Last month, I shared some of my (and other runners’) best tips for beginner runners. The next step after building a consistent habit of running is either running further or faster. Today, I want to share tips for beginner runners on how to add speedwork to their training without getting injured – including some sample beginner speed workouts.
When Can Beginners Start Doing Speedwork?
If you are completely new to running, you want to take a conservative approach. Doing too much too soon is a common cause of injury in new runners. Give your body approximately six months to adapt to the stress that running places on your musculoskeletal system before adding an additional stress.
If you have been running for at least six months and are averaging 10-15 miles per week, you can introduce small speed workouts into your training. You do not want to start speedwork if you are dealing with any injuries.
Why Should Beginners Do Speedwork?
Speedwork is not solely focused on improving your paces – although you certainly will get faster. Speedwork leads to numerous physiological changes that will help you improve overall as a runner, such as a higher aerobic capacity and more efficient transport of oxygen to your working muscles. Speedwork also improves your running economy and running form. All this means that you will feel stronger and less fatigued in your everyday runs – something a runner of any level desires.
If you started running to lose weight, speedwork will help change your body composition. Running faster requires more energy, so your muscles burn more carbohydrates per minute than at an easy effort. Even after your workout is completed, your metabolism remains boosted for a few hours. Speedwork also increases your lean muscle mass, which in turn increases your metabolism.
Finally, speedwork can actually decrease your risk of injury when done appropriately. I have read this advice from elte coaches including Lauren Fleshman and Brad Hudson: variety helps in preventing injury. Running the same route at the same pace for the same distance places a repetitive stress on your body – and running is already repetitive enough. Changing your paces for at least one run per week will require you to use different muscles.
How to Introduce Speed Workouts
You want to avoid the temptation to start with challenging workouts like mile repeats. The high injury risk of doing too much too soon also applies to the type of speedwork you do. Instead, beginners can introduce speed workouts with shorter intervals. Begin with only one speed workout per week.
You can run speed workouts on a track or any stretch of smooth, uninterrupted road or paved trail. Pick a route that makes you feel most comfortable with running fast and that is safe from any cars.
Always start your speed workout with dynamic stretches and at least 10 minutes of easy running. A warm-up will reduce your risk of injury by mobilizing your joints and sending oxygenated blood to your working muscles. A warm-up makes a hard workout mentally easier as well, as you have time to transition from rest to running hard. Avoid the temptation to run the first interval as hard as you can – aim for consistent pacing through the entire set of intervals.
Beginner Speed Workouts
Beginner speed workouts introduce harder running in small doses. These workouts build the foundation so that later you can run faster and further in your hard runs. Runners returning from injury and experienced runners in their off-season can also use these workouts.
Recovery is a key component of speedwork, whether you are a beginner or an experienced runner. In these beginner speed workouts, the recovery intervals are longer in duration than the hard intervals. This allows your respiratory rate and heart rate to lower before the next interval of hard running. As you adapt to speedwork, you can shorten the recovery intervals.
Strides can be done during a run (sometimes they are called surges in this situation) or after a run, depending on your preference. Strides are short bursts of fast running that last approximately 20-30 seconds (see this post from Run Far Girl for a great explanation of strides). You gradually accelerate during the stride until you reach about mile pace and then gradually decelerate. If the stride last 30 seconds, you spend approximately 10 seconds accelerating, 10 seconds at mile pace, and 10 seconds decelerating. Focus on good form during your strides, including a tall posture with slight forward lean and a quick cadence.
You can either walk or stand for 45-60 seconds after each stride to recover. If you are doing them in the middle of a run (a surges workout), you might opt to walk or very lightly jog the recovery intervals rather than stand.
Sample Strides Workout:
30 minutes of running at an easy effort, followed by 4-5 strides of 20-30 seconds with 45-60 second rest in between.
For a beginner, the duration of speedwork can be intimidating. A single minute or two, however, is a manageable amount of time for running faster. Short fartlek intervals focus on running at a harder effort (not a certain pace) for a short duration of time. Hard is subjective in a fartlek run – you simply aim to run at an effort that feels noticeably faster than your normal easy pace. For the recovery intervals, return to your normal easy effort (or walk if you use the run-walk method).
As you adapt, you can increase the number of repetition or the length of the hard interval and shorten the recovery interval. Fartleks can be adapted for any level of experience and any point of your training.
Sample Short Fartlek Workout:
10 minutes of easy running
6-8 x 1 minute hard, 2 minutes easy
5- 10 minutes of easy running
Live in a hilly area? No problem – you can utilize the terrain around you to incorporate some faster running into your plan. Short uphill repeats are another excellent beginner speed workout. Just as with a fartlek workout, hill repeats are divided into hard intervals and recovery intervals. Hill repeats build strength along with speed, since you work to resist gravity as you run uphill.
After a warm-up, find a hill that is steep enough to notice when running up it, but not so steep that you have to walk up it. Run hard uphill for a short amount of time – 30-60 seconds – and walk back downhill to recover. On the uphill, focus on good form: your feet should land beneath your body, your shoulders should be down and relaxed, and your should be looking up the hill, not at your feet.
Sample Hill Repeats Workout:
10 minutes of easy running
5-6 x 30 seconds hard uphill, walk back down to recover
10 minutes of easy running
Once you can comfortably complete these workouts, try these speed workouts for runners!
If you are a new runner, what questions do you have about speedwork?
If you are an experienced runner, how did you introduce speedwork into your running?
Receive Weekly Running Tips & Motivation
Subscribe for my weekly newsletter and receive a free download of injury prevention exercises for runners.