Easing Into Speed This Summer

Yeah, I know it’s hot and humid (it always is this time of year)but now is a good time to start doing speed training for the upcoming fall season and Austin Distance Challenge Races.

Very few runners don’t want to run faster. Regardless of your level of ability and fitness, nearly everyone would like somehow to run faster. The desire to improve is part of human nature.

And the only way to run faster is to…well, train faster. Another words, speed training. You must train faster to run faster. Not every day, just on some days.

But beginning runners are often intimidated by the very idea of speed training. The old cliché of “no pain, no gain” can turn off any beginning runner.

For good reason too. But for a beginner who wants to improve their running speed, all that runner needs to do is run a little bit faster than the normal comfortable training pace at least once a week. This doesn’t mean going to a track and trying to run as many repeats around the track as you can before collapsing in a the pole-vault pit.


Speed work can be done easily and pay substantial dividends for just about every runner. Once you have attained some endurance and can finish most runs strongly is the time to start adding a little speed to your training regimen.

If you’re relatively new to running and can run about six miles at a time, you’re a good candidate for adding some speed. All you’ll need to do is add as little as one speed workout. This won’t be difficult at all. Nor, will it require extensive planning.

In fact, speed training is very simple. All you really do is run faster than normal training pace for relatively short segments. After completing each segment, you give your body a short rest (or recovery).

That’s it. Certainly, speed training can be quite complex as there are numerous types and combinations of workouts for different runners, but any speed workout is based on three elements: quantity, speed and recovery.

Quantity refers to the number of times you run fast in your workout. Typically, you run several times (or repeats) of a set distance or time. Or you can vary the time and distance.

Speed is an obvious reference to how fast you run each segment. For a beginning runner, the speed should be comfortably fast. But it should never be an all-out sprint. The idea is to practice faster running, not becoming a 100-meter champion.

Recovery means the length of time it takes to get your breathing back to normal after each fast run. This usually means between two and four minutes of walking or slow jogging.

There are three basic types of speed workouts for beginners:

Fartlek is a Swedish term that supposedly means “speed play.” And that’s what this is. Fartlek running can be just about anything that incorporates some faster running within a set distance. For example, after warming up with some easy running, go for a normal length run of four or five miles. Every five minutes, do a speed burst of two or three minutes at a comfortably fast pace. After each one, do a recovery jog for two or three minutes. Another way to do this is more spontaneous. On your normal run, pick out some landmarks and run fast to each one. Simply run as fast as you feel to each landmark. The only limiting factor of fartlek runs is your imagination. There are countless variations of this, but rest assured any fast running you do will be beneficial.

Tempo runs are controlled speed runs in the middle of a normal workout. That is, after warming up with easy running, you run for five minutes at a comfortably fast pace. Then, recover with a slow jog. After that, launch into another five minutes of fast running. Do four segments of fast running of five minutes each. The timed part of the tempo run can be anywhere from five minutes to 20. But for beginners, stick with the shorter segments and only gradually increase the time of the tempo.

Speed intervals are usually done on a 400-meter track. Traditionally, this is where speed workouts are done, but you can do them on a road or trail too. The benefit of a track is the distances are precise. One lap equals 400 meters (a quarter of a mile) and four laps is a mile.

The problem with running intervals on a track is the urge to be competitive with everyone else. You must resist this temptation. Stick with your fast-running pace.

After warming up with easy running, run 400 meters (one lap) four times. After each one, take at least a two-minute jog recovery. Or do 800 meters twice. After a few sessions of running 400 and/or 800 meters, you can move up to running a mile. Here’s where it will be tempting to run as fast as you can to measure yourself. Again, resist and stick with your fast-running pace.

Use your imagination on speed workouts. As you get fitter and faster, you can do all sorts of workouts at various distance, speeds and recovery that improve your speed.

But the goal of all speed workouts should be to maintain an even speed from lap to lap. Don’t run too fast at the beginning or you’ll never complete the workout. Run fast, but steady.

You will see an improvement in your speed in as little as a month. Not only will speed workouts make you faster, but doing them properly will also make you stronger—mentally and physically.