A Runner’s Guide to Speed Training
Whether you are hoping to get faster or simply feel more comfortable on your next five-miler, speed training is the name of the game when it comes to enhancing your running. By hitting the gas pedal harder on a few runs every week, you’ll improve race times, increase your overall fitness, and have an easier time during your next marathon. Read on to find out more about different speed training options and how to incorporate speed training into your own running schedule.
While speed work has many benefits, it can cause confusion among runners. With concepts like VO2 max and anaerobic and aerobic threshold to contend with, this isn’t surprising.
A runner’s typical week of training consists of different workouts – at a variety of paces – going from easy, slow jogs for recovery and long runs to race pace intervals, working towards a particular goal. However, the least-used pace as a part of the average runner’s preparation is probably the fastest one — sprint training.
Can Sprint Training Substitute Hard Work?
Speed work gets some criticism as an alternate route to fast results. This is to some degree deserved, if we count the number of people touting it as a perfect replacement for old-fashioned hard work.
Taking what we already know from collective wisdom of hundreds of thousands of runners doing normal training over the years, speedwork will never be a true substitute for aerobic workouts, easy running, and race-specific work, yet it could turn out to be a helpful addition to your training schedule.
While there has been much research on the use of speed training in untrained individuals, which for the most part demonstrate that these “high-intensity interval training” sessions are truly effective at providing short-term results, in this article we are interested in the impact of speed training in well-trained runners or endurance competitors.
The Speed Drill
Every runner can benefit from faster paced runs and there are two main types that everyone should focus on. First we have speed development, which improves the structural side of your running, and secondly we have speedwork – which enhances the metabolic side.
The question is which kind is for you? Speed development will enhance your capacity to generate powerful strides and turn into a more efficient runner. Speedwork is more specific and will help you reach well-defined goals.
Explained: Speed Development vs Speedwork
Speed development trainings should be incorporated year round and frequently take the form of relatively short sprints with full recovery added to the end of a normal run. The typical speed improvement set could incorporate six 20-second sprints with a few minutes of walking in between, 3 to 4 times a week.
Speedwork, on the other hand, will often make up the majority of one particular run, performed once or twice a week. There are different levels of speedwork, but the main idea is that you’re attempting to push your body to a point where it breaks down a bit, and afterwards recover to grow stronger.
Many runners make the mistake of going too fast, too early, which can easily lead to injury. It’s easy to fall into this trap, so develop a plan first and stick to it.
Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous running with interval training – it is unstructured speedwork in its simplest form.
In other words, fartleks are runs in which runners alternate between extremely fast segments and slow jogs. They offer a fun approach to begin with speed training because your work-rest intervals can be based on how you feel. To do a fartlek workout, pick a landmark such as a tree or telephone pole and run faster than your average pace. The key is to maintain a faster pace for a short distance or a time interval, such as 150 meters or 20 seconds.
The intervals can be different throughout the workout.
Once you complete a fartlek, slow your pace to below your normal running pace until you fully recover and your breathing returns to normal. Return to running at your normal pace and include other fast intervals later during the run.
This is a gray area of speed training but when done effectively it can offer huge benefits. In fact, tempo runs can lead to up to a 10% overall improvement in running efficienct, according to a Dutch study archived in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Tempo running targets a portion of the run to a particular pace for a specific, extended period of time.
Tempo runs teach your body to run at your anaerobic or aerobic threshold. In long runs (10K or more), you heavily depend on your aerobic threshold for energy. The anaerobic threshold — or the point where your body is building up lactic acid quicker than it can clear it — is more essential in shorter runs. Training these two systems at the same time via tempo running will help you get more comfortable at a particular goal pace.
Intervals are faster paced workouts, often performed on the track. They may incorporate intervals of 400 meters to a mile at a 3K to 5K race pace, with the same amount of rest. These workouts are awesome for training your top end speed, which is a key element to work on as a runner gets older.
The advantage of faster interval work is that it will enhance your body’s capacity to use oxygen, otherwise called VO2 max. By rotating bouts of high intensity efforts with recovery, runners have been shown to increase their VO2 max, permitting the body to get to more oxygen for working muscles.
Rules for Speedwork
Regardless of which sort of speedwork you pick, there are a couple of rules that apply to all runners. First, make sure you have a decent aerobic base before attempting speed training. This means spending a while running at a comfortable pace while gradually increasing mileage. Just spend a good amount of time learning to run and build distance before you attempt speed. Otherwise, your are likely to get injured.
An adequate warm-up and cooldown is also key here. Your body needs a mile or two at the start of each run to gradually ramp up the heart rate before hitting the speedier paces. Equally, slow down gradually to cool down at the end of each run.
Keep the total amount of speedwork to no more than 10-15% of your overall volume. Of course, it can be spread out in two or three workouts.
Lastly, obey your own speed limits. Every workout has a specific purpose. If you run faster than the recommended pace, you will risk injury.
How to Incorporate Sprint Training Into Your Schedule
Despite the fact that speedwork can offer endurance runners advantages like a better management of lactate levels and higher, more efficient energy production in the muscles, it’s not a substitute for the typical workouts that make up the main part of your preparation.
To date, studies demonstrate that performing around 6 sessions of high-intensity speed training spread out over a couple of weeks will net you the greatest advantages connected with this kind of training.
If you’d like to incorporate sprint workouts into your schedule, here are some tips:
- Do it gradually—begin with just two or three 20-30 second repeats, taking sufficient time to recover between each. Through the span of a few weeks, you could easily work your way up to more repeats.
- Performing speed trainings based exclusively on the testimony of research can be risky because physiology studies are a myopic field of study. In other words, benefits at three or eight weeks are commonly the focus, while long-term results are given less attention. The main idea is not to center your training plan on speedwork for an extended period of time. A fast 3-6 week segment, particularly after a long run (21k, 42k), and a sprint session at regular intervals can offer incredible results.
- Keep in mind that speedwork will put a ton of weight on your body, given the insanely high speeds connected with it, and could lead to injuries if you don’t plan everything in a smart way.
- Aim for at least one speedwork session each week when preparing for a specific goal. Aim for at least one speedwork session every two weeks when recovering or when just maintaining your fitness.
Hopefully, this article offers you some insight into why speed training is imperative and how it will help your stamina and strength in the long haul, whether you’re a marathoner or a novice. Keep in mind, developing top end speed requires time, especially if you have never done it before so be patient.