“Long slow-distance runs,” the coaching phrase goes, “make long slow-distance runners.” A leisurely long run isn’t bad for you—it just means that if you want to run faster, you have to train faster. Mix it up instead and incorporate speed workouts into your runs: interval, tempo, and fartlek.
Always include a warm-up and cooldown with your workout. Limit speed workouts to twice a week and get enough rest and recovery in between. Actively rest by going on a lighter run or bike ride, or even doing some yoga. Learn more about how speed workouts can ramp up your performance.
Interval workouts require running fairly fast for relatively short distances, taking rest breaks, and repeating. For example, you could run a hard mile, then recovery mile, then hard mile, and recovery mile. If you can find a track (typically 400 m) or know the distance around your block, you can run ladder workouts. For example: Run 200 m, rest 30–60 seconds, then 400 m, rest, 600 m, rest, 800 m, rest, 1000 m, rest, and 1200 m. Then decrease from 1200 m, 1000 m, 800 m…etc., back down to 200 m. Your pace should be higher in intensity and faster than your usual distance pace. You shouldn’t be able to talk during these intervals, and breathing pretty hard near the end.
Tempo runs consist of warm-up and cooldown, while maintaining a somewhat faster-than-normal pace for the “meat” of the run. The pace shouldn’t be so fast that it can’t be maintained, but you should feel slightly uncomfortable and not easily able to talk. Depending on your fitness level, you can start with 20 minutes of tempo run and gradually work your way to longer durations.
Fartlek workouts can help keep your run interesting and enjoyable, while also improving your speed. These workouts are less structured and incorporate speed work at various paces and distances into your run. For example, sprint the distance between two trees, take a rest break, and then pick up the pace again for a longer interval. These can be fun to do with a friend or in a group.