Finding Speed

“If you want to be a successful runner, you have to consider everything. It’s no good just thinking about endurance and not to develop fine speed.”

–          Arthur Lydiard

Sometimes, when I’m apprehensive about doing something, I find that I have engaged my worryingly extensive repertoire of avoidant coping skills long before I can ask myself why I don’t want to get down to business in the first place. In those cases, I often realise that my trepidation is not so much due to a lack of will or determination, but more down to a lack of the required knowledge and confidence to believe that I am actually capable of what must be done.

I’m beginning to suspect that this might also be the reason why I’ve kept telling myself that I dislike speedwork in my running training for the best part of 10 years.

In the past, my speedwork boiled down to simply heading out the door and running a bit faster than normal, regardless of whether my training plan called for a 5km Tempo Run or 10x1km Cruise Intervals with 200m jog recovery. I put my moderately fast speed in races down to the fact that I tend to clock some crazy miles when I’m actually in training (Arthur Lydiard would be so proud!). But recently, my approach has changed gears drastically, no pun intended (ok, maybe a little). After reading some good books by various Olympic level trainers, I am now happily blasting my way through a plethora of speed workouts. I’m finding that these sessions are not only surprisingly doable, but they are also shockingly good fun! And who knows, if they do what it says on the tin, 2014 might just turn out to be my fastest year yet.

I suspect that I might not be the only numpty to be confused by all the different speed workouts. Therefore, I thought that perhaps a quick summary might inspire other speed-averse runners pick up the pace a little here and there. If, however, the thought of running faster makes you yawn, I suggest that you stop reading here, as this post is about to get a little technical.

Before I’ll do my best to describe the how and why for each of the speed workouts I’ve been tackling so far, as part of my own current half-marathon training.  To put this into context, I run five times a week for a total of around 60-70km, made up of one long run, two easy runs and two workouts from the list below – never on consecutive days or immediate before or after the long run. All of the workouts below require a warm-up; 2-5km of easy running, followed by some form drills and 2-3 strides (which means progressive acceleration over 100m or so until flat out speed is reached).

Steady State Run:

How? This is a continuous, medium paced run, which is somewhat slower and longer than the more widely known tempo run, but still faster than an easy run. This means that the pace for a steady state run is about 10-15 seconds per kilometre slower than my 10km race pace. During my half-marathon training, a steady state run would be around 12km.

Why? This is a great run for developing a solid base fitness – not quite as taxing as a tempo run, but it still teaches the runner to push the pace a little over a considerable distance.

Tempo Run:

How? This is the famous moderate-paced continuous run, which is run at about a 10km race pace. It’s therefore faster than the Steady State Run. During my half-marathon training, a tempo run would be between 5 and 10 km, getting longer as the training progresses.

Why? Apart from training the runner to maintain a taxing pace for a long time (the sensation of a tempo run has sometimes been described as “controlled discomfort”), a tempo run also improves the runner’s lactate threshold, meaning that one can run faster for longer as a result. This is one of the staple workouts of all endurance runners.

Tempo Intervals:

How? Tempo Intervals are moderate paced repetitions with short recovery intervals. The intervals are slightly faster than tempo runs, or a 10km race pace. During half-marathon training, a tempo interval session would involve 4-5 reps or 2km with a 400m jog recovery in between.

Why? Tempo Intervals essentially train the runner to be able to push the pace on tempo runs. They are somewhat faster, and therefore include a short recovery jog in-between repetitions.

Cruise Intervals:

How? Cruise Intervals are the fastest of the stamina-building workouts – the repetitions are faster, but shorter than those of a tempo interval, and the recovery jogs are also very short. A Cruise Interval session during my half marathon training would involve 8-10 repetitions of 1km ran at roughly my 5km race pace with 200m jog recovery in between. It’s easy to run these too fast though, so it’s important to be careful to get the pace right.

Why? Again, they boost stamina and teach the runner to run faster. The short recoveries mean that the repetitions get harder over time. It’s also a great workout to learn to pay attention to good pacing for races, as cruise intervals are quite fast, but not so fast that the pace can’t be maintained for all repetitions.

Progression Run:

How? A progression run starts easy, but finishes fast. A typical progression run during my half marathon training would be about 10km in length, of which the first 8km are ran easy and the last two are ran much faster. Similarly, I also do progression long runs: running 22-25km, with the last 3-5km at target race pace.

Why? These are tough runs, but they teach the runner to work a bit harder on already tired legs, a skill which is invaluable during races.

Fartlek Run:

How? Funny name = fun run! I suspect that everyone knows by now that fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a giggle or two at the mention of the name, right? It really is just playing with speed: keep running but mix things up in terms of pace. Run fast to the next tree, then even faster to the bench, then jog until you can breathe again, then target the lantern… you get the idea. The only rule is to not settle into any particular pace for long. As part of my half-marathon training, a fartlek run would last between 30 and 60 minutes.

Why? Fartlek runs train the runner to tolerate pace changes and to push the pace whenever needed. They are also great fun!

Hill Repeats:

How? There are various variations of this workout, including different length hills and whether or not the descent is run fast (in which case it’s a continuous run), or used as a jog recovery (in which case it’s an interval run). For intervals, it’s best to find a steep hill that takes about 45-60 seconds to run up. Then sprint up the hill 10 times, with each ascend followed by a descend at a slow recovery jog pace.

Why? It’s often said that hill runs are speedwork in disguise. Apart from training our muscles to cope with the demands placed upon them by running up and down steep hills (duh!), hill reps are also a great leg strength workout and will make subsequent runs on the flat seem a lot easier.

Sprints:

How? This is by far the fastest running I ever do and the only time I try to run truly flat-out. I usually do 10x100m sprints with about a 1 min recovery jog in between, which is enough to leave my legs burning.

Why? These are basically a strength workout for the legs. Sprinting also trains the body to better remove lactic acid from the muscles and help develop a strong running form. Therefore, even though I never race a distance shorter than 5km, this is still a very useful workout for an endurance runner.

 Happy, speedy running everyone!

Speed

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12 thoughts on “Finding Speed

  1. “Fartlek”, hehehe…you said “Fartlek.” Haha. Seriously, I liked this post, but admit to hating intervals! LOL.

    • I’m glad you’re entertained. 😉 I find that if I run the intervals away from the track and mix them up, so that I don’t do the same session too often, I actually quite enjoy them! As it turns out, I quite like running fast at times, it feels pretty good!

  2. Jim Brennan says:

    I’m a fartlek and hill man myself. They fit my nonconformist soul. But I must admit I had to take up tempo and intervals to train to qualify for Boston. And they do work, and to my surprise I got faster, much faster. Nice post, Fullmoonrunner!

    • I’m with you Jim, even when I’m not specifcially training for something I’ll do hills and fartlek runs, as they are fun and easy to fit in. I also find that they are great for preparing my mind and body for the intervals required by a training schedule. I’ve yet to see if this will actually make me run faster – my main goal at the moment is to simply learn how to run these sessions properly and then see how I feel about them! So far, so good… I just can’t keep saying that I don’t like them when I have never really run them properly in the first place. Now that I am starting to do them properly, I find that I quite like them! They certainly bring variety to my training week…

      • Jim Brennan says:

        I tell other runners to persist, and one day you will magically find that the hills are your friend. Good luck!

      • Oh, I love hills (which is a good thing too, given that I live in Scotland!) It’s the intervals I’ve been struggling with, but I must say, they are growing on me! 😉 And as you say, I will persist with them too, and hopefully, one day, I’ll find a new buddy in speed…

  3. Trails and Ultras says:

    Do you know, I think I’m going to do this too and do two of the speed workouts per week. I normally detest speed work outs so if I tell you now that I’m doing them you can shake your head disapprovingly at me if I wimp out.

    • As with street runs in the evenings, the speedwork has surprised me in that I have enjoyed it so far – quite a bit actually. For intervals, I don’t run them on the track, but instead find a very quiet country lane or footpath to do them. I first measure out the required distance while warming up, and then run the same stretch at the required pace. The McMillan Running Calculator is fantastic for working out the individual paces which would be best for your training. Give it a shot, you might be surprised! I have yet to see if I’m getting any faster, but if nothing else, these workouts are teaching me a lot about pacing myself.

  4. Lily says:

    This is so informative, thank you! I’ve only done fartlek runs, but am looking forward to incorporating the more structured speed work runs into my training asap.

  5. Jim Brennan says:

    Hi FullMoonRunner! Just wanted to let you know I’m going to give Girl Runs Wild a shout out on Rite2Run this week, maybe today, on a post about ordering my memoir internationally. Thanks for bringing the issue to my attention. I love your blog! jim

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