It’s natural for beginning and returning runners tend to run the same pace every time you head out. It’s your “cruising pace” where you feel somewhat comfortable.
I say “somewhat” because running, for some people, never feels all that comfortable.
The key to getting faster is to push the pace outside of your comfort zone once in a while and allowing yourself to recover.
Pushing to a point of seriously huffing and puffing for short bouts trains your cardiovascular system (your heart and lungs), your musculoskeletal system (your muscles, bones, soft and connective tissue), and even your nervous system (your brain, nerves, and more) in a way that jogging at one steady pace does not.
These short bouts of serious effort train your whole body to allow you to hold faster paces for longer, even if you’ll never hold the pace of the short bouts for an entire run.
There are a few different types of workouts you can do to safely work these speedy efforts into your running week.
Yes, the word is funny. “Fartlek” is Swedish for “speed play,” and fartleks can be fun and playful (for real). To do a fartlek workout, jog your normal, or slower than normal pace for at least 10 minutes to warm up.
Choose a landmark, like a tree, a mailbox, or a lamppost that isn’t too far away, and pick up your pace to sort of race to that landmark. Once you get there, resume your regular jogging pace. When you feel sufficiently recovered—your heartrate and breathing pattern comes back down close to normal while you jog—choose another landmark and go for it.
You can do fartleks based on time, choosing to increase your speed for a set amount of time, like 20 seconds to a minute before recovering. But using landmarks while out running can be more fun. Only do this once a week and make sure you take a day off or do a very easy run or run-walk on the day that follows.
The difference between fartleks and intervals is that with fartleks, you continue running between efforts.
While doing intervals, you slow to a walk to recover more so that you can go harder during the next interval.
Like when doing a fartlek workout, make sure you jog to warm up for at least 10 minutes. For your first interval workout, or your first few, try running hard for somewhere between a minute to three minutes before walking to recover.
Walk at least an equal amount to twice as long as the interval to recover before running hard again. Do a handful of these for the first few sessions (again, only once a week, followed by a day off or easy jog the next day) before increasing the time of the intervals.
You can also do these on a track—try running the straightaways and walking the curves.
Running “tempo” means running at a pace that is harder than your regular jogging pace for an extended period of time.
The pace is not all-out; it’s just faster than your usual pace. If you’ve run a 5K, maybe your tempo pace is about 30 seconds slower than your per-mile 5K race pace.
To do a tempo run, again, jog slowly for at least 10 minutes before starting your tempo. How long you hold the tempo pace depends on your fitness and your goals. Holding the pace for 20 minutes is a great goal, but start off with something more manageable, like 3, 5 or 8 minutes (or even 3).
Once you’re done running those 3, 5, or 8 minutes at tempo, jog for at least 5 minutes to cool down.
Doing speedwork may sound daunting, but it can be fun. It’s a great way to mix up your running and can actually add motivation.
Plus, you’ll see great gains in your running.
Before you know it, your regular running pace will be faster, while feeling just as easy as your “old” comfortable running pace.
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