There’s no way around it, speed workouts are important! When I first started running I didn’t pay much attention to formal training plans or specific workouts. I just wanted to run around the block without passing out. It might not have been much of a goal but at the time it felt pretty monumental!
Now that my running habit has progressed from ‘let’s just get healthier‘ to ‘I really love this! Let’s break some personal records’ I’ve started to focus on improving! And truthfully if I had known some of the information I know now I would have started incorporating speed workouts into my training a lot sooner! If your interested in improving your running, fitness or overall health then this article is for you!
Speed Workouts, A Beginners Guide for Runners
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Benefits of Speed Workouts
Speed work is hard. But it’s also really satisfying! There is nothing quite like running down the road and seeing your pace hit times you might have only dreamed about when you first started. But! It can be difficult to talk yourself into getting out there and doing it. Short runs are easy, long runs can be kind of relaxing but speed work? Speed work is sweaty and challenging.
It’s my least favorite run of the week but also the one I feel most accomplished about when it’s finished. It’s much easier to talk yourself into getting out there if you know some of the benefits that speed work can provide
- The increased impact from speed workouts can improve your bone density and connective tissue strength which can help prevent injuries. Studies have shown that running can be beneficial for our future bone health and incorporating speed workouts into your training will increase this benefit.
- Adding speed work to your running will improve endurance. Speed work increases your bodies ability to store and use oxygen which improves your ability to perform for longer periods of time.
- Running at a faster pace puts your muscles through a wider range of motion which will further reduce your chance of injury in the future by improving flexibility.
- Speed workouts will help you keep going even when you’re tired. They do this in two ways. By taking on these challenging training sessions you will be mentally prepared for fatigue. You will be used to feeling tired and you will know that you can push past it and keep going. The training sessions will also strengthen a whole other group of muscle fibers that slower running tends to ignore! These fast twitch muscle fibers will be recruited by your body to keep you going when your slow twitch fibers grow weary.
When should I start Speed Workouts?
It’s pretty clear that speed work is important. It will improve not only your running but your overall health in a drastic fashion. It’s important to realize that speed workouts are high intensity. They demand more from your body than your average run.
With that in mind, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind before starting. These workouts can help you reduce future injuries. But, they can also cause them if you start them when your body isn’t ready for them.
- Speed Work should not be attempted until you have spent time building good base mileage.
- Speed work should not be done while you are recovering from a previous injury or recuperating from a recent race
- It’s generally considered a good idea to limit speed work to once a week for most runners.
How do you do a Speed Workout?
There are many different ways to incorporate speed work into your running. The options are practically infinite but I’ve outlined a few of the most popular ones below to get you started!
While many people do speedwork at a track because it’s easier to measure distances a track is not absolutely necessary. Anywhere you can run, you can do a speed workout!
While you might feel like you have to go as fast as possible, this is not necessarily the case. Speed workouts should be done at a pace that is hard for your current fitness level, not a pace that’s hard for someone else. If you are currently running a 12-minute mile then your speed pace might be a 10 or even an 11-minute mile. There is no need to hurt yourself trying for those 6 or 7-minute miles you see posted by other runners. Your speed will increase naturally over time!
Types of Speed Work
The point of a progression run is to start out slowly and then increase your pace as you go. You can break your run into intervals of either time ( Example – 5 minutes) or distance (Example – half miles) and aim to run each section faster than the one before it.
A progression run can be customized by every runner to suit their current abilities regardless of their distance goals or location. If you are running for a mile you might do progressions of quarter miles. If you are running 6 miles you might do progressions of every mile or every 2 miles.
The purpose of a tempo run is to help your body increase the time you are able to maintain a faster pace. These runs should not be done as sprints, you should be running at a pace that feels challenging but not impossible to maintain.
You can do this run as either one set length of time (Example – 20 minutes) or in intervals where you might run a mile at tempo pace and then a mile at an easier pace on repeats. Over time you would slowly increase the tempo distance or time.
Don’t be confused by the intervals I mentioned above. These guys are completely different! Intervals are sequences of fast sprints, typically at your maximum ability for a specified distance with rests in between.
Your resting intervals can be slow jogs, walking and if needed you can even stop completely for a bit to recover. I highly recommend you walk for at least some of your recovery to avoid tightening up.
These fast sprints are typically done at a set distance (Example – 200 meters) and will dramatically increase your overall running pace over time! If you have no way to measure exact distances you can also do these sprints using local landmarks (From one tree to another, the length of a field, half of your block, etc) Over time you will increase the repetition of these sprints and slightly increase the distance.