Speed Training for Distance Runners. Work in speed because it's what you need.
What is the purpose of speed training for distance runners? Distance running involves holding a steady pace for a long period of time. Therefore, I don't need speed, right? Wrong! Long slow distance runs make for slow times during distance races. You need to remind your legs that you can run fast. If you only train by running slow, you'll only be able to race slow for a long time. Some work has to be done at a faster speed than race pace.
There are many ways to incorporate speed work into your training. I will list the ways first, and you can read on for the in depth explanations.
1. Strides. Do 100 meter accelerations after a run.
2. Pick-ups. Speed up your running pace for a short time during a distance run. Also called, "Fartleks," which means, "Speed Play."
3. Hill runs. "Hills are speed work in disguise" - Frank Shorter. A very true famous running quote.
4. Intervals. Traditional track workouts where you run shorter distances repeatedly faster than your current race pace.
5. Tempo Runs. A shorter distance run where you run faster than your current distance run pace.
Want the in depth explanations? Good! Nothing is going to slow you down anymore. Find out what speed training fits you best.
1. Strides are the least complicated way to remind your legs about how it feels to run fast. When you finish a distance run, find a flat straightaway that is around 100 meters long. Start slowly and build up to about 95% of your sprinting speed. Slow down gradually after about 70 meters.
Make sure you don't strain when getting up to your sprinting speed. Straining actually slows you down. You want to feel fluid and fast. Do these strides about 4-6 times. I also do these before a race. This isn't really necessary before a half-marathons and up.
2. Fartleks or Pick-ups. This is where you increase your speed during a run. You start your distance run like normal. You pick up the pace anywhere from 3-10 times during the run. There is no set amount of time you have to run faster, just mix up the pace. The idea is to run faster when you feel like it, and slow down when you get too fatigued. It literally is playing with speed.
You can structure it like I do for my cross country and track runners. I usually make them do two sets of five. They run faster for one minute, slow down for the next, and repeat. After the first set, they jog for five minutes until the start of the next set. The total run can vary depending on how long a warm up and cool down you do. Remember, it is designed to be a continuous run with faster and slower paces, so don't stop during this speed training run.
3. Hill runs are great. You should train on the hills different than how you race the hills. We train on the hills often because it helps build endurance and speed. The muscles used to travel up a hill are also the muscles used when you sprint.
When we have a hill workout, the course is a steady long uphill between 1/8 of a mile and 1/4 of a mile. Run up the hill at a good pace. Jog down the hill slowly. Repeat this process numerous times and make sure it is a continuous run. Sometimes we add a hill extension on where when we crest the hill, the pace is sped up significantly. This helps simulate changing gears when you run up a hill during a race. Most people slow down at the top. My runners pass competitors there.
4. Intervals are a traditional speed training workout for almost any runner. Figure out your current race pace. Let's say you run a 5K in 19:00. That would work out to just over 6 minutes per mile. For intervals you would run maybe three one miles at just under 6 minutes for each mile. Give yourself equal rest between each interval. You can break it down further. Sometimes we do 12 400m runs with equal rest.
Don't forget to warm up and cool down for intervals. A warm up will prepare your legs for the fast running. A cool down will help your legs recover from the hard workout.
5. Finally the tempo run. This is just like your regular distance run, just at a faster pace. These are usually around your best 10k race pace. Don't run the full 10k. Run about 1/2 of that distance. If you are feeling great, go for an 8k run.
There you have it. Speed training for distance runners is often ignored. Use some of these great ideas to wake up those legs. My favorite thing about working in speed is that it makes me feel like a kid again. I have a younger son who dashes around all over the place. You know why he does this? It's fun! Now, get out that door and work in some speed.
- Written by David Tiefenthaler
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