Member Question: Getting Faster on the Run

author : Amy Kuitse
comments : 6

Should I be working on getting faster at running by doing the longer distances and working up slowly over time or run faster for shorter distances now?

Member Question:


"So I realized that after doing my first tri last weekend that the area which needs the most improvement is my run. Now please realize that I've really only been running for the last couple of months and it is only the last month or so that I've been doing my runs without having to take walking breaks during them. I'm only doing try-a-tris this year and the runs for the ones that I am doing are 2.5K.


For my training I do between 4-5K and I run the entire time but at a slow pace. My coach mentioned to me last night that I'm not pushing myself hard enough and that I should do more shorter 2-3K runs at a quick pace to get faster. So should I be working on getting faster by doing the longer distances and working up slowly over time or run faster for shorter distances now?"


Answer by USAT Coach Amy Kuitse


Good question on how to progress your run as a beginner triathlete and a new runner at the same time. It is a challenge to work on building a base and improving your speed at the same time. One of the keys is balancing this work on the run and avoiding injury. In my opinion, one of the best ways to balance this is a gradual progression in volume and then adding in speedwork later. You can still add some change of pace work into your runs, strides, and running drills while improving your endurance base and efficiency.

One of the things you want to recognize is that the run is new to you AND you are in the process of developing a base. As you develop your base you will naturally see improvements in your run. Building and improving your run comes over time and this requires patience. I know it is difficult to be patient with this when we have people going by us during the run. If, though, you find the patience to do this you will find improvements come to you and you will be less likely to deal with an injury.

So let’s look at some time-lines for base building, drills, and the gradual addition of volume and speedwork (interval training) to your run training. Going from where you are now I would recommend you continue to work on your runs from the perspective that you want to complete the racing season with: 1 - running the entire race distance and 2 - be injury free. Be consistent in the number of days you run per week. For example, if you are running 3-4 days per week and your longest run distance is a 5k let’s set-up the 3-4 days of running as:


Run 1 - First run of the week is a short, very easy recovery type run of 1.5-2 miles.

Run 2 - Middle of the week run is your long run of 3-3.5 miles

Run 3 - Your weekend run(s) is a 5 minute run off the bike and the other run of the weekend would be 2 miles.

The reason for separating your longest run and ride is so you give yourself the opportunity to do your long run on more rested legs. Next year this will be different. Consider making your goal to complete all runs at a controlled pace so you feel you could have run longer. While racing you want to stretch yourself, but the goal is still the same - finish the run without walking. After the racing season is over and you have taken some well deserved time off, look at building the volume of your run through the winter months.

Heading into the late fall/early winter start back slowly to your season ending mileage of this year. Be consistent in the number of days you run and build your volume slowly over 3-4 week blocks. Depending on who you talk with you will get different opinions on how to increase this volume. If you have a running background you may increase this by 10% working up to what you are looking for your long run to be through the winter. Daniel’s recommends adding no more than a mile for every day of the week you run. So, if you are running 3 days a week you would add 3 miles to the next week and divide this over the 3 days of running. In addition you would continue with this distance for 3 weeks to allow yourself time to adapt to the distance. If following this type of pattern in increasing your volume I would recommend a 4 week block that has the same distance for 3 weeks and then a 4rth week that drops the mileage back down to before the 3 miles you added. Entering into the next block of 4 weeks you would go back to the mileage of the previous 3rd week and add an additional 3 miles of running divided among the 3 days again.


I would recommend following this pattern of 4 weeks for a 4-5 month period and evaluate, on a monthly basis, how you are responding to these gradual increases in volume. At some point during this time you may decide you want to add an additional day of running. This would be fine and what you would want to do is divide the total mileage up over the 4 days vs 3 days. Each run may be a different distance, but still the same total weekly mileage.


Here is an example:


Running 3x per week = 3 total miles to add to next weeks mileage over a 4 week block
Week 0 - X (short, medium, long run) = Starting point / Current WEEKLY running mileage

Week 1 - X+3 miles (short + 1mile, medium + 1mile, long + 1mile) = New mileage
Week 2 - X+3 miles (short + 1mile, medium + 1mile, long + 1mile) = Adapt
Week 3 - X+3 miles (short + 1mile, medium + 1mile, long + 1mile) = Adapt
Week 4 - X (short, medium, long run) = Recovery week

REPEAT FOR 4-5 is the next iteration:

Week 5 - X+6miles (short + 2mile, medium + 2mile, long + 2mile) = New mileage
Week 6 - X+6miles (short + 2mile, medium + 2mile, long + 2mile) = Adapt
Week 7 - X+6miles (short + 2mile, medium + 2mile, long + 2mile) = Adapt
Week 8 - X+3miles (short + 1mile, medium + 1mile, long + 1mile) = Old mileage from week 4 - Recovery week

Starting in the late winter is a great time to add hill work into your training. During your shortest run of the week you would start with running 3-4 hill repeats of 20-30 seconds. The recovery time is an easy run coming back down the hill. You want to be well warmed up before you start and make sure you have at least an easy 5 minutes of running to finish followed by stretching. Two 4 week blocks of this will be very helpful in building strength and power to your run. The length of the hill repeat could also be gradually increased.

From here you could begin adding running drills, one time per week, and include an introduction to increased pace running through the use of pick-ups. Pick-ups are 20 seconds of a gradual increase of your speed that is approximately 85% of your max speed. These would be done at the end your running drills. Running drills help work on your form and may include high knees, butt kicks, grapevines, skipping, etc. Drills and your pick-ups should be done following a short, easy run in your week. I would recommend adding the drills following your hill repeat phase and do this for a 4 week block.

At this point you will likely find yourself starting a triathlon specific training plan that will include speedwork needed to help you prepare for your race distance. The running drills can continue to be part of your weekly training and something I would recommend to continue with. It will help you to continue to work on your running form and efficiency. I have not included specific speedwork recommendations in this response as this will be dependent on the run distance you will be training for.

The key in all of this is a gradual progression in your run volume. From there an introduction to the other components of running through hill work and drills will help prepare you for speedwork. It is important to remember that the above time-line recommendations can be varied over more months as needed. A monthly evaluation by you and your coach, to determine your progress, will be helpful in deciding how to progress and adjust each phase as needed.

If you would like more details on running drills please see the D3 website at for more information. You are also welcome to contact me at [email protected].

All the best to you as you continue to grow and improve in your running and triathlons.
Coach Amy


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date: September 10, 2009

Amy Kuitse