Most runners on the roads and trails want to do one of two things; run further or run faster. Some may even want to try and do both simultaneously (which can be somewhat risky). Because running is such an individualistic sport, what helps your running buddy improve their race pace may not work for you. For this reason, I reached out to some of my favorite runners to hear what their favorite speed workouts are.
Now, what’s great about most speed workouts is that they can be tailored to your individual goals and current abilities. If you know your goal pace and your race distance, you can determine if you need program a 2 mile workout or a 9 mile. Now before we get started with the workouts themselves, here’s a few speed workout pointers that every runner should know.
- Not every run should be a workout. In fact, most coaches limit athletes to 1-2 workouts per week, with the rest of the week devoted to easy runs. If you’re new to speedwork, stick to 1 workout a week. If you’re a little more seasoned, you might be able to consider a second workout.
- Always incorporate a warm up and cool down. The absolute fastest way to find yourself injured is to head out the door and try to throw down some Yasso 800’s with no warm up. I generally recommend 1-2 easy miles, along with some dynamic stretching before picking up the pace. A 1-2 mile cool down will also help your legs recover and reduce muscle soreness.
- Scheduling is important. Don’t plan to complete your speed workout the day before or after a long run. Your body needs to be somewhat fresh in order to reap the benefits.
- Don’t neglect hydration and fueling. During a tough workout, you put more strain and damage on your muscles than an easy run might. This microscopic trauma needs adequate fueling in order to repair and build stronger muscles, which is the point of speed workouts.
- When things get tough, focus on form. Remember to engage your glutes, control your breathing, keep your neck long, and use your arms.
- Be mindful of surfaces. Track workouts don’t necessarily HAVE to be run on a quarter mile track, but the spongy surface can help prevent muscle break down. Similarly, longer workouts like tempo runs might be best completed on the roads to mimic your race environment. Very few speed workouts should be run on trails, unless you are very mindful and specific about your goals and race.
- Don’t cheat the recoveries. Speed workouts are designed to be run at tough paces. If you’re running a workout that has recovery periods built into them, those easier periods allow you to run a challenging pace further than you could without recovery. If you cheat those recovery periods, you might find yourself cutting the workout short, and reducing your benefit.
Now, that you know the basic do’s and don’ts of speed workouts, here’s some great examples you can try incorporating into your half-marathon, full marathon, or even ultramarathon training program.
Whitney from www.themotherrunners.com states that she loves to program pick-ups at the end of long runs. One of her favorite ways to do this is to run the last 5 miles of a 20 mile run at marathon goal pace. Not an easy feat on tired legs! If you’re leaning more towards the half-marathon distance, you can adapt this by running 2-4 miles at the end of an 8-10 mile long run.
Chelsea from www.maesmenu.com prefers the sneaky version of speed work; hill repeats. Hill repeats are an incredible way to build endurance and muscle strength, without being tethered to a track. Find a longish hill at a challenging incline, and then push yourself up and over the hill, using the downhill section as a recovery. The number, distance, and intensity of your hill repeats should vary depending on your goals. For a half-marathon, you might consider 2-3 miles of repeats, whereas a marathon or ultramarathon runner might opt for 4-7 miles with a 1 mile warm-up and 1 mile cool down.
Andi from www.atozrunning.com likes the short and spicy workouts. She prefers to program 400 meter repeats at 5k pace with jogging rest in between. When I was training for a Boston Marathon Qualifying Time, this was also one of my favorite speed workout variations. I would run a 1.5 mile warm-up, and then complete 3-7 400m repeats (depending on how far into training I was), with 400m recoveries in between, followed by a 1 mile cool down.
Nikki Parnell host of the Run Hard, Mom Hard podcast opts for a more fartlek style workout. This ultramarathon running mother of two prefers to find a good rolling terrain and alternate one minute hard effort with one minute easy effort for 20-30 minutes. What I love about this style of workout is that it’s based on effort, which can be much more effective for runners who might not know what their 5k, 10k, or race pace truly is. It also gets the legs moving fast several times throughout the workout, which is a great skill to learn when you’re running long races.
Lisa from www.milebymileblog.com raves about pyramid runs, and honestly I love these kinds of workouts myself. Runs that involve building in speed up to a hard effort, and then slowing back down slowly. Lisa recommends starting off with at least a 5-10 min minute warm up, and then following a pattern of hard 2 min, 1 min recover, 3 hard min, 1 min recovery, 4 hard min, and then coming back down following the same pattern. Finish it up with another 5-10 minutes of cool down. If you’re training for longer races, consider adding another interval or two.
While I do love track and hill workouts, my personal favorite speed workout is a good, hard tempo run. I typically prefer the longer distances of 4-7 miles at 10k to half-marathon pace in the middle of a 10-12 mile run. I feel like these types of workouts are the best simulator of those really challenging middle miles of a race, and help me to build mental endurance, along with physical strength. If you want to check out my favorite workouts, check out my recent post 3 Tempo Runs to Improve Speed.
If you’ve got your sights set on a faster race time, but don’t feel confident or comfortable programming speedwork into your training plans, you might consider individualized coaching to help you reach your goals. For questions regarding the coaching relationship, and if it might be right for you, please reach out via my Contact Me page.