You don’t have to run fast in training—unless you want to run faster in races.

If you have been running for a few months, finishing a 5K is likely no longer an issue and you have probably run a parkrun; finishing it faster, however, is presenting a problem. So how do you get faster?

The answer is to undertake some small doses of speed work into your training schedule. As a new runner, chances are you’re running over the same roads or on the same treadmill at the same speed every day. You’re using the same muscles in the same manner every time you put on your running shoes. Then, when it comes time to race, you find yourself stuck in second gear from start to finish. In order to start shifting speeds, your metronomic muscle memory will need some new stimulation.

The local running track is one place to do some faster running under the guidance of a coach but if this is a bit daunting for you then not to worry, there are many ways to start putting some speed into your training without going to the track straight away.

If you’re new to racing and want to reach the finish line faster, use these simple suggestions to safely start inserting some speed work into your training schedule.


When introducing speed work into a training program, it’s important to do so safely. Running faster will force you to break out of your comfort zone and start recruiting your previously unused fast-twitch muscle fibres. Doing too much, too soon, however, will result in injury, so it’s important to sprinkle in speed work in small doses.

Strides are an easy and effective way to gently fire up those fast-twitch muscle fibres that will power your future speed workouts. So, how do you do them?

After or during one or two of your regular runs during the week, find a flat stretch of road and accelerate for 15-20 seconds. Once you approach top speed, gradually decelerate back down to a jog. Repeat four to six times and take a minute or so between repeats to catch your breath and get ready to go again. Remember, these aren’t all-out sprints but short accelerations. Focus on running relaxed with fluid form: get up on your toes and lift your knees a little more than you ordinarily would while covering ground quickly and comfortably.

In the beginning, a set of four to six strides two to three times a week during your regular runs is plenty. As your training progresses, strides will become something of a speed maintenance session


Once you’ve made strides a regular part of your training regimen, you’ll be ready to start stepping up the speed work ladder. Fartlek – Swedish for “speed play” – is a great way to get your wheels spinning. This type of speed workout can be done on the roads, trails or treadmill and all you’ll need is a little imagination or a reliable watch.

Essentially, fartlek is a series of faster pickups with a recovery interval in between. The length and speed of the pickups, as well as the recovery intervals, is totally up to you. When out on the roads or trails, after an easy warm-up jog of a mile or two, find an object off in the near distance, be it a tree, rock or telephone pole, and run to it at a pace faster than you ordinarily would. Once you reach your destination or start feeling fatigued, jog gently or even walk until you’re feeling recovered and then repeat the process all the way home.

If you prefer a little more structure in your speed play or are tied to the treadmill, set your watch so your pickups are of a predetermined duration, whether it’s 30 seconds, 10 minutes or anything in between.  Use the shorter pickups to practice sprinting and utilize the longer intervals to run strong at a steady pace you hope to maintain in a race. A mix of short, fast running and longer, steady stretches will tap into your anaerobic system and increase your aerobic capacity, thus improving your ability to maintain a faster pace. Try to perform a fartlek workout once a week and allow yourself a few days of easy running or rest afterward to ensure you recover completely.

Track Workouts

When most new runners think of speed work they immediately think of gut-wrenching laps around a track. This misrepresentation of the truth behind track workouts often prevents a lot of runners from deviating from the safety of their regular routine.

Regardless of your ability level, this shouldn’t be the case. Track work in the form of interval training is one of the most precise ways to keep your speedometer in check on race day. Similar to fartlek training in that bouts of faster running are separated by recovery intervals, track training will better allow you to keep a close eye on your pace and give you an accurate idea of what you’ll be capable of in a race.

Introduce track workouts into your training schedule only after strides have become part of your regular routine and you’ve had some fun with a few fartlek workouts and hill sessions. When setting out to do a track workout, warm up with a couple of laps of easy jogging and then perform some warm up drills and a set of four to six strides in order to get your fast-twitch muscle fibres ready to do some work. 

Track Sessions

There are many varied track sessions that you can undertake, normally the coach will set the session beforehand so you know what to expect. The sessions will change each week to stress different muscles and energy systems and to keep the athletes interested.

Some typical sessions:

  • 400m intervals run at just faster than 5k pace 10 repeats with 1 to 2 min recoveries
  • 800m intervals run at just faster than 5k pace 10 repeats with 1 to 2 min recoveries
  • 1000m intervals run at 5k pace 10 repeats with 1 to 2 min recoveries
  • Pyramid – 200m 400m 800m 1000m 1200m 1000m 800m 400m 200m run at 5k pace with 1 min recovery between.
  • Ravine 1200m 1000m 800m 400m 200m 400m 800m 1000m 1200m run at 5k pace with 1 min recovery between.

There are many variations of these sessions with slightly different distances and mixture of distance, Recovery can be static or can consist of a slow 400m jog.

Each session will aim for two to three miles’ worth of intervals ranging from 200 metres (1/2 a lap of the track) to one mile (four laps) and run them at your goal 5K race pace or even a few seconds per mile faster. For recovery, jog or walk for half the duration of the faster interval before starting the next one.

Gear Change Sessions

In these workouts, alternate between your easy, medium, and fast paces. Warm up with three to five minutes of jogging, then ramp up to your easy pace (see below) and hold it for two to three minutes. Then shift into your medium pace and sustain it for one minute. Then shift into the fast pace for 30 seconds. Repeat the cycle two or three times. Walk for five minutes to cool down. Use this guide to find each gear:  

Easy: Conversational pace; a pace where you could chat with a friend running alongside you. This is a rhythm that feels like you could maintain it all day long if you had to.

Medium: This should be faster than your easy pace, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re speeding. You would prefer not to hold a full conversation, but if someone asked you a question, you could answer in two- or three-word sentences.

Fast: Quicker than your medium pace. In this gear you should be able to say one or two words but, if someone asked you a question, it would make you mad because you wouldn’t want to expend the energy to answer them. Don’t sprint all-out or push to the point of pain, or where you feel you’re going to pull something. You should feel like “I’m okay, I just don’t want to do this for very long.”  

What It Does:
This workout will elevate your heart rate, boost your fitness and calorie burn, and keep you from falling into a rut with the same easy pace. “It makes running fun, ups the intensity, and recruits different muscle fibres,” Why is that important? “If you’re aware of your running pace, you can control your effort based on the distance or the purpose of the workout or in the race.

The Michigan

Distance (metres) Pace
1,200 Run slightly faster than your 5K race pace (80 to 85 percent effort) for 3 laps.
400 Recover with a jog for 1 lap (2 to 2 1/2 minutes).
1,000 Run 2 1/2 laps at tempo (80 to 85 percent effort).
400 Recover with a jog for 1 lap.
800 Run 2 laps at 80 to 85 percent effort.
400 Jog for 1 lap.
400 Run 1 lap hard.
Cool-down Run easy for 10 minutes.