Run Faster or Run More?

Running faster or running more

Can You Cram For Your Next Fun Run?

Kind of… but just like cramming for an exam, “cramming” for a fun run will yield only short term results.

I have to admit, I used to operate on the “cram, exam, forget” technique. I’d cram the night before, retain information in my head for just long enough to get it onto the exam paper, the forget most of it.

Training madly for a short period before a fun run is a bit the same. You’ll probably do enough for you to get through on the day, but if you don’t do much for the rest of the year, when your next run comes around, you won’t have any base to build from.

What’s Going to Get You Faster: Training More or Training Faster?

If I had to choose one over the other -more mileage or faster running – for 95% of my runners, I’d choose more mileage as the option that would get them to be able to run distance faster. That is, increasing mileage in appropriate increments over a long period of time –a longer time than a 12 week fun run training program!

In reality, it’s not an either/or choice. Both mileage and speed can be incorporated into a good training program. Just how much of each depends on your current fitness levels, the distance you’re training for, and how far away your race is.

Running faster in training can work for you, particularly in the short term, but ultimately, improvements in your long term running potential lie in putting a lot of running miles in the bank over a period of time.  The training you do this year, lays the base for your personal record next year.

Does This Training Pattern Sound Familiar?

  • You decide to enter a run.
  • You train well for 6 weeks, or 8, or if you’re really well organised, you get 12 weeks of training in.
  • You finish the race full of motivation to keep training.
  • Next day, things hurt a bit.  After all, you haven’t run that fast for that far, since the last fun run.
  • You have a few days off training to recover.
  • You have a few more days off training to recover.
  • You have no plan to follow, now that the goal race is done, and don’t know what direction to take with your training.
  • You do bits and pieces of running till the next run is on the horizon when you start to rebuild your fitness all over again.

A Better Way To Train

The ultimate training plan in your quest to run faster would span 12-18 months, maybe more. It would see you training and entering fun runs over a variety of distances. It would most likely include a year on year increase in weekly mileage as well as introduce some more sophisticated speed work. You might even include some speed work in your long runs, depending on your level of experience. As you increase your mileage and become better equipped as a runner, the volume of your speed work can also increase.

How Do You Know When You’re Pumping Out Enough K’s?

Training volume is a very individual thing. Increasing training remains productive up until just short of the point at which you breakdown –  when you get injured, or are constantly sick. It’s extremely hard to judge just what that point is however, so I always err on the side of caution and guide my runners well short of that point, unless they have quite a few years of training under their belt and they are used to monitoring themselves effectively.

No-one is going to do their best if they can’t even make it to the start line! It’s a very fine line between enough and too much, and without sophisticated data measuring and analysis, it’s all too easy to cross that line if you are pushing too hard.

Some runners can just train more than others. There’s no right or wrong amount of mileage, so it’s pointless comparing your mileage to other people. Do keep track of your training though. It’s a great tool to help assess how quickly you can step up your volume and intensity.

You may have noticed you have a “sweet spot” with your training. That amount of weekly mileage you can run pretty comfortably, without feeling overly tired, and without fear of injury. No little niggles, no resistance to getting out of bed in the morning and strapping on your running shoes (well… not too much, anyway).

Generally you can advance your mileage pretty quickly to that “sweet spot” but once you reach the level of training past which you know you are pushing into unknown territory, you need to increase your mileage very carefully. So keeping a training log is important if you want to improve year on year and minimise your risk of injury. Plus, it’s awesome to look back on what you’ve accomplished.

But You Want To Get Faster Right Now! You Want to Cram!

If your next run is a little closer than next year away, here’s a general guide to help you decide where to put your training focus to get the best short term results. For a more sophisticated program based on your individual needs, an online coach may be just what you need.

5km

10km

Half Marathon

Beginner: Little to no running exeperience Take 8-12 weeks. Focus on increasing the amount of time you can run for at an easy pace 12 weeks. Build distance. Don’t worry about speed work. You’ll get more bang for your buck from easy running for a longer period of time, and reduce your risk of injury. To move from no running, to running 21km, whilst minimising your risk of injury, will take longer than 12 weeks. Beginners should aim for something shorter
Advanced Beginner: Running consistently 3 times a week for the last 2 months. Can run for 30 minutes or so. Build mileage for 4-6 weeks. If there’s still some time before your race, you can introduce some speed work into your training Focus on building mileage for 6-8 weeks, and introduce speed work after that. Build mileage for 12 weeks. Running further at an easy pace will help far more than faster shorter training.
Intermediate: Running for 6-12 months, 15-20k/week 6-8 weeks. Continue to build mileage so your long run is 60 mins or so. Definitely add some speed work to your program 6-8 weeks. Focus on building mileage, with a small amount of speed work. Focus can shift to include more speed work after 6 weeks (if you still have time before your race) Gradually increase the distance of your long run over 10 weeks-longest run will be 2 weeks before race. Focus is definitely on distance, not speed.
Advanced Intermediate: Running for more than 12 months, over 20k/week. 6 weeks should be enough preparation. Focus on speed work. Efforts of 3-5 minutes with an active recovery, tempo runs at 5k pace. 6 weeks of focus on faster running should give you some good short term results. If you have longer than 6 weeks, concentrate on building mileage prior to that. Include some speed work, and some hill work for building running specific strength. Your main focus will still be on building your mileage, particularly your easy paced long run.