The phenomenon of ultra-fast electrical gas breakdown was investigated. Nanosecond high-voltage pulses with durations of 1 and 5 ns and amplitudes of 100 and 200 kV, respectively, were used to study the parameters of the discharge in a pressured (1-7) × 105 Pa air-filled gap. The development of the discharge and the plasma propagation velocity was examined using optical fast frame imaging. The generation of runaway electrons in the breakdown process was confirmed by electron imaging and time-resolved x-ray diagnostics. Runaway electron beam energy distribution was obtained for a 1 ns duration high-voltage pulse. The origin and the role of runaway electrons in the discharge initiation are also discussed.