The Basics of Running: Speed Training

I have never been shy about talking about my speed. There is no bones about it — I am NOT a fast runner. For three years my goal has always been “just to cross the finish line”.  It reality I have always thought of myself as somewhat of a “lazy” runner. Just pushing myself hard enough to finish, but not as hard as I should to finish with a decent finish time. However, this year my goals are different. I am tried of being a slower runner and I am determined to work on my speed this year — knowing that I can push myself harder than I have in the past.

Runners, including myself, often find themselves stuck in second gear on race day — never being able to push themselves.  In order to help fix the problem, the answer is as easy as adding a small dose of speed workout into your every day training plan. Without speed work you end up using the same muscles in the same manner every time you lace up your sneakers and hit the pavement. Then when it comes to race day you find yourself stuck in second gear from start to finish. In order to start shifting speeds, you need to give your muscles something new in order to give your muscle memory some new stimulation.

For newer and experienced runners one thing you will learn is speed training is neither fun nor easy! Adding speed work to your training plan has a lot of benefits, including improving your overall performance, form, efficiency, and confidence. However, speed work is dangerous if it is not done properly and runners can injury themselves easily while speed training if they are not careful and take some precautions before just jumping into it.

Here are some great tips for those who want to start doing speed workouts:

Establish a Good Running Base
If you are a beginner runner of you have taken an extended break from running, you should be running consistently (which means 3-4 times a week) for at least three months before you start doing any speed work!

Pick the Right Course & Surface
During speed sessions you are less likely to pay attention to potential hazards because you are going to more uncomfortable than you are during an easy run, and you are going to be really focused on your workout. Try to pick a course that is relatively traffic-free and look for a smooth, obstacle-free route. You are going to feel like you are running incredibly fast — so make sure your training route is free of sidewalk cracks, potholes on the road, tree or roots on the dirt path, pine cones or other natural debris. I would highly recommend that everyone do their speed work on a rubberized track, which runners can find at most local high schools! Other option is to do speed work on a treadmill indoors.

Always Warm Up
Just like every other day when you are about to head out on your run — always, always, always begin with a 5-10 minute warm up doing an easy jog/run before you begin your speed work. Warming up gets your blood flowing, slowly elevates your heartrate and body temperature, and gets your muscles warmed  up and ready to go. Jumping into speed work without a proper warm-up will greatly, and I emphasize GREATLY, increase your chances of injury. Even if you do not get injured, the quality of your workout will suffer because you will feel uncomfortable when you start.

Do Not Start Too Fast
Runners who are new to speed work sometimes make the mistake of running way too hard and way too fast for every interval. You need to put in a good effort, but you do not want to run so fast that your breathing and heart rate are totally out of control. Try to run your intervals consistently so that your last interval has the same amount of effort as your first interval. If you feel like you have nothing left for your last interval or the last few minutes of a tempo run, you did it too fast!

Focus on Proper Running Form
Speed training will help improve your biomechanics and your running form — so do not let your running form fall apart when you are running fast.

Do Not Skip Your Cool Down
A 5-10 minute cool down at the end of your workout is just as important as your warm up.  Easy running, walking, and stretching after you finish your speed work will prevent blood flow from pooling in your legs and will help flush out the lactic acid and other waste products from your muscles.

Rest the Day After
Do not be tempted to run hard two days in a row. You may feel fine the next time, but trust me your body is still recovering.  Some runners will experience more muscle soreness two days later. Give your body some down time by either taking a rest day or doing an easy cross training workout the day after doing speed work.

Do One Speed Workout Session A Week
Do not get too enthusiastic and do two sessions of speed work a week.  A little speed training will go a long ways.  Even just by adding one session of speed work into your training plan will make a big difference in your overall running performance. Once you improve your fitness and confidence you can add another session — but again, never do speed work two days in a row!

Okay, we have gone over some helpful tips on how to properly speed train, so I am sure you are sitting there wondering — well HOW do I speed train?

There are lots of speed training plans out there that you can follow, so here is one of them:

Week 1: Cruise intervals: 6 minutes hard; 1 minute walk or jog, 6 minutes hard; 1 minute walk or jog; 6 minutes hard.

Week 2: Tempo run: 20 minutes at tempo pace.

Week 3: Hills: 6 x 2-minute hill (3 percent grade on treadmill); jog back down (or jog 2 minutes at zero percent grade on treadmill).

Week 4: Intervals: 6 x 600 meters; 2-minute recoveries (jog or walk).

Week 5: Fartlek: 25 minutes of alternating hard and easy running.

Week 6: Intervals: 1 x 1,200 meters; 4- to 5-minute jog or walk; 2 x 600 (3-minute walk or jog recoveries); 1 x 1,200.

Week 7: Hills: 8 x 2-minute hill (see Week 3).

Week 8: Intervals: 8 x 400 meters; 2-minute walks or jogs.

Week 9: Fartlek: 30 minutes of alternating hard and easy running. (Try a race after Week 9 or 10 if you wish.)

Week 10: Intervals: 2 x (800, 600, 400, 200 meters); walk or jog recoveries equal to interval times.

Week 11: Repetitions: 5 x 300 meters; 4-minute rests; 5 x 200 meters; 3-minute rests.

Week 12: Repetitions: 10 x 200 meters; 3-minute rests.

Just remember — whatever training plan you pick make sure you follow the tips above to give yourself the best chances to avoid injury. In the end listen to your body. Your body will tell you if you are pushing yourself to hard.

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