Safely Introducing Speed Work Into Your Training

Speed workouts are best performed on a track. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Summer is just around the corner and if you are a runner, that typically means more running and speed work.

Adding speed work to your training can drastically improve your times at any distance. For many though, the idea of speedwork sounds great but understanding how to get started is the problem. Speed work can be intimidating, and runners commonly have concerns about how to implement it safely. This article will show you steps to safely introduce speed work into your training.

Speed Work? What Does That Mean?

This question often comes from beginning runners. I simply consider speed work to be running at or faster than 10K pace and often running at 5K pace or faster. If you have never run a 10K or 5K, then the goal of speed work is to push yourself to run faster than you normally run.

Getting Started

1. Learn the Lingo
Speed workouts have a different format than your typical easy run and the format may be a bit confusing to new runners. Each workout will include the following:

Warm-up: 5-10min easy jog warm-up (don’t worry about pace, just warm up the body)

Meat and potatoes: This is the actual “hard” part of the workout. All workouts will be listed in either distance or time. For beginners, it is better to start with time-based workouts rather than distance. Each workout will also have a number of sets listed along with a pace and a rest interval. To start you will want to keep the workouts short and sweet.

RELATED: Speed Training For Beginners

For example:

4 (sets) of 30 seconds (time interval) at 5k (pace to run at) with 2 minute recovery jog

Short hand it will look like:

4 x 30 seconds @ 5k pace w/2min recovery jog

Cool-down: 5-15min cool-down to improve the recovery process

As you progress you can advance the workouts to 6 x 30 sec, 8 x 1min, 5 x 2min etc…

You can take several weeks to go from 4 x 30 seconds to 5 x 2min. Also note that the longer the speed interval,the more you will have to pace yourself. For longer workouts it is safer to start  at 10K pace and work down to 1mi pace. For shorter and faster workouts you can start at 5k and work down to faster than 1mi pace. Remember any faster work will be beneficial, so don’t be in a rush to go too fast too soon.

2. Find your pace
This is extremely important and will give your specific pacing guidelines to prevent injury and excessive muscle soreness. Whether you run a 5K in 30 minutes or in 15 minutes, there is a general pace that you can sustain for a given distance or time. To figure out your pace for various distances you can reference the Competitor.com calculators. You will want to calculate or estimate what your 10K, 5K and 1mi goal pace will be. Even if you don’t plan to cover those distances in a race you still need to have a general idea what you are capable of. Once you have those paces, stick to them during your workouts. A bit of trial an error will occur, but you will quickly find what works for you at various distances and time intervals.

3. Where and when?
Speedwork can be done almost anywhere—Treadmill, track, roads, trails etc. Traditionally, however, speed work is done on a track. If you do not have one available to you or feel uncomfortable on a track, then start with your normal training environment and get used to the format of speed workouts. Later, venture on to the track or other training environments. The principles will be the same regardless of where you train. The best time during the week to do speed work is early- to mid-week. Commonly Tuesdays or Wednesday are chosen in a normal training week.

RELATED: Speed Workouts The Hansons Way

4. Think ‘fast but relaxed’
This is very hard to teach and even advanced runners sometimes struggle with this concept. It seems counterintuitive because most people think that speed work is all about straining and running as hard as you can. Speed work should be challenging but not break your body down. Focus on leg turnover and increasing your heart rate. You don’t need to be vomiting on the track after you are done. Focus on smooth running mechanics and running faster but not straining. With time you will notice all your training and racing times getting faster.

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About The Author:

Tim Bradley is the owner and founder of Big River Personal Coaching and is the distance coach at Saint Louis University. 

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