Should you become a Distance or Speed Runner?

So you want to be a runner? Or maybe you already are a runner – but no doubt this question has passed your mind at one point or the other on your journey as a runner.

To be a speed runner, or to be a distance runner?

Here is a quick rundown of what each of the running styles includes as well as some guidance to help you decide which pick is the best fit for you.

Speed Runner

Speed running (or also known as sprinting) is for runners that are more focused on how fast they can go rather than how long they can go. For this, you might want to train on a track or somewhere that gives you a straight and flat path to run on without many people there to get in your way. Speed running is great for whoever wants to work on their agility, muscle mass, anaerobic endurance and maintain a stronger stride.

Because speed running isn’t continuous and you have to stop after short intervals of sprinting, your energy is used up in short bursts, which is the leading factor for having to adjust immediately into a proper running form to not only increase speed but also reduce injury risk.

In terms of footwork, it is vital to make sure to keep our body weight centred on our foot (coming down in the middle) and not tipping over towards the inside or outside of the foot. As for arms, it is necessary to keep them straight and parallel to each other along the side of our body to avoid letting our arms cross over the midline of the body which leads to potential back and shoulder strains.

Breathing is something that is less necessary to bring attention to as since you will only be running for short bursts and most of your respiration will be anaerobic, a temporarily halted oxygen intake will do no harm, however quick shallow breaths might help you stay focused on your speed and form rather than the motions of breathing.

Speed Training for Beginners:

1. Fartlek Training

Fartlek is a Swedish word for “Speed Play” and it basically entails adding in intervals of sprinting embedded within your usual run. So to put it simply, for certain distances/locations/times during your run, you sprint as fast as you can, and when that sprinting duration ends, you go back to your normal pace or walk until you regain your breath before continuing your normal run. By adding multiple of these intervals during your run it will certainly make for a much more interesting and challenging run and its a great way to really work your heart muscles.

2. Tempo Runs

This type of run is basically starting at an easy pace to get your body warmed up before gradually increasing the speed of your run over a predetermined period of time (Typically 10 – 30 minutes). After you’re going at a high speed start gradually decreasing your speed again until you are back to your resting and easy pace over the course of the next predetermined period of time (Typically 10 – 30 minutes).

3. Interval Runs

In this type of speed work, you simply add short bursts of sprinting into your usual run before slowing back down to a resting easy pace, all whilst still moving.

4. Mile Repeats

This is basically the textbook standard way of getting better at running in terms of speed. All you do is run a mile (or you can alter this distance according to your fitness level i.e. 2 miles or 1/2 mile) at a fast pace and then for the next half mile, slow down your pace to allow yourself some recovery time, before picking up the base again and repeating back into a fast pace.

Distance Runner

This is for those of you that want to work on your endurance and set challenges based on distance. The good thing about distance running is that you can do it pretty much anywhere, you don’t need to do it on a track and you can incorporate a lot of fun routes to enjoy on your run. Distance running is great for strengthened cardiovascular health, low cholesterol, lower blood pressure and revamped metabolism.

Read our article about 17 benefits of running that will make you want to run forever!

Distance running works your aerobic system and increases your body’s ability to deliver oxygen to working muscles.  The biggest differentiation when it comes to the 2 running styles is the need to stabilize your breathing so that you are getting sufficient amounts of oxygen to supply to all your muscles for aerobic respiration.

The form is also a lot more important to maintain during distance running as you’re no longer running for short bursts. Sore abs, glutes, hamstrings, and quads are all indicators of proper running form.

However, if you have sore muscles in your back, neck, and shoulders chances are your posture isn’t correct or you have a twisted arm swing that crosses over your midline. Sore feet and ankles could be the result of an uneven track or trail that you’re running on, but if you’re running on a flat surface chances are your stepping and foot striking need some work to stabilize.

Distance running puts your body under stress for a longer period of time and therefore can increase injury susceptibility gradually over time. Despite these injuries being more subtle than those that can be attained through speedrunning, they might take longer to recover from.

Distance Training for Beginners:

1. Set Distance Goals

You should roughly know the amount of distance you’re aiming to cover by the end of your run so that you can track your progress and strive for longer goals in the future. Don’t start right away with something intense and crazy like 10k. Set realistic goals. Set yourself up for success.

2. Use a Run/Walk Strategy

After setting a goal don’t stress too much about having to run the entire distance. If you can run the majority of it and have to take multiple short rests in between where you are at a walking pace, that is perfectly fine! You’re still covering the distance and you’re still having a great workout. Over time with more endurance training you’ll be able to do the entire run without needing to stop for breaks.

3. Run at a Conversational Pace

The overwhelmingly large reason that most beginner runners stop running before they reach their goal distance is simply that they’re running too fast.

When you first start running, you should be running at a conversational pace. What that means is: You should be able to talk in complete sentences while running. If you’re out of breath and struggling to get your gasping under control, you’re simply going way too fast, slow down!

The Running Verdict

It’s simple. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can simply do both!

You can decide which of the two you want to primarily focus on and include the other style of running as a secondary hobby.

Read our article on 13 ways to have the most fun on your next run!

Whether you want to work on running races and sprinting, or completing marathons and running vast distances. It is important to focus on form, breathing, endurance and footwork. This is so you get the most out of your run and staying on the low-risk side of potential injury.

share this post

Related articles


the colour of success looks good on you

An independently run blogging website striving to bring you high-quality content, made with integrity, honesty, creativity and a little bit of magic. 


Featured Articles
Sponsored Content