Once most newbie runners work their way up to a goal, often a 5K, they have their eyes on the next goal: they want to get faster. I went through the same thing when I first started running: I finished my first 5K in November of 2005 and decided that I wanted to run the same race the next year in under 30 minutes. To get faster, I needed to add some speedwork into my training.
So you want to get faster. But, where do you start? These workouts are what I’d recommend as a running coach as speedwork for beginning runners.
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As a running coach, I would recommend starting with strides. They’re really easy to do and even advanced runners incorporate strides into their workouts. In addition to helping us run faster, strides teach our body how to have good leg turnover and help our body learn a more efficient running form.
To run strides, you start out at a jogging pace, then gradually accelerate to relatively fast pace for you—not quite a sprint, but close. You run for just a couple seconds at that top pace, then gradually slow down to a jog.
To start, I’d recommend starting with 4 to 6 strides that are 100 to 150 m in length. Try adding in strides after an easy run once or ideally twice a week. As you get more comfortable with strides, you can add more in, gradually working up to 10 strides twice a week.
If you’re getting used to strides, try adding a fartlek into your routine. I know, I know, funny name. It actually means ‘speed play’ in Swedish. I love the fartlek because it’s relatively unstructured, so you can listen to your body and do as much or as little as you’d like. Fartleks get us used to running fast for longer periods of time than strides, helping our bodies adapt to deliver oxygen to our muscles and remove waste products like lactic acid more efficiently.
So, how do you fartlek? It’s actually really simple. I like to pick a landmark somewhere in the distance: a light pole, a turn in the path, or even a pretty plant. Once you’ve picked your landmark, you run at about 70-90% effort to that landmark. Once you’ve reached the landmark, you slow down to an easier pace to recover for a minute or two, then pick another landmark and speed up again. If you’re on a treadmill, you can run a fartlek by time: 1 minute fast, 1 minute slow, etc.
Fartleks should be done after you’ve fully warmed up, so I’d recommend some easy jogging for 10 minutes or so, then running the fartlek segments for 15 minutes to start, with a 10 minute cool down jog. As you get further in your training, you can increase the duration of your fartlek up to 30 minutes. One fartlek workout a week is definitely enough to help you get faster!
Just be sure that you don’t do a fartlek workout and a stride workout on the same day or even on back-to-back days. Too much fast running too quickly is a surefire way to get injured!
More on speedwork for beginning runners from other sources:
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