Running: Is Distance Or Speed More Important To Improve Fitness?

When you’re new to running, there can be some confusion as to whether it is best to set goals that are focused on speed or distance. While both are equally important in improving your running and maximizing your training, we feel it best to focus on distance first. Here’s why.


As a new runner, your aim is to build an endurance platform. When we do this, we start to increase our distance over time, our aerobic capacity improves, as does our strength and stamina, and we minimize injury. When we take this more gradual and measured approach, it puts us in the best possible position to be able to layer in speed work.

Distance training 

A great way to help build your distance is with run/walk intervals. When you’re first starting out, you’ll tend to have shorter run goal times with longer walk intervals. As your fitness improves, so will the length of time you’ll be able to run for – and the less walking and recovery time you’ll need. Aim to do this 3 x per week (Monday, Wednesday and Saturday for example) and see how you go. 

With distance training, it’s important that you don’t start out by running too fast! A good gauge is by running at a conversational pace. So, if you’re gasping for breath and feel the need to stop often, chances are you’re racing ahead of what your body is capable of.

Running with others can often really help when you’re building your distance. When you’ve got others to chat to, it can help you maintain a conversational pace. Plus, you can easily become distracted by how hard (or long) a run can be when you have great company. Other ways to keep you on track and achieving those distance goals:

  • A fun running playlist (Spotify do great ‘year based’ ones)
  • Some running mantras
  • A few mini-goals you’ve set along the way. Ie, 1km without stopping, or a route that includes a hill.

Speed training

Once you’ve built an endurance base, you’ll feel ready to incorporate speed into your running. This will improve your fitness, aerobic capacity and strength, as well as providing greater variety in your training (which is great for motivation and to shake up your body’s routine). Same as building your endurance base, we recommend a gradual and measured approach to your speed training.

So, after building your endurance base over a 4-6 week period, you might like to start by choosing one run per week where you increase your pace towards the end. When you’ve been doing that for 3-4 weeks, you can start to add in some more speed based sessions like intervals, fartlek or tempo runs. You’d still be aiming for 3-4 runs per week but each running session would have a different purpose (Mondays- intervals/fartlek, Wednesdays- tempo, Thursdays- optional easy recovery run and Saturdays- Long run for endurance) 

Intervals – aim to include faster bursts of running with intervals running at an easier pace, for example, 1 min race pace with 1 min recovery

Fartlek – aim to run at a quicker pace for 2-3 mins with 4-5 mins recovery

Tempo – aim for a 25-30 min run at a pace that is slightly less than your race pace.

Final Thoughts on Running

Running can be incredibly impactful on our bodies. Whenever we try to do too much too soon in our training, it can often lead us down the path of injury, illness, fatigue or feeling burnt out. So if you’re new to running, the key is to build that endurance base first before speed comes into play. As you combine both into your training, your running will improve, it will feel rewarding and you will experience a greater level of enjoyment!

To learn more about our 12WBT running programs, you can visit us anytime at

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