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Running Faster Is Not Always Better

Obey the speed limit for better performance.

Obey the speed limit for better performance.

Breaking the speed limit in a car is illegal, and if I had it my way as a coach, it would be illegal in running workouts, too. In a runner’s mind faster is always better, and any run that is longer or harder than prescribed is considered an achievement. However, if you’re following a well-written training plan, running faster or longer than prescribed might actually be detrimental to your potential at your goal race and your long-term progression.

Each workout, recovery run, and rest day in a well thought out training plan has a specific purpose. To maximize the effectiveness of each run and to make the absolute most out of every mile, it’s important that an athlete adheres to pace guidelines in a customized plan.

Over the following pages let’s take a look at a few common running workouts and why breaking the speed limit is a bad idea.

Tempo Runs

A tempo run is designed to improve a runner’s lactate threshold. During easy running, your body breaks down sugars to fuel the muscles, which produces lactic acid. When running easy, the body recycles lactic acid back into energy and efficiently expels the waste products. As you continue to run faster and demand more energy, the production of lactic acid will slowly increase. The point at which your body produces more lactic acid than it is able to reconvert back into energy is referred to as your lactate threshold. A tempo run requires running slightly slower than the body’s lactate threshold, so that you train your body to increase its ability to reconvert lactate back into energy. Tempo runs extend endurance and the ability to maintain a faster pace over longer races like the 10Kand the half marathon.

Why running faster during a tempo run is detrimental:

When you push too far beyond your lactate threshold pace, you prevent your body from learning how to effectively clear lactate. Instead of becoming more efficient by handling a moderate and consistent amount of lactate, your body is flooded. It isn’t able to benefit from a prolonged period of lactate clearance. By speeding up, you don’t achieve the benefits of the workout and actually walk away from your tempo run less fit than you would have by staying on the prescribed pace.

Recovery Runs

After a hard workout, a runner’s muscles will have micro-tears from the forceful contractions which happen at fast speeds. These micro-tears cause muscle soreness, and make training the day after a hard workout difficult. The body heals these small micro-tears through the circulatory system, which delivers the oxygen and nutrients to the muscles that need repair. An easy recovery run increases blood flow to the muscles specific to running, helping to clear out waste products and deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients.

Why running recovery runs too fast is detrimental:

Your body does not have an infinite ability to heal itself and requires proper rest in between hard bouts. If you run too hard on an easy day, you create more muscle tears than you’re fixing, extending the amount of time you need to fully recover. This can cause you to run poorly on subsequent workouts because your muscles are still fatigued. Keeping your easy days truly easy will promote faster recovery, allowing you to be prepared for the next hard session and produce maximum results.

Speed Workouts

Defined simply, VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize during exercise. Training at VO2 max increases this limit, allowing you to have a quicker leg turnover and improve your top speed. In addition, speed workouts increase leg muscle strength and power, which reduces how much energy it takes to run at a certain speed, also known as improving your “economy.”

Why running speed workouts too fast is detrimental:

During VO2 max workouts and speed work, you’re asking your body to push its limits. When running near your top speed, the likelihood of injury is increased since muscles are being contracted to their max while under duress. Your training schedule will assign workouts that hit your VO2 max to develop speed, but keep you from going over the red line. Keeping your speed workouts within the given pace range will reduce the risk of injury and allow you to string together consistent training.

A well-written training plan is an intricate puzzle that pieces together different types of workouts. It maximizes the available time to prepare an athlete to have his or her best performance on race day. Running faster than prescribed paces may seem as if it’s advancing your fitness, but you are actually limiting your progress and increasing the likelihood of getting injured. Before you step out the door on your next run, think to yourself, “What is the purpose of my run today?” This will ensure you stay on course and give you the confidence you need to execute a plan as it’s prescribed, even if it means obeying the speed limit.