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Speed Workouts For Runners

Running Workouts For Speed

Following on from our last blog post, “How To Run Faster”, today we are going to take a look at some speed workouts that you can utilize to improve your running pace. If you are unsure about what types of runs you should be including in your training, check out this post as it covers more general types rather than just speed workouts. 

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As a general rule, the majority of your weekly mileage should consist of base miles, so miles ran at an easy pace. You can then add 1 or 2 workouts per week, depending on how many days per week you run.

Just one thing to note, when it comes to intervals, it’s important to try and run each one at around the same pace. So, if your target mile time for a workout is 8 minutes, you don’t want to run the first interval at a 7:30 minute pace, then the second at an 8-minute pace, and end up struggling for the next few repeats. Try to keep the effort steady, unless you are doing a pyramid session where the target time changes per interval.

Use the Runner’s World calculator to help you figure out what your paces should be for each type of run.

1k intervals

1-kilometre intervals help to build speed endurance. They encourage you to hold a faster pace for a longer period of time than traditional 200m repeats. The recovery intervals in between allow the body to run a higher volume at the required pace when compared to a continuous training run where you may struggle after running the first 1 or 2 kilometres.

These are great for 5k and 10k runners, as well as anyone who runs shorter track distances. You can gradually increase the number of repeats to suit your target race distance, or progress onto mile repeats.

Example session:

  • Warm Up
  • Run 1km (0.6 mile) at just below goal 5k pace (usually around 15-30 seconds faster)
  • Recovery jog for 3 minutes
  • Repeat 5 times
  • Cool Down

Mile Repeats

Mile repeats also help to build speed endurance. They help the body build the muscle and energy systems required to hold a sustained pace for a longer period of time than the 1-kilometre repeats.

These are great for any runner, but especially those looking to add some speed work to their half or full marathon training plans. Just like the 1-kilometre repeats, you can increase the amount of repeats to suit your target race distance.

Example session:

  • Warm Up
  • Run 1 mile at just below goal race pace (usually around 15-20 seconds faster)
  • Recovery jog for 0.5 mile
  • Repeat 3 times
  • Cool Down

Tempo 

A tempo run is a sustained and continuous effort. These help to improve the body’s ability to run faster for longer periods of time. They are also essential for improving your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold is the maximum speed that you can run while still allowing your body to flush out lactate that has been created as a by-product of running at a higher intensity. Lactate causes the burning sensation within the muscles and causes fatigue during hard efforts. Getting used to running at your lactate threshold will allow you to run further at that pace before feeling the effects of the lactic acid in your system.

Adding tempo runs to your training also helps you to build up mental resilience. You start to get used to running at a sustained uncomfortable pace and then have experience ready for race day. Knowing what to expect on race day can really help you mentally prepare to smash your race day goals.

It’s important not to set out too fast on your tempo runs. The pace should be comfortably hard and consistent throughout. A rough estimate would be an effort level of between 6 and 8 on the rate of perceived exertion scale, where 1 is a gentle walk. Your pace should feel hard and like a workout, but not an all-out effort. Usually your lactate threshold is a pace that you can hold for 45-60 minutes.

You can build up the length of your tempo runs as your fitness levels increase, and to suit your target race distance.

Example session:

  • Warm Up
  • Run 3 miles at a pace that feels comfortably hard
  • Cool Down

Pyramid Intervals

Pyramid intervals can be used in many different ways; they can be used as both speed and distance workouts. These are well-suited to a track environment, but can be carried out on a path or treadmill.

The main idea is that you ease your way into the workout, with the middle part being the main section and then drop back down again. That middle part could be a quicker pace or longer distance. In the example below, the main part of the session is the 1600m interval. You’ll notice that the shorter intervals are carried out a quicker pace to help warm up for longer, but slightly slower main section of the workout.

Example session:

  • Warm Up
  • Run 400m (0.25 mile) at a pace around 10% faster than 5k pace
  • Recovery jog 200m
  • Run 400m (0.25 mile) at a pace around 10% faster than 5k pace
  • Recovery jog 200m
  • Run 800m (0.5 mile) at around 5k pace
  • Recovery jog 400m (0.25 mile)
  • Run 1600m (1 mile) at around 5k pace
  • Recovery jog 800m (0.5 mile)
  • Run 800m (0.5 mile) at around 5k pace
  • Recovery jog 400m (o.25 mile)
  • Run 400m (0.25 mile) at a pace around 10% faster than 5k pace
  • Recovery jog 200m
  • Run 400m (0.25 mile) at a pace around 10% faster than 5k pace
  • Recovery jog 200m
  • Cool Down

VO2 Max Intervals

I’ll cover VO2 Max more in depth a future post, but to keep it simple, VO2 Max is the greatest amount of oxygen that can be used by the body. The higher the capacity, the “fitter” you are deemed to be and the more efficiently your body will be able to perform at higher intensities. Intervals can improve your VO2 Max levels as it gets your muscles used to performing at a higher intensity.

A lot of sport tracking watches, such as Garmin Forerunners, are able to track VO2 Max, although you need to take these readings with a pinch of salt. VO2 Max tests are usually performed on a treadmill in a lab environment for accurate results. You can still use the data from your smartwatch to see trends and patterns though, so it can be a useful feature to keep an eye on.

Intervals and speedwork can be quite demanding on the body, so it’s usually recommended to start with 4 to 5 VO2 Max intervals within a session. These should be done at most once per week and aren’t advised to be ran in consecutive weeks.

Example session:

  • Warm Up
  • Run 0.5 mile at your VO2 Max pace
  • Recovery jog for 0.5 mile
  • Repeat 6 times
  • Cool Down

Yasso 800s

Yasso 800s originated from former running chief officer at Runner’s World magazine, Bart Yasso. The theory behind the workout is that it can predict your marathon finishing time, which makes them popular with runners aiming for certain goal times.

The method is based on 10 repetitions of 800 metres. To calculate the pace, you take your goal marathon finishing time and convert it to a minute per mile pace. So, for example, a goal marathon time of 4 hours would give you a converted time of 4 minutes to run the 800 metres. You then take the same amount of time for the recovery jog and then repeat the interval.

These are best performed on a track or treadmill for simplicity and accurate distance.

Example session:

  • Warm Up
  • Run 800m (0.5 mile) at pace that equates to your converted marathon goal time (aiming for a 4:00 marathon then the pace would be 4 minutes per repeat)
  • Recover by walking or jogging for the same amount of time – so 4 minutes if using the example earlier. If your goal marathon time is 5 or more hours, then shorten the recovery time if possible
  • Repeat for 3 or 4 times depending on your current fitness levels, gradually building up to a maximum of 10 repeats in a session
  • Cool Down

Fartlek – “Speed Play”

A fartlek run is a speed workout that differs from the others on the list. It’s an unstructured workout which adds variety and can help you mix up your runs without having to dread doing a speed session. You don’t have to focus on hitting a specified goal time or distance. Instead, you add in bursts of speed as and when you like. The pace and length of the bursts are up to you and they don’t have to be consistent throughout. You could add in a 30 second burst, then back to easy running, adding in a 10 second sprint later on in the run. Fartlek runs are great as they give you freedom and flexibility. They can also be incorporated into your easy runs without any additional planning.

Example session:

  • Warm Up
  • Run your planned distance but add in short sprints throughout – sprint from one lamppost to the next then drop back to your easy run pace
  • Cool Down

Hill Repeats

Hill repeats aren’t necessarily deemed as speed workouts, but they can still help you on race day. Running hills improves your muscular strength and endurance. Not only does this help if you have an undulating race course, it makes running on flat ground seem much easier!

The speed and intensity of these sessions can be amended to suit your needs. So you could do hill sprints where you run as fast as you can up an incline, or longer but more gradual ascents.

This type of workout is well-suited to a treadmill as you have full control over the speed and gradient of the belt. It can also be a good way to add variety to treadmill runs and can alleviate any boredom or repetitiveness that is often associated with treadmill running.

Example session:

  • Warm Up
  • Run 90 seconds up hill at a comfortable pace
  • Recovery jog for 3 minutes
  • Repeat 8 times
  • Cool Down

Conclusion:

So, there we go, some key speed workouts to help you build up your pace and smash your race day goals! These are all workouts that can be adapted to suit any race distance or time goal. Before adding in speed workouts to your training, make sure that you have a good base of easy paced miles in the bank. It’s also important to ensure you are recovering properly after each tough run and try to avoid running speed workouts on consecutive days.

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