There’s no question that doing regular speed work will build your speed, but speed work can also build strength. For distance runners, this strength running is the most important type of speed work you can do. It is also the type of speed work you should totally focus on during a training season in which your aiming for a peak marathon or half marathon.
The most importance difference between speed work for developing speed and speed work for building strength is the length of your recovery between sets. When you take away the full recovery after a hard effort, the body learns how to adapt to keep going while tired. When you repeat the same workout a week later, it will feel easier as the body adapts to the extra stress.
You shouldn’t get too overjoyed and add excessive amounts of speed work just because you are getting stronger. Instead, it’s better to do workouts where you think of yourself as under performing. Or, leave the workout feeling as if you could have completed one more hard effort.
Jump right into speed to work on strength, but be aware that your splits in the workout (whether it’s for a 200, 400 or mile) may not be what you want them at first because you are not used to short rest. Also, your splits could slow during the workout until you build your strength where you want it. That’s why I advise working on strength off the track. Go to the trail around Lady Bird Lake, or the grass around the Zilker soccer fields and after a 10-15 minute jog, do the workout.
Your pace should be slightly faster than your normal running pace on an easy day. This can be as fast as MGP (marathon goal pace), but definitely not any faster than half-marathon race pace. Run this pace steadily for 20-30 minutes or if you prefer miles, start off with three or four miles without slowing down. Then, do a cool down jog for 10-15 minutes and voila! You will have completed your first strength speed work.
This steady state type of workout necessitated strength because you held a faster pace for a significant time without slowing down. Your body had to work to manage this although this workout falls more in the moderately difficult category instead of extremely challenging.
Another off-the-track type workout that is a variation of the steady state is a tempo run. This is where you pick up the pace slightly from the steady state workout—perhaps 10-K race pace effort for 10-15 minutes—but then take a break after a couple of miles and jog recover for five minutes. Then, repeat the 10-K effort for another 10-15 minutes.
While still staying away from the track, you can move on to a fartlek workout on another speed day. With a fartlek workout, you take more breaks but shorter ones. Try this: Run a hard 5-K race pace effort for two minutes, followed by a jog recovery of two minutes. Then, go back forth (two on/two off) for 30 minutes or, if you prefer, four miles. If you want to add a degree of difficulty, cut the jog break back to a minute.
This workout isn’t easy and you will probably notice labored breathing about half-way into it. That’s OK since it’s based on effort instead of an exact pace you want to hit. Basing the hard part on effort means there is no designated split you have to hit, so you come away feeling good about the workout, rather than defeated by it.
The only limitation in fartlek workouts is your imagination. A classic fartlek is to pick a landmark in the distance and run hard to it, then jog. Pick another landmark like the gas station two street corners down and run hard to it. Just don’t let the jog break last longer than the amount of time you ran hard, so you keep the strength building in the workout. Like the two minutes on/two minutes off workout, shoot for a 30-minute total for the workout.