So I’m not the fastest runner. I get that. I wasn’t born with this stellar running gene and it’s taken a LOT of hard work, time, and determination to be where I am today……and I still have a long way to go. I started between an 11 and 12 minute mile. I’m faster now, but it still takes work. But let’s be clear. Running isn’t all about pace. There is a difference between never feeling like what you do is good enough, and simply wanting to improve and challenge yourself to be a stronger runner.
It took me several years of running before I started worrying about speed. If you are brand spanking new, save this post for later. Put it in your pocket for down the road once you’ve taught your body how to stay on it’s feet for a certain amount of time(like comfortably covering 3 miles or 30 minutes of running) and built a strong aerobic base and then begin to tackle some gentle speed work, increasing over time. Most of these options aren’t all out sprints. It’s simply this idea of teaching your body to run faster, a little at a time, so it makes your original pace feel easier. Over time it will change your threshold and allow you to cover longer distances, at a faster pace. But the key word here is TIME. Be patient. This doesn’t happen over night.
Ok, so here we go. Here are some of my favorite little workouts that I pull out when I want to play with my pace a bit or truly train with a new goal pace in mind…
Ok. I think this is one of my favorite types of speed work because it’s unstructured. And I tend to be a bit unstructured.
You don’t have to set out with your 400’s mapped out to the second, you can incorporate some easy pick ups along your normal route. A fartlek is increasing your speed for a short distance then coming back to a recovery pace. Give yourself a 1-2 mile warm up at an easy pace, then, choose a landmark such as a stop light or fire hydrant a bit down the road and pick up your pace until you reach that spot, then slow down. Recover until you feel your heart rate has come back down, then find another spot to get to with a harder effort. Another great option is to just do your fartlek’s uphill. If you have a hilly route like I do, speed up on the uphill and slow down on the downhill and recover in between each hill. It’s unstructured but it will challenge you and make your regular pace feel more manageable. And this can be done on any run.
I love tabata. Ask my bootcamp chicks. It’s short and fast and challenging, but mentally you know you have a little window to recover. Tabata is 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds of recovery. Repeat 8-10 times. You can easily do it outside or on the treadmill.
Treadmill Run Tabata
1-2 mile warm up
20 seconds hard pace…not quite all out. You want to maintain your form, but it’s a hard push.
10 seconds recovery(I just straddle the treadmill since these are so quick, but please be careful)
repeat 8-10x. This should get you through about a half a mile or so, then recover until you end that mile(so you start tabata at mile 2 and you end once you hit 8-10 rounds, then recover until you hit mile 3 then repeat.
You can do as many as you want to get to the mileage you want, just leave yourself time for at least a half mile to full mile cool down. This should get your heart rate up and the cool down pace should feel easy.
You can find tabata play lists on Spotify or Itunes. There are also plenty of apps where you can put in your song of choice and it will count you down in your intervals. If you want to follow my play lists where the tabata songs are plentiful, you can follow me on spotify under Kelly Dougharty Anderson.
Keep in mind, actual speed work is developing your metabolic side. It’s teaching your body to maintain a faster pace for longer periods of time. This isn’t something to take lightly as going out too fast too soon could lead to injury. So, your “speed” may actually only be a slight increase in your pace for a while. For example, if your conversational pace is a 10 minute mile, your fartleks might be pushing down to a 9:30 pace. It’s not a sprint, but it’s a challenge. Over time, you will be able to drop that pace lower and lower.
Intervals are best performed on a track, simply because it’s easier to track your actual intervals on a flat surface. You can also do intervals on the treadmill which will handle the pacing for you as well as keep you from dying of boredom. You’re welcome.
If you are performing intervals, a great place to start is with a 400 meter. This is a quarter-mile or one turn around a competitive track. You’ll need to determine a pace as this workout is more specific and structured. Finding your 5k race pace is a good place to start. This is a faster pace than you can maintain over longer distances. After a mile or two warm up(DO NOT skip this part. It’s critical to your success and since you will be asking more of your body, it needs a proper warm up. Include some dynamic stretching as well) take 400 m at 5k race pace, then recover for the same amount of time or distance which in this case is 400m. Then repeat 6-8x. After 400’s you can move on to 800’s and so on. Interval training will improve your VO2 max(your body’s ability to utilize oxygen efficiently) allowing you to use more oxygen during your workouts. Also, with this push in speed and intensity, your body will experience more post exercise oxygen consumption(EPOC) which means you’ll burn calories well after your workout is complete. And who doesn’t want that?
I had no clue what a tempo run was when I first started running. And honestly, I didn’t need to know. This came later. Once I learned how to manage my pace and know what my pace was, and what I wanted it to be for each distance, then I was able to build in some tempo running into my routine. Tempo runs target a specific pace(one slightly faster than your easy pace) for longer periods of time. They aren’t short bursts of speed, they are maintained over a longer distance which increases as your metabolic threshold improves. So, you would start with a half mile tempo run. If your easy pace is a 10 min mile, your tempo pace is around 9:30-9:45. If you can easily maintain that for half a mile, increase to 1 mile. If it’s still easy then take your tempo down to 9:15-9:30. Play with it. It should be comfortably hard. You don’t want to have a conversation, but you can maintain it. Gradually you increase the amount of miles you are able to withstand at tempo pace.
The key is having a prescribed pace for these workouts. Otherwise, your’re sure to welcome injury. You need a strong base, knowledge of pace and what your specific paces are for each distance. Then, you build off of that. Running too fast too often or too soon will not do anything but get you hurt and lead to fatigue. Your simply doing more than you have trained your body to do. If you are running and can’t maintain that pace without stopping, slow down!! It’s ok to slow down. Find a conversational pace and work off of that. Building your threshold takes time. So be patient. You have an aerobic system which your body will rely on in longer distances and an anaerobic one which your body depends on for shorter distances. It takes time to condition each one, so give it the time it deserves and I promise you’ll begin to see that pace drop. Build in 1-2 speed work days in your week, and allow recovery runs at a slower pace around it. Happy running!!!
If you have any questions or things to add, as we could chat about this all day, please feel free to comment.
What are your favorite ways to add speed into your run?