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Should beginners focus on running more or running faster?


As soon as one starts to run, they wish to run faster.  Who doesn’t like to fly anyway, right?  What’s the harm if one sprints or runs fast from the very start?  We will get to the science of it in a minute but let’s first think logically, if you sprint, how long would you go before crashing? Now, let’s tone it down a few notches and try to jog or brisk walk on day one, you can go on for longer, right?  It’s not magic but there is a deep science behind it.

Distance vs speed for beginner runners

Running is an aerobic activity, which means that the capability to run longer and faster depends on how well you utilize oxygen to fuel your runs. The more you run, the better your aerobic base gets. And when you build a large aerobic base, you improve your capacity to endure for longer and farther before you start to fatigue.

Running faster means, you are building your stamina to be able to run at faster paces.  Stamina comes from 1. endurance, 2. running economy and both of these will come from being ‘consistent’.  Consistency is the single largest variable for getting better.

Here’s a step-by-step method on how beginner runners can train and progress safely.

1.Build your endurance base

You first need to work on building base endurance – to endure for a given period of time. For example, if you can walk for 5kms, it means you have the endurance to walk for 5k. Your first goal is to be able to run- 5-6 days a week and get 150-180 minutes on your feet rather than running 50 minutes a day for 3 days.

How to build endurance?

1.Your focus should be to be on your feet for 30 minutes. This does not mean you need to be running for the entire duration. Instead, split the duration between running and walking by following the run-walk method. You can do this by running for 1 minute, followed by walking for 1 minute – this can be considered as one set, which will last for 2 minutes. You can repeat this set 15 times to complete 30 minutes of total workout and slowly progress by increasing the running time.

2.Exercise for 30 minutes every day instead of an hour every alternate day. This is because you should provide continuous stimulus to your body, and your body needs to adapt to it instead of taking frequent breaks between days.

3.  It is important to keep the intensity low during runs. A good guideline is to run at a conversational pace, which means you are able to speak full sentences without gasping for breath during the run. It also means you go up to a maximum of 70% of your maximum heart rate (not average 70%).

4. Do not increase your weekly mileage abruptly. Instead, follow the 10% rule, i.e., raise your weekly mileage by no more than 10%. If you are running 10 km in the first week, increase it to no more than 11 km next week.

2. Improve running economy

Once you have established a solid aerobic base, you can start incorporating speedwork into your routine — but gradually. Incorporating one to two days of speedwork is ideal for beginner runners. Physiologically, speedwork helps improve running economy, neuromuscular coordination, greater recruitment of fast-twitch muscles, and improves your lactate threshold.

As a beginner, you may incorporate these two types of speed training sessions in your schedule after you have achieved above-mentioned target:

Strides

Strides are a fundamental building block for training your form, coordination, speed, and stride rate. They comprise short accelerations or sprints that last for a total of 20–25 seconds. You need to run strides at 90%-95% of your maximum effort with a focus on keeping the body upright and moving the arms. After you have warmed up for about 15 minutes of jog or brisk walk, you can try to complete strides.  From a standing position, start to pick up your pace and by the 5th second, you should be almost sprinting, hold this pace for next 10 seconds and then slowly come down to the stop in the last 5 seconds.  Rest for 1-2 minutes to recover fully and then repeat it 4 to 6 times. Make sure to not rush into running faster without proper recovery between two sets. One set of strides per week is good to start with.  After the fast run, cool down by easy jogging or brisk walking.

Hill running

After a few weeks of strides training, you can look to include one hill run per week.  Find a hill that is not very steep and should be about 100 meters long. After you are fully warmed up, include 4 sets of hill workouts where you run up fast and then walk down slowly.  Fully cool down after the hill workouts by walking or easy jogging.

The above steps will take you through the first 3 months of training before you can start to include any other workouts.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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