest of it?

Weighing between 36 and 64 kilograms (80 and 140 lb), and growing 115–135 centimetres (46–55 in) long, a full-grown cheetah is compact and elegant, with a long tail that provides incredible turning ability at high speeds, and paws with semi-retractable claws that act like racing tyres. They can reach a top speed of 121 kilometres per hour (75 mph), and can hit 97 kilometres per hour (60 mph) in less than three seconds – faster than a Ferrari 458 Italia. In contrast, a top sprinter can manage about 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph).

Assuming you have a basis of decent speed, the key to running even faster is twofold. Firstly you need to improve your cadence – the number of steps you take each second. Secondly, you need to maximize the speed you generate every time your feet come into contact with the ground.

As with any training, you should begin with a thorough warm-up and stretching routine. Spend time working on your core stability muscles (stomach, hips, pelvis and bum) since these are crucial to making the necessary adjustments to your running style.

Learn to run in a relaxed style. This means that your body focuses only on the muscles required to sprint and does not waste energy anywhere else: facial grimaces and tight shoulders don’t help anyone to move quicker.

Run with your head held high, as if a puppeteer high overhead is tugging you upright. You’re whole body should feel like it is being pulled towards the sky, and your head should stay still as you sprint, with your chin slightly down. Lean slightly forward as you run, though be sure to maintain balance at all times. Your arms, meanwhile, should swing so that your elbows are slightly ahead of the plane of your trunk, allowing for optimum knee lift.

Focus on ‘dorsiflexion’ of the ankle as your foot strikes the ground – this means pointing your toes up towards your shin, which stretches the calf so that you generate the greatest possible impact from the strike. Your foot should hit the ground moving slightly backwards, and when your heel comes up from the ground, it should rise to almost touch your backside, rather than extending backwards.

Don’t be downhearted if none of this takes you closer to the cheetah – there’s no loss of pride in losing an athletic contest to a different species. In 2007 the flying South African rugby union star, Bryan Habana, raced a cheetah in a ‘man versus beast’ contest and came a distant second. He still recovered to help his team win the Rugby World Cup later in the year.

The trick, perhaps, is to choose your contests better. In 2002 Tom Johnson beat a horse over an 80-kilometre (50-mile) course in the desert of the United Arab Emirates by ten seconds, largely because the horse lost an hour by having to stop to take on food and water.

The US Olympic legend Jesse Owens, famous for his victories at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, was controversially left to make a living by racing against horses and dogs. (He would later comment, ‘People said it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse but … you can’t eat four gold medals.’) Anyway, he regularly won, though some believed that his greatest successes were against highly strung thoroughbred animals that panicked at the sound of the starting gun. However, it’s a brave person who tries to agitate a cheetah in an attempt at gamesmanship. A fraught big cat will give you more problems than you could imagine.

Ultimately, if you are in a real hurry you could jump in a car, get a train or book yourself a plane ticket – not options that are readily available to a cheetah. This might seem like a small victory, but it’s probably the best chance you’ve got.