Ready to go faster? Speedwork benefits everyone from 5k to marathon runners. Find out how to inject some extra pace into your training plan with speed training.
So here’s the running 101 – if you plod everywhere at a moderate pace, you’ll only ever run at a (surprise, surprise) moderate pace. If you’re happy with that, then this article isn’t for you – it is, after all, an enjoyable way to train and, for the long-distance runner with oodles of time, high volume training can bring about a decent performance.
But if you’ve got an ambition to improve without dedicating your life to running hordes of miles day-in, day-out, you need to start pushing through the lung-busting pain barrier and do some of your training at a faster pace. It’s time for you to say ‘hello’ to speed training.
Essential Speed Sessions
Running at near-maximal speed for short bursts of time (one-minute, two minutes, three minutes) or set distances (800m, one-mile, two miles) with a measured active (walking/jogging) or static (standing) recovery. Interval running develops the explosive energy systems required to boost your pace.
“Start with short interval periods and long rest periods, and then slowly increase the interval time and reduce the rest periods as you progress.” – Ben Staines, project-fit.co.uk
Run 5-6 intervals of 1-2 minutes with a 60-second walking recovery in between each effort. Aim to complete the last interval at the same speed as the first. The pace should only be slightly faster than you would normally run.
Threshold runs are performed at a sustained but fast pace, slightly slower than race pace. This teaches you to run fast for a prolonged period of time, and boosts your lactate threshold. Levels of lactic acid (a by-product of exercise and marker of muscle fatigue) increase the further or faster you go, so it pays to have a higher lactic tolerance.
“The ideal tempo intensity would be an 8/10 effort, so start off conservatively. It’s far better to go off a bit slowly and be able to finish fast!” – George Anderson
Threshold+ workouts are great for building speed for a half marathon. Perform shorter tempo running blocks of 4-8 minutes at an intensity that puts you at the top end of the threshold zone (8/10).
Hill repetition work is the name given to running up and down an incline repeatedly. It is a great way to boost leg strength and improve your aerobic capacity. As an added bonus, swift downhill running will also teach your muscoskeletal system to run faster.
“Although hill sprints are great for all levels of running, it is best to wait until you have a solid six to eight weeks of running in the bag before attempting these sessions.” – Shona Thomson, marathon expert at slowtwitch.co.uk
Find a hill that is about 100m long. The gradient (about 10-15 per cent) should test you but you should be able to keep form throughout. Use a treadmill if your area is flat. Run up the hill four times and jog back down to recover. Add an extra rep each week.
Fartlek running involves mixing speeds and intensities in a random format. Simply let your own route dictate your run – work hard up a hill, increase the pace along a good stretch of road or sprint from lamp-post to bus stop. Changing the route will keep it fun too.
“Mix up the intensity levels – easy, medium and hard. Change the pace a least 10 times during a fartlek session.” – Ben Staines, project-fit.co.uk
Try George Anderson’s ‘Through The Gears’ (runningbygeorge.com) session, in which you set yourself four gears – very slow, jogging comfortably, threshold pace and fast pace. Then run at each gear for 30 seconds, aiming for four or five times a set.
5 golden rules
Nick Anderson, GB and Saucony Running coach shares his top rules for speed training.
- Pay attention to your posture. Run tall, light on the feet and with a slight forward lean. Ideally, your foot lands under, rather than ahead of, your body to help to create a mid-foot strike. This is faster and more economical.
- Vary your pace. Add some threshold running to your weekly mix, which could be as simple as a 30-minute run with three, five-minutes at a faster pace. Aim to run fast at an 8/10 effort.
- Do some technical strides after each run, focusing on the posture mentioned above. To do this, finish your planned run and then do 4-6 x 60-80 metres of striding out at about 80 per cent of your best pace. This keeps you thinking about technique and turns the legs over quickly.
- Do resistance work by adding hills to your training. These can be included in steady or longer runs to build endurance. Hill training increases power, speed and strength.
- Do some parkruns. A monthly 5k time-trial will build pace and confidence as you see your time improve. It can really develop your VO2 max, helping boost your speed and sustained pace. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down.