The Need for Speed…


Okay, if you know me much, I’m not a big fan of busting your butt every time you head out the door on a run. In fact, that’s a great way to kill the joy of running in short order. However, I also know that a little bit of speed work can be a great way to mix up your training as well as quicken your pace — even on long runs. Best of all, you really don’t even notice it. : )

When doing speed work, I love doing it on a track, but if you have a Garmin or measured out section of road, that will work too. For me, the key is, “How fast do I want to go?” Hmmm…, maybe the better question really is, how fast can I realistically expect to go? I mean, if your PR in the 5K is 32 minutes, setting a goal of a 16-minute 5K is a tad bit optimistic. However, you also shouldn’t short change yourself. You probably can go faster than you think you can.

So, let’s try her out. I like to START my first speed work session by warming up for 1.5 to 2 miles of easy running, followed by some stretching (don’t hold the stretches a LONG time, maybe to the count of 5 or 6), along with a few lunges, “paw the ground,” movements (act like a horse pawing the ground with its foot), some butt kicks, some high knees and then to 3 or 4 hundred meter strides (lifting the knees higher than normal, striding out as I run, light and quick, but maybe only at 70 percent the first time working up to 90 percent for the last one).

Okay, now I’m all warmed up and ready to run. First time out. I’m just doing 200-meter repeats. Run 200 meters at a good, strong pace, something I feel I could do for a full lap. Then jog easily for 200 meters and repeat 6 to 8 times. Cool down with a mile jog, stretch good and call ‘er a day. I’m not running so hard I’m out of control, I running an even, quick run, focusing on form, breathing and quickness…the less time your feet spend on the ground the better…though again, this is not an all-out effort…85 to 90 percent.

Okay, after you’re done, what was your average 200-meter pace? 60 seconds? Faster? Slower? If it was 60, you’re looking at an 8-minute mile pace (more or less…if you’re on a 400 meter track, 1600m, 4 laps, does NOT equal a mile). Can you do 25 200-meter runs at 60 seconds each? Maybe, maybe not, but if your previous best as a 32-minute 5K, you probably can do MINUTES better.

The next week, I’m going to go for 400 meter repeats with a 400 jog in between. Note on this, same warm-up as before. Pace should be the same or slightly slower than the 200s. Key is you’re not PRESSING, but again focusing on staying within yourself, your form is good, you feel strong, you should NOT be tying up and dying at the end of the 400 (you’re going too fast if you are). You’re teaching yourself pace. You want to keep each 400 at the same pace as the previous one. If you find that at the end of 6 to 8 400s you have a lot left, it may mean you should be running the 400s at a faster overall pace. Concentrate on form and breathing on these. If you’re dying at the end of each 400, you’re going too fast; if at the end of the 3rd or 4th 400 you’re really not feeling any fatigue, you’re likely going a bit too slow.

The whole idea of the speed work is to go faster than your normal runs. You’re teaching yourself to run at a faster pace, running “lighter” on your feet, focusing on form, arms not crossing the center line of your body…

From the 400 repeats, you can do to your first ladder workout…200-400-600-600-400-200 (with 400 meter jog between each EXCEPT the 200m run…then only 200). That’s a simple ladder and kind of a reprieve. The following week you do that ladder twice. And the next week you do 400-600-800-1200-800-600-400. By the end of the workout, you should be TIRED, but not “puking” tired. : )

Now, you can find all kinds of speed work sessions online, but the idea is, AGAIN, that you’re not killing yourself. You’re running faster, but you’re focused on relaxing, maintaining form and breathing…smooth and quick easy, not like locomotive chugging up a hill, arms pumping like mad, but relaxed and loose (as in your not gripping your hands into a fist), quick turnover, but floating across the track rather than pounding your feet into it.

Okay, there are all kinds of ladders and speed session ideas that you can throw into the mix. I would advise not doing more than one speed session a week, though you could add some short pick-ups into a longer run (just not back-to-back).

So, how fast do you do speed work at? Well, it’s not always about time. Some days, it’s about effort. For example, you’re going to be able to knock out much faster times and more easily on a 65 degree, low-humidity day rather than a 92-degree, high-humidity day, so don’t let your watch be your iron-fisted guide — take conditions, including how you feel, into account. Rule of thumb is you run just below “thresh hold.” By that I mean, just below where you start gasping. Nope, no talking during this…if you can hold a conversation, you’re going too slow (save that for your recovery laps).

What is really kind of cool about speed work is you WILL notice that your EASY pace on your long runs will start getting faster. I mean, if you’ve been running 8-minute mile pace in speed work, your old 11-minute-pace for the long run is not where your body is going to drop you into for an easy-pace long run (it’ll be faster).

ONE WARNING about speed work. As the saying goes, speed kills. Too much or if you try to force your way through a “twinge” and you can blow out a hamstring, Achilles or experience the plantar fasciitis (foot strain) that can sideline you for weeks and even months. You MUST warm up properly and you HAVE to listen to your body closely. If you feel an unusual tightness or pain, back off. Speed is a sweet addition to your running fun, but it can be a costly one if you don’t give it the respect it deserves.

Well, go ahead give it a try, if you’re interested in picking up your pace. If you don’t like the speed work ideas I offered, there are plenty online. Just be sure to listen if and when your body speaks! : )

Have an awesome run today!


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