How Fast Should Beginners Run?

karen janos
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Many runners struggle with their pace and how to run faster. If you're a newbie runner and aren't sure how fast to run, don't worry. Most experienced runners feel the same way, and many of them do not incorporate speed work into their training properly. Many of them end up injured, burned out or with no noticeable difference in their speed.

To avoid these common problems, here are the basics of how to incorporate speed work into you training for the best results.

More: Calculate your Running Pace.

Find the Right Pace

First, work up to a running base of 30 minutes at an "easy" pace. What's an "easy" pace? Well, an easy pace is when you can carry on a conversation with someone while running without gasping for air. You can speak in sentences, not just yes or no answers. You should not be able to sing comfortably for any extended period of time. If you can sing, you need to increase your pace a little.

More: 3 Rules for Easy Runs

Once you've reached 30 minutes at your easy pace, you should aim to run at that pace for most of your training runs. Running at an easy pace several times a week allows you to focus on good form, helps your muscles learn to burn fat more efficiently, and teaches your lungs to utilize oxygen easier. These easy runs are essential to building your endurance, and to maintaining your strength. Do not make the mistake of thinking these runs are not helping you become a better runner.

As you gain more fitness, you may feel the desire to increase your speed. If you do, add one faster run per week. As you improve you may add two faster runs per week, but don't push it. It is essential that you not overdo faster runs, as you risk injury or burn out. Also, make sure not to do your faster runs on back-to-back days. Your body needs time to rest in order to get stronger.

More: 3 Reasons to Include Recovery Runs in Your Training

Basic Speed Work for Beginners

There are two basic types of speed work runs beginners should know: fartleks and tempo runs. 

Fartlek is a Swedish term that means "speed play," and is an unstructured way to incorporate speed into a run. During a fartlek, simply increase your pace for a speed interval and then slow down to slightly slower than your normal pace for a rest interval. The length or distance of your faster intervals completely depends on how your body feels. You should be running at a "comfortably hard" level. Try increasing the pace for 200 meters or 30 seconds with a 90-second rest interval. Or run for 1 minute at a faster pace and then slow down for 2 minutes. Do what feels right for your body. Just remember to make sure to rest long enough to truly recover between your faster intervals. Also, always do a 5- to 10-minute warm-up and 5- to 10-minute cool down for every run. 

More: 6 Fartlek Workouts for 3 Training Phases

A tempo run is also good for increasing speed. It is more structured than a fartlek and requires you to run a certain distance or time at a faster speed. You should also run a tempo run at a "comfortably hard" pace. One example of a tempo run would be to run a 5- to 10-minute warm-up, then run 15 to 20 minutes at a harder pace, and then cool down for 5 to 10 minutes. Another example would be to run a 1-mile warm-up, 2 miles at a faster pace, and then a 1-mile cool down. You can vary this according to your ability, and please note that your faster pace during a tempo run will generally be slightly slower than your fartlek pace. 

More: What Are Threshold and Tempo Runs?

Speed work will help your body handle lactic acid in your muscles more efficiently, and will also increase your body's ability to utilize oxygen. By increasing your body's efficiency in these areas, you will be able to sustain a faster pace during a race. 

More: 3 Essential Speed Workouts for Beginners

As you continue with your training, remember not to push your body too hard. Most of your runs should be at an easy pace with a faster run thrown in once a week or so. Do not do faster, harder runs back-to-back, and always stop if you experience any pain. The idea is to get faster and stronger slowly and steadily. With a little patience, you will reach your goals and stay injury-free.

More: 3 Chi Running Tips to Avoid Injury

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