Speed vs. Endurance

We all know when we run a race the fastest person wins. Duh. But what about all these distances? There’s a 1 mile, 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, heck even ultra marathons…(were talkin 50-100 mile races). Say what?! So where do you start? What’s more important, speed or endurance? Which comes first?

There are so many questions many of us have or have had. It’s important to know that speed and endurance are two different objectives and typically you focus on one over the other. Obviously, the distance you choose to race is going to impact your focus.

But let’s start with some general pointers. 5ks and half marathons are two of the most common races. Yes, marathons are super popular, but I’ll get into that in a minute. It’s important to note that all of these races require very different objectives.

Let’s start with the 5k. It’s just over 3 miles. This is a very realistic race for most people and let’s be honest-it’s the shortest road race you typically see. I’m still going to encourage any runner to start with the endurance part first. If you can’t run a full 5k, there’s really no point in trying to run faster. If you can run a 5 minute mile that fantastic, but if your goal is to race in a 5k, you better be able to run that entire 5k for your speed to actually count. So we start with the basics…endurance. If you are wanting to start racing in a 5k and you can’t run a full 5k yet, slow your speed. This may mean you feel like you’re crawling, but you are still moving your feet at a jog. You do this incrementally until you are running a full 5k. What I mean by increments is to slowly add how far you are running a bit each week until you build up to a full 5k. Honestly before you even start focusing on speed, I would encourage you to get comfortable with running 4 or 5 miles at a time. This will make running a 5k feel much more comfortable and working on speed will come more naturally. Once you get comfortable with the distance you can shift more of your focus to speed, but you can not forget about your endurance. This will mean in incorporate about 10% of your runs to speed training. For most people, this is one run a week that 2-3 miles of speed work. But just like endurance you increase speed training incrementally. If you’ve never done a speed workout I would not want you starting with 12x400m at a 70 sec pace. That’s intense and would more than likely lead to overtraining and/or injury. Start small. Maybe it’s running 6-8 200m runs 20 secs faster than your average mile pace (if you’re feeling really good maybe 45 secs). Then progress, maybe at the peak of your training you’re doing mile repeats sub race pace. There’s a lot of complexity that can go into training depending on your goals.

Now if we start getting into half marathons and full marathons training is going to be a little different. A 5k is a decent distance, but we’re not really into true distance racing until we hit the 1/2 marathon. And the marathon is a completely different beast than the half. But something really important to note about both of these races is ENDURANCE. These are truly endurance sports and most of the time, unless you’re very competitive or elite, run 90+ minutes a race. That’s a long time to be moving. That being said, the first thing you should guide your attention to is the endurance. Yes, I would not encourage you to train over the race distance in a marathon (and not over 11-12 for a half if you’re new to that distance), but putting in the miles each day is going to be important before you can really focus on getting faster. Your body needs to adjust to being in motion for that long of a period. Race day will come and the adrenaline will hit and you’ll speed up,


before that focus on getting in those long runs on the weekend and staying consistent with your runs during the week. This is where consistency is your best friend. If you’re consistent then you can add speed, if not and you speed up, be prepared for a burn out at the race or struggle with the distance. If you can run 10-11 miles before your 1/2, you’ll be fine for race day. If you haven’t ran past 6-race day maybe a little hard and any speed work you put in won’t be beneficial. You’ll find in a 5k you won’t need to run past 5-6 miles on your long days, halves and fulls you’re putting in 10-24 miles, that’s a big jump. Endurance first, speed next.



The best piece of advice I can start you with is:

  1. Find a training program. (You can contact me for general or personalized programs)
  2. Progress wisely. If you have a good program this should do this well for you, but if you start too hard or too fast or jump to far too soon, your body is going to suffer. Be smart.
  3. Pick a realistic race. If you haven’t ever ran 3 miles before and you decide to run a marathon in 4 months, well let’s put it this way-it’s gonna suck.
RunningJo Butler