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What role does speed play?
Certainly, speed is a component of a well balanced training plan and it’s important to include speed workouts to improve your running efficiency and V02max. If you completely neglect speed altogether, or any energy system for that matter, your performance will suffer.
Perhaps the biggest role speed plays is that it helps improve your running economy and efficiency. In unscientific terms, speedwork helps you run goal race pace with less effort.
However, there is a limit to how much you can develop your absolute speed. At some point, your body approaches its natural talent point and working to improve speed provides diminishing returns. Luckily, improving your aerobic capacity is virtually limitless.
Therefore, once you’re able to run about 20-30 seconds faster than your goal 5K pace for a full mile, you’ve probably developed enough speed to comfortably race your goal pace. The focus in your training should then be turned to improving your aerobic capacity and lactate threshold, which will help you develop the physiological fitness to race faster and maintain a top end speed for longer.
So, the next time you’re analyzing your training and looking to identify the areas you need to improve the most, ask yourself whether it’s really your speed that is holding you back or if you actually need to get stronger aerobically.