Whether you’re just starting out as a runner or whether you’ve been at it for decades and have run a marathon, you can improve your running and your overall fitness by adding speed training to your workouts.
Don’t be put off by the phrase speed training – we’re not just talking about sprints here, though sprints are an important aspect of speed training. Speed training really means pace. It’s important to train at various speeds, to vary your pace in speed training so you can also vary it during a race.
Speed Training Workouts
Here are some different types of speed training and pace training to experiment with:
Speed Training: Track workouts
The benefit of training on a running track is knowing exact distances and therefore exact speeds. The drawback of track training is monotony – you will get tired of seeing that final curve on the sixteenth time you come around towards the finish! So don’t overdo it on track training, but try it once or twice a week, depending on your goals.
At the track you can do any kind of interval training. Always warm up properly by jogging a few laps and stretching before you get started.
Speed Training: Short intervals are sprints
Try repeats of 100 and 200 meters. Run as fast as you can over that distance. Rest well between repeats – a good rule of thumb in sprints is to rest five times as long as the sprint. So if it takes you 20 seconds to sprint 100 meters, then rest fo 5 X 20 seconds, or 1 minute 40 seconds. If it takes you 40 seconds to run 200 meters, then rest for 3 minutes 20 seconds.
If you haven’t done a sprint since you were a kid, don’t overdo it! Start with just a few intervals, say three or four. Sprint training is anaerobic, and will improve your ability to run beyond your normal, comfortable aerobic threshold (the pace where you can jog and have a conversation with someone without panting). Don’t do too many sprint workouts in a week. Usually one of them is enough. Vary your sprint work at the track with a day of longer intervals.
Medium intervals, say 400 meters or 800 meters, are tough, because it’s hard to set your pace correctly. They aren’t sprints, and if you go out too fast, you’ll gas out quickly. But they aren’t long distance, either, so your comfortable 10-minute-mile race pace won’t do, either. But adding in intervals of this length will give you different “gears” to use during parts of a race, particularly the ability to pick up the pace near the finish.
Some serious runners like long intervals, too. That means mile repeats, usually – four laps around the track. Try doing two of them and hitting the same time for starters. As your speed training progresses, add a couple more. Try to run four one-mile repeats where your time is nearly the same for each one. Once you’ve run your first mile on the track, record your time and try to hit it again, or improve on it. If you can get your mile interval time down below the pace you typically run long races at, you will improve your overall fitness, and you will also find it a bit easier to run faster in a long race.
There are an infinity of other types of track workouts that don’t involve speed, but you can add some of them in, too, for variety. Try running and sprinting backwards, for example. Just short distances at first, maybe 50 meters. You will likely be sore the next day, since you’ve used muscles you don’t normally use.
Other types of track work include skipping, high knees, and heel kicks where you kick your foot up behind you, kicking yourself in the butt as you go. Drills like these, including sideways or carioca running, where you cross and uncross your legs, are good to do in your warm up, but they can also be modified as regular speed training tools. Skipping type drills and butt kicks build the muscle fitness needed to keep your stride consistent throughout a long run. A consistent, correct stride is not only more efficient and less tiring, but it also reduces injuries.
Speed Training: Road intervals
These are similar to track training, but you typically do them while out on a longer run on the road or trail. The key is to vary your pace throughout the run. If you’re running in an urban area, speed up every other block, or every three blocks. You can speed up to a slightly faster pace, or you can really push it to a near-sprint. A full out sprint will leave you so exhausted it will be hard to keep jogging.
If you have a watch with a countdown alarm, set it to beep every two or three minutes during your run, and when you hear the chime, sprint for 10 or 15 seconds, then recover at your normal pace. You’ll hear a variety of names for this sort of training – one common term is fartlek running, from a Swedish word for speed training. You can also vary the type of intervals within your workout, mixing short sprints with longer, slightly faster intervals. Once you get comfortable recovering from these intervals at your normal running pace, you’ll find that during a race you can improve your competition pace and improve your race time.
Speed Training: Tempo running
In this type of training you pick a pace faster than your comfortable long distance pace, but slower than your competitive short-race pace (for a 5K, say) and try to keep that pace for a certain period of time. If you’re just getting started, try a short time like 5 or 10 minutes. Later, you can build up to as much as 40 minutes of tempo running. The goal, remember, is to push yourself beyond your comfortable resting pace and to keep a consistent pace for a certain time. This kind of training can easily be done on a track, where you can estimate your pace, or even on a treadmill, where you can set a pace in the machine.
Speed Training: Hill repeats
Intervals on hills are a great way to vary your training. Pick a hill with a modest slope if you’re a beginner, and run up it, jog or walk down to recover, and repeat. Depending on your goals, you can run the hill at different intensity levels. Sprints on a hill are extremely good for anaerobic conditioning – treat them like other types of sprint or high-intensity workout and don’t overdo it. But hill repeats can be done at any pace. Running a long hill at your regular race pace adds resistance and makes it tougher. Try hill repeats at several different speeds for variety.
Running stairs is similar to hill repeats, and it demands coordination and quickness in your feet. Sprints on the stairs are extremely good anaerobic training, and they’re easy to do anywhere. If your track is at a stadium, you can run the stairs there. Many office and apartment buildings also have long stairwells that can be used for this type of training.
Speed Training: HIIT
This stands for High-Intensity Interval Training, and doesn’t just apply to running. Many people do HIIT-type workouts with plyometric exercises or drills like quick jumping, running ladders or skipping and changing direction. In running, a HIIT workout is basically a very hard sprint workout. You should be gasping for breath and your heart should be pounding at the end of each interval.
Speed and resistance. You can add resistance to your running training in other ways than by climbing hills. Try tying on a tire and pulling it behind you as you run as fast as you can for a short, set distance. Or tether yourself to a partner with a rope or elastic tube of the type popular in workout classes. Then run with the partner pulling back and providing resistance. This will make you quicker.
Speed Training: Running with weights
Some runners like to train with ankle weights or even in weighted vests. Though this can provide resistance as well, and make you feel like you can fly when you don’t have the weights on, be very cautious about this kind of training. Ankle weights put abnormal stress on your knee and ankle joints during running, and you can injure yourself with them. Adding a lot of weight to your body also increases the stress of each stride on your knees and ankles. It’s best to get the advice of a good coach or trainer for this type of speed running.
Speed Training: Slow running
Speed training can also be slow. For variety, make sure to include some long, slow distance runs in your schedule. Depending on your goals, this can mean running for an hour or two, for 10 or up to 16 miles. The goal of this type of run is to keep your pace slow and steady, the pace the ultra-marathoners use in their 50 or 100 mile races, or close to the 10-minute mile marathon pace. Long distance speed training builds a different kind of endurance fitness, and can help you ultimately run faster.