Ah yes, a common refrain often heard along with the corollary – “But I can’t run long distances.”
Let’s be clear from the outset:
1. You are what you train.
2. Everyone can improve on endurance and/or speed.
Though everyone has genetic make-ups that allow us to be better at different aspects of sports – quickness, speed, strength, endurance, hand-eye coordination – all of these aspects of athletics are also trainable. Everyone can improve from where they are and move in the direction they desire to go.
Of course there are genetic limits in play but the wonderful thing about genetic limitations is that we never really know when we’ve reached the end point.
To improve speed one must begin to run faster. It sounds like the chicken or the egg issue. Which comes first? The answer is that you must start to run fast now with what abilities you currently have in order to build on them to run faster in the future.
How do you do that? By running parts of workouts far faster as well as integrating repeats (such as on a track) which are far faster than any current racing pace interspersed with bouts of rest between each rep.
There is plenty of science behind how fast how far and how much rest but let’s not focus on that right now. Let’s focus on the specific question at hand. Take your race pace for a given distance. It doesn’t matter whether you are a marathoner, 10K or 5K runner or 800 meter runner. Figure out how fast your average pace is.
If you run marathons in about 3:29 then your average pace is 8:00/mile or 2:00 per 400 meters.
If you run a 5K in 20:00 you then average 6:27/mile which broken down further is about 1:37/400 meters (one lap of the track).
If you run 800 meters in 3:00 then you average 45 seconds per 200 meters or about 67.5 seconds per 300 meters or 1:30/400 meters.
Notice that we break your current race paces down to much smaller increments.
Now, you want to run this shorter increment faster than race pacing. And as you get accustomed to the workouts – FAR faster than race pacing.
In the above examples that might mean:
Our marathoner runs 400 meter repeats in 1:45.
Our 5K runner runs 400 meter repeats in 1:30.
Our 800 meter runner runs 200 meter repeats in 42 seconds.
Of course your current conditioning will not allow you to continue this pace for long so we now intersperse rests between each repetition.
Start with one to two minute rests between.
Gradually your goal is to do the following:
Increase the number of repetitions.
Increase the distance of the repetitions.
Decrease the rest between the repetitions.
With this strategy anyone can get faster.
There is far more to the science of calculating correct paces and doing repeats and speed work but this general approach will work – immediately.
Addressing the corollary; if you gradually add distance to your training you will be able to run farther. It must be progressive and gradual to minimize chances of injury but it is as simple as just doing it. Body types do not matter – body builders and football players have run marathons. The bigger issue is that people can’t run “longer” because they really don’t want to.
If done correctly (gradually) there is little chance of injury. By the way, distances run (i.e. longer or more miles of training) have a stronger correlation to causing injuries than speed of training. There is no reason even beginners should not do faster running as part of their training.