If you find yourself running at the same pace every day and cannot seem to get faster, it is time to give speed work a try. Without speed work, I never would have gotten my pace fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
If your goal is to get faster, then follow these simple tips.
1. Have a good foundation of weekly mileage. Speed work is not something you want to add in as a beginner so it is smart to ease into it. Once you can run 4-6 miles at an easy pace 3-4 times a week, then you are ready to add in a day or two of speed work.
2. If you are training for a race, find a program that has specific speed work guidelines, such as Tempo Runs, Fartleks, and Strides.
Try a Tempo Run! The idea behind a tempo is to run at a specific effort over an extended amount of time without stopping or slowing down. Choose a relatively flat area to run without any traffic lights. A good option is a track at the local high school. Tempo runs should be comfortably hard, meaning you can maintain the difficult effort without completely depleting yourself. Begin with a 10-minute warm up then run at your desired pace for 3-5 miles without stopping. Cool down for 10 minutes.
- Benefit: Tempo runs increase your Lactate Threshold (LT), or the point at which the body fatigues at a certain pace. During tempo runs, lactate and hydrogen ions — by-products of metabolism — are released into the muscles. The ions make the muscles acidic, eventually leading to fatigue. The better trained your body becomes, the higher you push your "threshold," meaning your muscles become better at utilizing these by-products. The result is less-acidic muscles, (that is, muscles that haven't reached their new "threshold") so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster. -Read more about LT training over at Runners World.
Have you heard of a Fartlek? It means Speed Play in Swedish. It is a fast burst of running (70-90% effort) followed by rest interval. Warm up for 10-15 minutes, fartlek for 20-45 minutes, cool down for 10 minutes.
Here are a few examples:
- 15 x 1 minute fast and 1 minute easy
- 3, 5, 7, 5, 3 minutes hard with 1 minute easy in between
- Benefit: Fartleks train the cardiorespiratory system and muscular systems to efficiently absorb, deliver and utilize oxygen while moving carbon dioxide and lactic acid.
Once you have a good base of being able to run for about an hour, you may want to start adding in strides. Strides are short bursts of swift running for 80-150 meters.
- First you always warm up with a mile at easy pace, or conversation pace, and run at the same time. Then do some strides: speed up for the next 40-100 meters, (maximum heart rate) then slow down back to your conversation pace. Recover with slow jog or walk until your heart rate comes back down (below 120)
- Benefit: Strides promote good running form, while also exercising your fast twitch muscle fibers.