Why Training For Speed Helps You Run Further

A big mistake that many people make when trying to become a better runner is ONLY focusing on increasing the time or distance they can run. They train for endurance and forget about "speed" which is very important.

Even if you’re training for a 10k, half marathon, or even a marathon, you’ll become a much better runner by including speed in your training.

In fact the only exception where speed isn’t important is for beginner runners. In their case it’s better to build up their fitness first by increasing the time and distance they can run, and then look to improve their speed.

For most runners though speed should be an important part of their training, if they want to become the best runner that they can.

So let’s take a look at what happens when you train for endurance and speed, and how this affects your running ability.

Training for endurance

When you train for endurance it’s all about running for longer times or distances. It’s what’s known as aerobic training where your body is able to take in plenty of oxygen which allows you to keep running for a long period of time.

So by training for endurance you can increase your fitness and run for longer.

However, the big drawback is that you are only training your body and muscles in one way, which is to run aerobically. The result is that you become a long, slow runner.

That’s why many people who train for a long distance event are quite comfortable when they run at a slow pace, but if they increase their speed a little then they struggle and can’t keep it up for any length of time.

Training for speed

Training for speed is where you run at a quicker speed that you can’t keep up for a long period of time. This could be anything from a 2 mile hard time trial to 100 metre repetitions, depending on your running goals and level of fitness.

For example, speed training for a marathon runner is very different than speed training for a 400 metre runner.

The big difference between training for speed and training for endurance is that speed training involves both aerobic and anaerobic training. In other words, you are training your body to be able to run with oxygen and without oxygen.

The result is that you gain the speed to run faster over shorter distances, plus you also gain the fitness to run slower over longer distances.

Here are 3 other big advantages of speed training and why it will improve your endurance and help you run further…

  • When training for speed it makes longer runs feel easier. Your body and mind gets used to running at quicker speeds which means that the slower speeds during longer runs feel much more comfortable. So you can keep running for longer.
  • Training for speed helps to improve your running technique quicker because you need to run with more drive and control with your arms and legs. So you become a more efficient runner which helps you run better throughout ALL of your runs, whether long or short runs.
  • You also have less chance of getting an overuse injury. When you only do lots of long, slow runs it doesn’t provide you with enough variety and your risk of suffering from an overuse injury increases.

Putting it all together

Training for endurance will only improve your endurance, but training for speed will improve both your speed and endurance because it involves both aerobic and anaerobic training. So if you want to become the best runner you can be it’s important to include speed training.

Remember that people who only do long, slow runs can usually ONLY do long, slow runs. However, people who also train for speed can do long, slow runs, but also higher quality shorter runs…

They develop into an all round runner, rather than being a one-trick pony!

So use plenty of variety in your training. Yes include endurance runs, but don’t forget about the all important speed runs. They provide the quality that moves you and your running ability onto the next level.


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6 Responses to Why Training For Speed Helps You Run Further

  1. Stephen says:

    Thanks sounds great, will be making the most out of my runs now, thanks for the tips, I am running the Manchester Marathon in April, so will put to good use many thanks once again.

    • James says:

      You’re very welcome Stephen, I’m glad you found it useful.

      I hope you do well with your marathon and let us know how you get on.

  2. Alison oconnor says:

    Hi James when you talk about distance and speed what would you call speed I’ve been running for a couple of years and usually do 3-5 miles 3-5 times a week I must say that’s more in the better weathered months but I don’t feel I’m getting any better / quicker

    • James says:

      Hi Alison,

      Speed training can be quite subjective because it depends on your running goals. For example, a marathon runner may see a 3 mile run as a speed session, whereas for a sprinter it may be 100 metre repetitions.

      Your level of fitness also decides what a speed session is. For example, one runner may be able to run 6 minute miles quite comfortably for many miles and see it as an endurance session, whereas for someone else it could be like a speed session just to run one 6 minute mile.

      So there isn’t a specific answer for speed training that applies to everyone. It depends on your running goals and fitness.

      However, to start getting the benefits of speed training you need to be running anaerobically where you can’t run for a long period of time, and lactic acid builds up in your legs and makes them heavy. To give you an idea this is generally at an intensity of around 8 or more out of 10.

      • Alison oconnor says:

        Ok James thanks for that so would I be better to sprint for as long as I can and then walk ? To build up my speed ?

        • James says:

          You are along the right lines Alison.

          However, rather than going flat out for one run and then walking, it’s better to have a plan beforehand such as doing a certain number of repetitions, over a certain distance, with a certain recovery period. For example, 6 x 400m repetitions with 3 minutes recovery in between.

          So you do several quicker runs but not totally flat out. By doing this, and also having a recovery period between your quicker runs, you can do more quality speed training, compared to going flat out on the first repetition.