For most runners, the goal is to constantly become better and faster. That is why we chase after personal bests and find ourselves working to pass just one more runner on our way to the finish line. And the best way to get faster is through speed workouts.
“A strong base is the key to successfully adding speed work; through building a proper base, you will make your body stronger — not just the big muscles, but also the little joints and tendons,” explains Sean Meissner, coach and president of the Durango Running Club. “It’s very important to gradually build strength through proper base building before jumping into speed work, as that will help in your running longevity through lessening the chances of becoming injured. Typically, beginning runners get injured because they either run too far or too fast, too soon.”
Of course this doesn’t mean new runners shouldn’t do speed work, however, you should be intentional about how you approach it. It can be easy to get caught up in the results you will see from speed work, but if not done correctly, these results will be short lived. Speed work is just one piece of the larger puzzle and should be one component of a well-rounded running program, which also contains long runs, recovery runs and cross-training.
WHY DO SPEED WORKOUTS?
“Speed workouts for beginners are great because you improve so much and you only have to do it once a week,” shares Beth Baker, founder and chief running officer of Running Evolution. “You should only start doing speed work when you can run 3 miles comfortably; don’t try to increase mileage and get faster at the same time.”
Once you have developed a base, a speed workout is great for developing different muscles than you work during long runs. Additionally, it helps you learn important skills to use during races, including pacing and how to ‘kick’ your way to the finish line.
“Speed work really helps runners work on their running efficiency,” adds Meissner. “Usually when we run faster, without even trying, we run with better form; our bodies get more upright, we lean forward at the hips and we land more on our forefoot. If we do this often enough, it becomes more natural and then we’re more likely to run more efficiently in our regular training runs and races of all lengths.”
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Once you’ve built your base and are ready to add speed workouts into your training routine, there are a few workouts that are best for beginners. You will want to warm up and cool down — at a slow and steady pace — before and after each speed workout. Though some require a track, often you can do these workouts in your neighborhood by just running around the block.
5 BASIC SPEED WORKOUTS WORTH DOING
This speed play can actually be done at the end of an easy run if you want to add them on to another workout. “These are short and sweet and typically done at the end of an easy run, usually something like 4–6 x 20 seconds,” shares Meissner. “They focus on getting the legs moving a little faster than normal and help runners work on their form.”
This speed workout definitely has the weirdest name, but it’s great for runners who want to build speed. Baker notes that the term means ‘speed play’ in Swedish and is comprised of high-energy bursts of running followed by recovery. “An example would be sprinting 20 seconds at 80–90% of your highest capacity, followed by running 20 seconds at a slow pace,” she notes. “The fun begins when you start increasing the times to 30 seconds fast and 30 recovery and work your way up to 1-minute for each before going back down the ladder.”
This workout is one that could be done on a track and will help you get used to longer bursts of speed with a bit less recovery. “After starting out with a warmup, run faster on the straightaways of an oval track and then go slower on the curves,” instructs Baker. “You can also do this in a neighborhood by running one block fast followed by one block slow.”
4. HILL REPEATS
As you advance, meaning you have a strong base and have been consistent with other speed workouts such as fartleks and strides, hill repeats are the next step. “They are great because they’re like speed work, but without the impact of doing intervals on flat surfaces. The best part is that the strength that’s gained on hills turns into speed on the flats,” encourages Meissner. “A sample workout could be 10–15-minute warmup, 6 x 90 seconds moderately hard effort up a moderate grade hill (~5%), easy jog back to the start for recovery between reps and a 10 minute cooldown.”
5. TIME TRIALS
This speed workout is good for determining what your overall finishing goal should be for an upcoming race. “Time trials are always good to do to see your progress,” encourages Baker. “It takes your body about 6–8 weeks to adapt to mileage and speed, so the rule of thumb is to try this every other month and see what you can do on a track for 2–3 miles, or better yet, enter a local 5K to see how you are improving.”
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN