Why You Need to Run Fast to Run Fast(er) - Live Slow Run Far

Why You Need to Run Fast to Run Fast(er)

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We previously discussed the importance of running at a slow, easy pace for long term development, and why everyone should be doing most of their running in this zone. If you haven’t read it or want a refresher, check out part 1 here: Why You Need to Run Slow to Run Fast. Now, though, onto part 2 – why you also need to run fast, in order to develop as a runner. And that means not only to run faster over shorter distances, but to run farther as well. Let’s dive in.

Avoid the Plateau

Easy running should be the most significant aspect of your training – it builds your aerobic base, drives physiological development and reduces your injury risk. However, if you only run easy, all the time, you may soon reach a plateau… and even start to backslide. 

All those things about the huge benefits of easy running are absolutely true – and not to be dismissed – but doing some running, even just a little, at a faster pace and harder effort is necessary as well.

Running Economy and Form

Running fast, whether you are doing tempo runs, interval workouts, or even just strides or fartlek, improves your running economy and your form. Something special happens when you pick up the pace – the body learns how to recruit the right combination of muscles, your stride naturally lengthens and improves, your posture strengthens, and things just start to click in a way that doesn’t happen when you’re “just” running easy. 

Even after adding just the smallest amount of speed, you’ll notice a significant improvement in your running form and you’ll start to feel more comfortable and controlled at faster paces. It’s very common to feel like a running beginner the first few times you try out a workout, but bear with it – pieces will fall into place sooner than you’d think.

In other words, running fast helps keep your form in check. If you run only easy, your running form does risk degrading and you may develop bad habits.

Your Lactate Threshold

Want to run farther at a faster pace before you feel the lactic burn? As you run faster, the harder your body works and the more lactate is produced, which ultimately causes you to have to slow down. The point at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the bloodstream at a faster rate than it can be removed is known as your lactate threshold, which is highly trainable.

Through harder effort running, your body will learn how to better shuttle that lactic acid away. It trains the body to better clear lactic acid, pushing your lactate threshold higher and higher. (In fact, a pushed lactate threshold is one of the best indicators of improved running fitness.) By pushing the pace, you enter that zone of more substantial lactic acid buildup, and only by going there can you teach your body how to better clear it. Eventually, you will be able to run farther at a faster pace before the lactic acid buildup in your bloodstream becomes too much for the body to handle and force you to slow down. Cool, right?

How Fast Is Fast Enough?

First, you don’t need to be fast in order to run fast. It’s all relative, so as long as you are pushing more than you are during your easy efforts, you’ve got a start. You also don’t need to be putting out max effort every time you do a harder, faster session – nor do you want to. Finding that balance of just hard enough, where you are toeing the line of your lactate threshold, is key to seeing the benefits we’ve described above. Whatever your speed workout is, it should be sustainable – meaning you should try avoiding going out too hard and having to slow down significantly as the session goes on, but instead maintain the same level of quality throughout. It can take some practice to get there, and we’ll also say this: even the most experienced blow up sometimes.

By incorporating just a small percentage of faster, harder effort running into your training, anywhere from 5-20% of your total training volume, you’re providing your body with the stimulus it needs to improve and develop as a runner. You’re keeping your running form in check, improving your running economy, training your body to better deal with lactic acid and pushing your lactate threshold, allowing you to run faster for longer. Skip running fast completely, and you risk hitting a plateau and even backsliding and getting slower. Good luck, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

Check out this post where we share our favorite interval workouts:

15 Running Sessions to Push Your Limits

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