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Speed Work for Runners

February 17, 2017

Speed Work for Runners


An oft-neglected aspect of training is speed work.  However, training your legs to run fast is one of the best ways to get faster!  There are many forms of speed work in which runners can engage.  The most popular speed workouts are described here. 

A cornerstone workout for most runners, tempo runs consists of running evenly-paced splits for a duration of 2 – 10+ miles.  Different coaches have varying views on tempo pace, so it is always recommended to ask for a clarification if following a training plan.  Often, tempo pace is 20 – 30 seconds slower than 5k race pace, but can also mean marathon goal pace or “lactate threshold,” which is 85% of maximum heart rate.  The purpose of a tempo run is to develop even-pacing skills while working on mental toughness and pain tolerance.

A common speed workout with a funny sounding name, a fartlek involves alternating fast running with easy running.  For instance, a fartlek might involve 4 miles of alternating 3:00 minutes at 5k pace with 2:00 of easy running.  This “speed play” is useful for engaging fast-twitch muscle fibers while improving endurance. 

Intervals (sometimes called repeats) are similar to a fartlek but on the track.  For instance, 400 m intervals involve alternating running for 400 m in a predetermined time, then resting for a short duration, such as a 100 m walk.  This workout helps an athlete build greater speed and functional strength while developing a better sense for pacing. 

Hill Repeats
If you are training for the Boston Marathon or another hilly race, hill repeats need to be a part of your training.  Choose a hill that is 200 – 400 m long and run to the top at 90% of maximum effort.  Then, walk or jog to the bottom and continue for 8 – 10 reps.  Hill repeats build strength, power, and speed while forming the necessary muscles for a hilly race. 

Strides are considered “speed work in disguise” because they do not cause the same type of stress on the body as an actual speed workout.  However, when performed regularly throughout training they improve cadence, functional strength, and speed.  To perform strides, find a grassy 100 m stretch (such as a soccer field) after an easy run and sprint at 90% effort.  Focus on good form and good breathing.  Take as much rest as you need, and then repeat.  Performing just 8 x 100 m strides twice per week for one month instantly adds 4 miles of fast running to your training log!

Progression Run
If slowing down in the later stages of a race is a problem you have, progression runs are the perfect antidote.  During a progression run, each mile should be 5 – 10 seconds faster than the previous mile.  These types of runs teach pace control and how to achieve negative splits.  The typical progression run distance is 6 – 10 miles. 


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