Most training programs geared toward beginner runners focus on gradually building up mileage with slow, easy runs, and avoiding any kind of faster running until much further down the line. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, it’s not the only way. New runners can add some faster running into their programs right away if they choose to, as long as they keep it controlled.
As we’ve seen from several elite athletes, slow, easy mileage is a very important part of your training, and shouldn’t be discounted. This is especially true for new runners, who need to be extra cautious that they don’t push their bodies too hard right away and put themselves at risk for injuries. Just like with elite athletes, the bulk of beginner runners’ training should focus on easy running, but adding a small amount of speed work into your week can provide a lot of benefits.
Good running form
The first of these benefits is the promotion of good running form. Small bouts of faster running force you to increase your cadence, drive your knees forward and swing your arms more than you do when running slower. This doesn’t mean you should jump into full-blown interval workouts (this would be a bad idea); adding some pick-ups, short sprints or short hill repeats into your runs can go a long way in promoting good running mechanics.
Doing nothing but slow, easy runs can get monotonous for even the most dedicated, passionate runner. When you’re new to the sport and you’re still in the habit-forming stage, adding some faster running to your week can break up the monotony and keep you mentally engaged, so that you look forward to your runs each week. Again, this speedwork doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) extremely taxing, but just enough to get your heart pumping and your legs moving.
Get better faster
When you run faster, you recruit more muscle fibres and get more muscles firing than you do on an easy run, which will build up strength to make your easy days feel even easier. In other words, even a small amount of speed work will make you a stronger, faster runner. If you’re thinking about adding some faster running into your program and you’re not sure where to start, simply pick one day per week and do four to eight short, 15-20 second repetitions either on a flat road or a moderate hill. Better yet, alternate each week between hills and flat ground to make things even more interesting. Give yourself 40-45 seconds recovery between each to keep the strain low, and enjoy the feeling of pushing your body a little harder.