If you just started running, you’re probably concerned with two things: how to run farther and how to run faster. And you’re not alone: Those are the fundamental goals of runners at all levels, ages, and speeds. Your pace and distance ambitions will simply adjust according to your experience. (FWIW, you can totally run simply for the joy of it, but you wouldn’t have clicked on this story if that was your only goal, right?)
The good news is, the same training principles will hold true for the rest of your running career—so learning them early is a solid first step.
“You need to do a mix of speed work and slower endurance training to develop both your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems,” says Greg Grosicki, Ph.D., an assistant professor and director of the exercise physiology laboratory at Georgia Southern University.
That goes for your first 5K and 50th marathon, but you’ll notice the biggest changes during your first two to three months of training, Grosicki says. “Gradual and consistent training will continue to enhance your performance potential from there.”
But what should that training look like, exactly? Keep these training tips on how to run faster in mind as you embark on your speed-endurance mission.
1. Increase your mileage each week.
Take a quick look at the structure of a few training plans (even if you’re not training for a race just yet). They’re designed to gradually increase your distance and push your speed—without overdoing it—which usually translates to a few short weekday runs, then one weekend long run that gets progressively longer each week.
“To see progress, you need to keep subjecting your body to a stimulus it isn’t used to, in this case longer distances and faster speeds,” says Matt Lee, Ph.D., certified exercise physiologist and a professor of kinesiology at San Francisco State University. “You gradually overload the body, let it adapt, then overload it a little more, let it adapt, and so on.” Before you know it, you’ll be up to a mile, 5K, 10K, half marathon, and so on.
2. Listen to your body.
So, how many miles should you add to your DIY training plan each week? Common running wisdom says you shouldn’t increase your total mileage by more than 10 percent a week, but Grosicki says there’s no reason to limit yourself that much if you’re feeling good. In fact, an American Journal of Sports Medicine study found that runners had the same injury rates regardless of whether or not they followed the “10 percent” rule.
That doesn’t mean you should double your mileage over the course of seven days (that’s a one-way ticket to shin splints)—it just means you should pay attention to how you’re feeling and adjust your mileage accordingly. “The best rule of thumb is to use common sense and listen to your body,” Grosicki says. “Most hard training sessions should be followed by at least one—and probably two—easier recovery days.”
Some signs you need a rest day? “Besides any obvious aches and pains, feeling like you’re getting sick, irritability, loss of appetite, and poor sleep all signal that you’re overdoing it,” Grosicki says.
3. Add speed to your long runs.
You might think that speed work alone is the key to how to run faster. While weekly speed work is helpful (see next), it doesn’t exactly replicate a real-life race. “I’m a big proponent of throwing speed work into long runs to prepare your body to push through the inevitable fatigue you’ll experience in a race,” Grosicki says. Try picking up the pace for the last minute of every mile.
4. Do separate speed workouts—but don’t stress over them.
Grosicki suggests an easy-to-remember speed workout that builds on itself every week, like 4 half-mile repeats with 2 minutes of easy jogging or walking in between. “Do the same workout the following week and try to beat your time.” If you beat your record without a problem, add another half-mile interval or extend the distance.
On the flip side, if speed work feels totally miserable right now, only focus on your endurance for a bit. “Running for 20 consecutive minutes can be daunting when you’re a beginner,” Grosicki says. And that’s okay—you’re still progressing every time you hit the pavement. “Build an ‘endurance base,’ then slowly add in some simple speed intervals from there.”
Because really, the best way to boost your speed and endurance as a beginner is to make running fun—not miserable—so you keep at it, one step at a time.