The Speed Will Come

Hang around with runners a while and it won’t take very long before you will hear about speed. Sure runners talk about a lot of different things from gear, injuries, training, unpleasant odors, and a million other things in between, but if you hang around for more than just a short time, you will most likely hear something said about speed.

This talk about speed with runners that have been running some time is all part of the fun and camaraderie of the sport, but what else would you expect in a sport where the pinnacle event is a race to see who can cross the finish line the fastest. The concern comes when new runners, particularly those who have very few miles under their belts, start worrying about it too much.

All too often when talking to new runners, I find that they are overly concerned with their speed. They are often concerned with how fast they did the mile, or how they should incorporate some speed work into their workouts. This can be for a multitude of reasons -- from trying to get faster to burning more calories, but whatever the reason, focusing on speed without a good base can get very discouraging, not to mention it can be dangerous as well.

A new runner that focuses too much on speed will more than likely get discouraged because their body just is not ready to perform the way they think it should be able to perform. This, many times, can lead to giving up, or if they have the determination to push harder, can often lead to injury. We can all agree that if we want to attain our goals, we need the drive and determination to push ourselves past our comfort levels, but if we do this too fast or too hard, we can fall susceptible to injury.

When I started to run again, following a 20-year hiatus from the sport, I wasn't concerned with speed. During this time you would not believe how many times I heard the statement, “You won’t get any faster without speed work,” but I chose to follow the recommendation of first building a good base. In my first year back to running, the one time I tried to do something with speed, I pulled a muscle that sidelined me for almost 3 months.

After abstaining for 2 years, I just recently started to add some speed work back into my routine. The funny thing is that, although I didn't worry about speed and hadn’t done any speed work prior to that time, the speed came, regardless. Each time I hit the road I was building a base, and each time I would get incrementally stronger, and yes, faster.

During my first year of running, I started with a 5K in 36:37 and the very next year ran the same race in 23:23. I also ran a 10K in the first year in 1:03:59, and 10 months later ran a 10K in 48:03. All of this was done by just putting in the miles and letting my fitness level build.

I know the temptation can be overwhelming as a new runner to build speed up as fast as possible, especially if you are competitive by nature. However, remember that focusing on speed too much and too early can not just be discouraging, but can also potentially sideline you with injuries for a long time. Why not leave the worrying about speed to others and just get out there and be consistent. The speed will come.

This was the first of two articles that I wrote for the Running Hoosier Magazine in Late 2009.  I haven't edited it at all and it is just like it was printed in the first issue of Running Hoosier Magazine.  The Running Hoosier Magazine had a short life with only a single issue due to lack of funding, however I did write a second article which I will be publishing in the next couple weeks.  Since this has been over a year ago now some of this is dated, however the main premise still remains the same and I still feel strongly about the content.  The time each person uses to build their base can vary quite a bit and in many/most cases will be much faster than 2 years.  I had the additional challenge of dropping 90 lbs that first of those two years which meant I needed to be extremely careful in many ways to avoid injury.

What are your thoughts on speed work and injury?  Do you recommend speed work for new runners before they have a chance to build their base?

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