Most of us can come up with plenty of reasons to avoid speedwork: we might say it hurts; it increases our chances of picking up an injury; it makes us too tired for our other runs… the list is endless. The thing is, they’re all unnecessary fears. What’s more, whether you want to beat an ancient 800m PB set on the grass track at school, or outkick the runner who always sprints past you in local 10Ks, adding speed will be immensely rewarding.
Speedwork doesn’t just make you run faster. It makes you fitter, increases the range of movement in your joints, makes you more comfortable at all speeds, and it will ultimately help you to run harder for longer.
A few things to consider before jumping straight in
Warm up and warm down Before each session, jog for at least 8-10 minutes to raise your blood temperature, increase bloodflow to the muscles and psyche yourself up for fast running. Follow that with some gentle stretching and then run a few fast strides before getting down to the tough stuff. Afterwards, jog for another 5-10 minutes, before stretching once again.
Find a partner Speedwork takes more effort and willpower than going out for a gentle jog. It’s much easier and more fun to train with someone else – and if you really want to improve, try running with someone just a bit quicker than you.
Quality not quantity Speed training should not account for more than 15 per cent of your total mileage. So slot in your speed sessions around the regular work you’ve been doing all along.
Here are a few sessions below to try out:
- 6 x 1 minute, with two- to three-minute jog/walk recoveries, or 5 x 2 minutes with five-minute recoveries.
- 5 x 300m, with four-minute recoveries; 5 x 200m, with three-minute rests; or how about 10 x 200m with three-minute recoveries.
- Fast reps of 200m or 300m: run 6-10 x 200m, with two- to three-minute recoveries, or 5-8 x 300m, with four- to five-minute recoveries. Start both at 800m pace, eventually running the last reps flat out. You can also combine the two, for example 3 x 200m, 2 x 300m, 3 x 200m.
- Simulation session: in theory this should replicate an 800m race. Run two sets of either 500m + 300m, or 600m + 200m, at your target 800m pace, with 60 seconds or less to recover between each rep and 10 minutes between sets.
- Run just one set of 500m, 400m, 300m, 200m, 100m. Start at 1500m pace and get increasingly quicker on each rep. The recovery between each rep should be 60-90 seconds.
- 5 x 800m at a pace 10 seconds faster per 800m than your usual 5K pace. Recover between intervals for the same amount of time it takes you to run them. As you get fitter, increase the number of reps to seven and gradually cut recoveries to 30 seconds.
- Pyramid work for long distance: 1000m, 2000m, 3000m, 2000m, 1000m at your half-marathon race pace, with a three- to four-minute recovery jog between each effort.
- Don’t fancy a full pyramid? Then go for a half: 400m, 800m, 1200m, 1600m, 2000m, each run faster than your 10K pace but not flat out. Jog 400m between each – but you can take three to four minutes for this.
- 4 x 400m (or 4 x 70-90 seconds) at slightly faster than 10K pace, with one-minute recoveries, then a three-minute rest, followed by 2-3 x 2-3K, with a four- to five-minute recovery between each rep. Finish with another 4 x 400m.
- Simply try to run a negative split on an out-and-back run. That means run faster on the way back. Try three miles out at 70-80 per cent effort, returning at 80-90 per cent.
- 3-5 x 1200m at 5K pace, with recovery jogs of about a minute less than the time it took you to do the rep.
- Run five to six miles, alternating two- to three-minute bursts at 10K pace, with a 60- to 90-second jog recovery between each.