Endurance vs Speed - What's Better for Your Running

by Cathy
(Albany NY)

endurance vs speed

I am doing a couch potato to 5k program. I am a 46 yr old woman, non runner. I am now up to 25 minutes of running with no rest. But I go really slow. Maybe 2 miles covered in that time.

Is it better to maintain endurance and not have to rest, or better to run faster but have to rest.

I am training for a 5k race.

Answer by Dominique:
Hi there,

First and foremost, congratulations on taking that big leap from a couch potato to preparing for a 5k race. Your journey so far has been commendable! Now, let's get to your question as follows:

1. Why endurance is important
2. Transitioning to faster running
3. Types of faster runs

Why Endurance is Important

endurance vs speed
To answer it simply - at this stage in your running journey, it's most beneficial to focus on building endurance, rather than speed. When you run a race of 100 metres, endurance doesn't play a big role. It's all about speed, speed, speed. When you run a race of 400 metres, speed is still super important, but endurance starts to play a role. And when you run any race of 800m and up, endurance becomes the more important factor. The further you go, the more important endurance is. As you can imagine, if you ever were to run a marathon, speed plays only a tiny role. It's all about endurance.

When you're new to running like you are now, having come from a non-fitness background, your endurance levels might not be very high. Building endurance is the key to being able to cover a distance. So, the running you're doing now is perfect as it helps build that endurance, so you'll eventually be able to cover the 5k.

Transitioning to Faster Running

endurance vs speed
Speed training can have benefits, don't get me wrong. However, it's something I usually discourage beginner runners from doing. You don't need it to finish a 5k. And, as said before, building endurance is now the most important part.

Moreover, working on speed tends to be riskier as it increases your injury risk. So, for your first running program and race, I would encourage you to stick with the program you're doing now.

Keep focusing on those easy runs until you're comfortable to cover a 5k without feeling like you're pushing your limits. Run this race as a celebration of how far you've come from the couch potato days!

Afterward, keep on doing your easy runs, gradually extending the distance you cover. Comfortable covering 30-45 minutes of non-stop running? And you still want to get faster? That’s when I'd recommend introducing faster running to your program.

Not a lot. Once a week is fine.

Types of Faster Running

endurance vs speed
Some coaches might get you to bring in faster running at an earlier stage. Each type of running serves its own purpose, working on different systems within our bodies. But I always like to start with a solid base of endurance. Get your running muscles ready for the strains of faster running. Once you are ready, some types of runs you could do:

Tempo Runs
When your pace picks up beyond an easy run, that's often termed as a tempo run. This is primarily used to increase your lactic acid threshold. "What's that?", you might wonder. Well, when you exercise more intensely, your body produces lactic acid. If the production rate exceeds your body's ability to flush it out, your muscles start to tire and ache. Now, when you do tempo runs, you're essentially training your body to become better at processing lactic acid, enabling you to run comfortably at faster speeds for more extended periods. Check out the tempo running page for more information and ideas for tempo workouts.

Interval Runs
Taking it up another notch, we have interval runs. These are short bursts of very high-intensity runs interspersed with rest periods. Interval runs are great for building speed. It mainly works on improving your VO2 max (think of it as the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can use during high-intensity workouts). The interval running page provides ideas for workouts.

Lastly, check out the running workouts page, a useful page which provides a whole range of different workouts to consider.

That's a lot to take in, isn't it? But I hope that gives you a better understanding of running, and how focusing on endurance now would be more beneficial for you. Embrace your slow, steady pace for now and keep up the good work! Speedwork can come at a later stage.

Happy running!

Kind regards,

5k running tips

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