Adding distance vs. speed work for beginners

This is something most beginners struggle with. Once runners can comfortably run for 5 kilometres, they start thinking about improving.

But what’s better? To increase the distance you run (even if it’s at a slow pace) or to start doing speed work (to go faster at the same distance)?

I was having this discussion with a friend a couple of days ago. He decided to work on his speed and is doing intervals and time trials. He’s not increasing the distance of any of his runs. On the other hand, I decided to increase my distance first, so I’ve been doing more kilometres every week to get a good endurance base. I will start doing intervals soon, but only after I can run 18 kilometres without feeling like I’m dying at the end.

I don’t know which is best, but this article suggests that if you’re a beginner, you’ll naturally improve (go faster) for the first 12 months or so while your body adapts. After that, you’ll reach a plateau and the only way to continue to improve is to incorporate speed work and/or increase distances.

Here are 2 recommendations the article suggests:

Road Workout:
Jog an easy one mile warm up. Then alternate a faster paced run followed by a recovery jog for one mile using evenly spaced landmarks if available, like mailboxes, street lights, or telephone poles. Follow this segment of pick-ups with one mile at your normal training pace. Finish by jogging very easy for a half mile to cool down. Total: 3.5 miles

Track Workout:
Jog an easy one mile warm up, then run 4 x 400. This means you’ll run 1 lap around the track (400 meters) at a fast pace—not all out, but at a pace that feels comfortably hard—four times, with a recovery period in between … After one fast lap, jog easy or walk halfway around the track (200 meters) for recovery. Then run another fast lap. Repeat this sequence for a total of 4 fast laps. After the last 200 easy recovery jog or walk, run half a mile (2 laps) at your typical training pace. Then, cool down with an easy half-mile jog.
Total: 3.5 miles

via: runnersworld