Before beginning just about any run, you should ask yourself the purpose of it. The majority of training runs are easy runs that are designed to build endurance, but on the speed work day it’s a little more complicated. It’s important to decide what type of speed you will be working on and why you are doing the workout you are about to do.
Not all speed work is the same so you must decide what type of speed to work on initially. After you have your endurance base in place, you can take a day or two per week to work on speed. When you begin, it’s a good idea to get some assessment of how much speed you have. I suggest running close to all out for a short distance, probably 400 meters or less. After that first 400-meter (or whatever distance), take plenty of rest and repeat that effort a few times.
Now, you know what kind of a speed workout to do, but why this speed work for speed? Right now, it is purely for improving form and to transition from all the easy running you’ve been doing to build the base. Running a set distance all out is the first chance to really move the arms and legs and get a touch of the huff and puff of the breathing. Your body will respond by getting you more upright and more on the ball of your foot with a quicker, shorter stride.
Hopefully, after doing three or four of these workouts (say, 4 x 400), the body will get into the habit of using this better form because it is more efficient. Then, you can move into some more intense workouts with less recovery time between repeats and doing speed work for strength. You’ll come back to the speed work for speed when you are tapering for a race where “short but sweet” is all you need to do is fine-tune a kick.
At the beginning of any speed session, the best way to start is with a simple warm up. Run slow and easy for 10-15 minutes to get your heart rate up slightly. Then, do some light stretching. A light stretch will further warm up the muscles and is also a good indication of existing soreness. If there is soreness, you can monitor it during the workout or call off the workout altogether.
After the stretching, I suggest a few drills and strides. There are an assortment of drills you can do such as skips, high knees, butt kicks, straight-leg kicks and backward running. You should also do sideways drills for the hips where you slide your legs together and then back out or you cross your legs. Do it leading in one direction and then the other. Also, use this drill to shake out your arms and shoulders and get your upper body loose. Strides should be at the pace of the workout, rather than all-out speed.
Once done and warmed up, you are ready for the actual workout. Speed work for speed means you will be going out at mile race pace or faster, so you may want to take an intermediate step of slightly slower speed to get ready for the real push.
Here are examples of speed work for speed:
800@10-K effort, jog 400, then
4 laps of straights and curves, 5-K-mile race pace on the straightaway and jogging/walking the curve, then
an option of doing 2-3×150@mile race pace with a 250 jog/walk recovery.
4×200@5-K effort with a 200 jog recovery, then
4-6×200@mile race pace with a 400 full jog recovery.
Or try this one:
2×400@5-K effort with a 400 full recovery jog, then 3-5 minute walk/rest in place, then
2-3×200@800 race pace (90+% all out) with 3-5 minute walk/rest in place for the recovery.
Speed work for speed workouts are best-suited for the track, but they can still be done if you don’t have access to a track. You’ll have to know some splits, and then based on the watch you can do the workouts anywhere. For example, a 7-minute mile in a recent 10-K race would make workout the first workout look like this:
Run 3:30 at your 10K effort, jog 5 min, run 8 sets of 24-25 seconds at 5-K/mile effort and jog 40 seconds, then an option of doing 2-3 sets of 36 seconds at mile race pace with 3-5 minute jog/walk recovery between hard efforts.
Getting to know your split is helpful. Let’s compare a 200-meter split. Take your MGP split as the base, subtract 6 seconds to get 10-K pace, -8 for 5K, and -10 for mile race pace. So, for an 8-minute mile in the marathon, the 200@MGP translates to 60 seconds. A 10-K effort in the 200 should be 54 seconds, and about 52 seconds for the 5-K and 50 seconds per 200 for a mile race.
Of course, everyone is different as some of us are faster at the shorter races and some of us are built more for the marathon. But these differences in splits are a good rule of thumb to shoot for training with different efforts, and they can be adjusted once you get a race result. You can also use a running calculator, such as the one online running coach Greg McMillan (www.mcmillanrunning.com) has developed, to see what pace you should run for a race effort.
After the speed-work, take 15 minutes for an easy cool down jog to bring your heart rate down. Run as slow as you want. The cool down is not only good for the heart, but it helps with muscle tightness by keeping a little movement going before you stop completely.