A good friend of mine recently asked me how to run faster. After a couple of weeks, he’s made little progress and still can’t run more than two miles. Moreover, he said he’s usually breathing heavily and struggles to catch his breath.
I then asked a simple question to pinpoint exactly why he wasn’t seeing the results he was hoping for.
How fast are you running?
His response was a great example of what most new runners get wrong:
“As fast as I can handle.”
To new runners, running slowly is a sign of weakness, laziness, or being out of shape. As a result, we tend to run as hard as we can for as long as we can.
I too used to run like this. And for years, I struggled to achieve the results I so desperately wanted. I learned the hard way — running as hard as I can all the time leads to injury and eventually burnout. It’s unsustainable and an ineffective way to become a better runner.
If the goal is to get in better shape, look better, or even to run a marathon, the best way to do so is by building your aerobic endurance. Slowly but surely, you’ll become faster, stronger, and fitter.
According to one of the leading exercise physiologists in the world, Dr. Phil Maffetone, the aerobic system plays a primary role in all physical activity. He goes on to say, “Between 95–99% of the energy used for endurance sports, is derived from the aerobic system.”
In addition to the traditional endurance events such as running, biking, and swimming, this also includes tennis, golf, basketball, and others. So, if the goal is to run faster and longer, building aerobic endurance is the most effective way to do it.
How to Build Aerobic Endurance
The most effective way to build aerobic endurance is by running slow — at a comfortable pace where you can hold a conversation.
At first, this could mean walking (it did for me) or a light jog. Eventually, after a few weeks, it’ll increase to a brisk jog and eventually a fast run.
When I started, my ‘comfortable conversation’ pace was about 12 minutes per mile. Two years later, that same pace has improved to 7 minutes per mile. By committing to training the right way, I stayed motivated and healthy as I become a much fitter and faster runner.
Long story short, if you want to become a faster, stronger, or just an overall better runner, run slow. Don’t get caught up in the “max-effort” mentality — it’s a quick route to injury and burnout.
Take your time to build your aerobic engine by running at this ‘comfortable conversation’ pace. Do this consistently over the course of a couple of months and you’ll stay injury-free. And soon enough, you’ll be running faster and longer than you ever thought possible.
All in all, if you want to run faster, start by running slower.