Not all runners are fast, and in fact, the definition of “fast” is itself more or less relative, unless you happen to be someone like Mo Farah, in which case you are fast.
Recreational runners can aspire to get faster even if it won’t lead to winning any races or even age groups, because there are some intrinsic benefits to running faster – again, where “faster” simply means “faster than you are now.” To be sure, this isn’t meant to shame you into feeling bad if you enjoy running at a comfortable, easy pace. Running is running, and there’s something to be said for the old saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Still, here are some reasons you might consider working on your top speed:
1. Calorie burn rate goes up as you run faster.
Not everyone runs to lose or maintain weight, but some do. If you are in that category, it’s unfortunate that as you become more efficient at running, you burn fewer calories than you did before. Running faster than you are used to, however, makes you inefficient, and therefore your burn rate goes up. Think of it like how a car gets best gas mileage around 55 mph, with gas mileage decreasing as you go faster.
2. Finish workouts faster, or squeeze a satisfying workout into a short time.
Sometimes you just want to go for a long, relaxing run while listening to an audiobook, watching TV on the treadmill, or just enjoying the outdoors. But other times, you find that you’re short on time. If you run at your easy pace, you may find that you’re not getting enough miles for the run to be satisfying.*
* Obviously, this is a symptom of running obsession, when there is such a thing as “not enough miles for the run to be satisfying.” But I’m sure that readers of this website understand.
Maybe you can split your day’s run into two, and complete the rest of the necessary distance later on. But running faster is another option. Not only will you cover more miles in the same amount of time as you would if you ran at a slower pace, but because it’s a harder workout, it will help improve your VO2 max, endurance, etc.
To put this in context, when I first started running, in 30 minutes, I could finish maybe 2.5 miles. Now, I can finish about 4.25. (Not an easy pace for me, obviously.) That’s about a 70% increase in mileage in the same amount of time.
3. Finish races faster!
Don’t overlook the benefits of finishing races faster. Just check out Run Oregon blogger Marilyn Tycer’s profile, which contains this story:
Marilyn started taking running seriously in 2009 after she finished a half marathon and they had run out of Jamba Juice–at that moment, Marilyn swore never to be that slow again.
Now the well-prepared race shouldn’t run out of anything, but these things happen even to the best organized races. By getting to the finish more quickly, you can minimize the chances of being the one who doesn’t get Jamba Juice, or water, or finisher’s medals, or anything else of which there is a finite number. Besides, finishing faster means you can recover and then cheer on other runners.
If you are persuaded to run faster, be careful and don’t overdo it. Intervals are a good way to add some speed work to your regular runs, but you don’t want to run hard too many times a week or you may increase your injury risk.