Low-Risk Speed Development For New Runners

Jason Fitzgerald
by Jason Fitzgerald
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Low-Risk Speed Development For New Runners

Running fast can be exhilarating. Once you have established a regular running habit, it’s only natural to want to get faster.

As a newer runner, it’s essential to work on speed in a safe and effective way to avoid getting hurt. Adding faster running to your training should always start with a focus on fun while pushing just beyond your comfort zone to improve.

Building speed safely and strategically means starting slowly with shorter workouts that won’t overload your body. As a beginner, four workouts that are an ideal introduction to faster running include stridesstrength training, hill sprints and unstructured fartleks.

1

START WITH STRIDES

Strides are the perfect introduction to speed work because they give you a taste of running faster without putting too much stress on your body. Strides help improve running economy and get your body used to a faster pace, but their short duration makes them less challenging than a longer speed workout. Strides are best done on a smooth, level surface at the end of an easy run.

Strides are simply 100-meter accelerations where you start at a jog, build to almost your maximum speed (about 90–95%), and then gradually slow back down. Each stride should last about 25–30 seconds. You’ll want to walk for 60–90 seconds between strides to allow a recovery period, then repeat. Start with 3–4 strides, and you can gradually build up to 6–8.

2

BUILD YOUR STRENGTH

While running faster to get faster seems obvious, building strength may be less intuitive. But getting strong is the key to staying healthy and developing speed.

When you run, you build aerobic fitness, but your structural fitness (your bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc.) tends to lag behind. This is especially true for newer runners. One of the best things you can do is to get in the habit of adding a regular strength routine to your training. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the gym — bodyweight exercises are a perfect place to start, and short, consistent routines are much more effective than a long gym session every couple weeks.

Strength training allows you to build a strong foundation that enables consistent, injury-free training. It also develops your running economy, which helps you to run faster for longer periods of time with less fatigue. Getting strong also increases your power and allows you to have a faster kick if you race.

3

SPRINT THE HILLS

Let’s face it — the combination of “sprinting” and “hills” can sound intimidating. Similar to strides, however, hill sprints are intense, but very short. Sprinting truly means running at maximum intensity — these are an all-out effort, but each repetition only lasts for 8–10 seconds. This is much different than hill repeats, which are run at a less intense effort over a longer distance.

In many ways, the benefits of hill sprints are very similar to strength training:

  • Hill sprints strengthen your running muscles and connective tissues.
  • They increase your stride power.
  • They improve your running economy.

To run them, you’ll want to warm up with an easy run (hill sprints are done after you finish a run). Then find a fairly steep hill (5–7% grade) to perform the repeats. Sprint uphill for 8–10 seconds, and walk back down. Give yourself at least 60–90 seconds in between and don’t start the next repeat until you are fully recovered.

Runners who have never done hill sprints should start with 2–3 sprints, gradually adding 1–2 reps every session until you reach 8–10 total.

4

FARTLEK FUN

Fartlek is a funny sounding word that means “speed play” in Swedish. Fartleks are another useful introduction to faster running because they can be varied endlessly in both structure and intensity. Unstructured fartleks are another way for beginners to add faster paced running to their training.

Fartleks are periods of faster running interspersed with easy recovery intervals in between. An unstructured fartlek can be as simple as running fast to the next mailbox, and then recovering for a minute or so before picking up the pace again. You can repeat this 5–10 times during a run, allowing an easier mile or more to warm up and cool down.

While they can be longer, fartleks often vary in length from 30 seconds to 5-plus minutes, and the paces can vary as well. Fartleks can be run by feel or at specific paces and you can alter the rest intervals to make them more or less intense.

If you are new to fartleks, keep them short (30–60 seconds). Try them uphill and downhill to add variety, and most important, have fun.

THE BOTTOM LINE

As a newer runner, getting fast and strong requires dedication and patience. Always err on the side of caution with any new workout to avoid excessive soreness and injury.

Adding these lower risk workouts to your routine helps you make safe and steady progress and enjoy the process along the way.

About the Author

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald

Jason is the founder of Strength Running, a USA Track & Field certified running coach and 2017’s Men’s Running’s Influencer of the Year. Learn more about how he can help you run faster.

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