Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Speed Work Wednesday

Speed work, why is it important?

I wish I was an expert on this, alas I am not. But I do know that speed work offers a variety of benefits to anyone who does it no matter what pace they are running. The purpose of speed work is to put stress on the bodies systems to mimic those that one would feel during a race to strengthen muscles and help the body build new neuro pathways that build muscles memory and strengthen the body over time. It allows us to become confident on our abilities, feel adjusted to running a faster pace, and for the bodies fast twitching muscles to gain strength.

It can come in the form of a tempo, intervals or fartleks and will vary based on the individual and the distance which they are training for. There were quite a few years of my adult running life where I eliminated any type of speed training from my workouts, in those years I never saw a PR nor did my body ever really make any physical gains in strength. It wasn't until I got back into running after a year of one injury after another that I begun to realize that speed sessions have a lot of benefits for the body.

Some benefits of speed training:
  • Improved stamina, or V02 Max. The body makes adaptations to the lactic that is being produced which helps create a higher lactic threshold, meaning we all can become one step closer to being like Dean Karnazes.
  • Higher caloric burn. When the bodies systems are working harder to output energy in addition to maintaining normal body functions, then the rate at which calories are being burned increases. For anyone who is looking for weight loss, increased intensity will definitely help with that.
  • Builds confidence. Speed sessions can be looked at as a practice for race day and can make an individual feel more comfortable in their abilities to run outside of their comfort zone.
  • Recruits different muscles then easy runs. This is a HUGE benefit for long distance runners especially. Running is a great full body sport, but if we are running the same pace on every run we are calling the same muscles to do the same work, and this can cause imbalances in the bodies strength and not maximize our potential.
  • Teaches the body to run more efficiently. Speed work is a great time to think about stride, turnover, and form. When we work on all of these pieces of the puzzle our bodies will make adjustments to doing the same tasks in a more effective manor at any pace.
Things to remember about speed sessions:
  • These workouts are not a race, pace yourself. A lot of runners take their speed work too hard, I know that I have a time or two. A great rule to remind yourself of when your legs are feeling extra speedy is that by the end of the workout you should feel like you have one more interval or mile left in you. If you don't and you end the workout feeling beat, this is a good sign that you may have taken the workout a bit too hard.
  • Get in a good warm-up and cool-down.
  • Focus on your form.
  • Keep your breathing under control. If your breath becomes labored, you are most likely working too hard.
  • Don't do too much too soon. For most people one speed session a week should be plenty. Allow a day or two for recovery and make slow increases in intensities.
  • Run your own pace. It is easy when you are at the track or on a busy path to out run the other runners. Keep in mind that we all have a different pace which we feel comfortable at and we do not know what workouts other runners are taking on, so it is best to just focus on yourself and the gains that you yourself can take from the workout.
  • Use this a great time to practice focusing. What works for me during speed sessions is that I picture myself on various parts of the course for my next upcoming race while repeating a mantra to myself. This allows me to set in my mind how I want to feel during the race and feel mentally prepared to take on whatever may come on race morning.
  • Have fun! While this should feel harder then an easy run, it should also feel fun.
  • Don't force a workout. Some days our bodies aren't just up for what is on our agenda. If a speed workout seems like too much for that particular day, take to an easy run and give the workout a try the next day.
Today was mile repeat day for me. Goal was 6x1 mile repeats @10k pace, which is subjective considering that I have never ran a 10k nor do I really want to. So I assumed that my 10k pace would be + or - 6:30. 

Splits 6:22, 6:21, 6:28, 6:32, 6:29, 6:30.

For the first two the wind was at my back and made my pace feel relatively easy. At three the peanut butter and banana toast that I had for breakfast 2 hours earlier made a reappearance, and the stomach never quite recovered. 

If or when you are training for a marathon what speed workout is a no miss for you? What workout helps build your confidence and builds your strength? Any speed sessions that you think I should add to my training to buildup the strength I need to cross that finish line under 3:10 in October?


  1. You are so fast! I love my speed workouts! They go by so quickly and I love the feeling of flying. My mile repeats are 6:58/mi pace, so much slower than yours but they're still tough and feel such a sense of accomplishment when I finish. Awesome Job!

  2. Yayy for speed work wednesday!! Did you really throw up?! I did this exact workout last week and my splits were very similar!

  3. This is great - thanks for sharing. You are super speedy - go girl :)

  4. i love (and sometimes hate) a good tempo run! it is a very empowering feeling!!

    Sam @ fitness food & faith (giveaway today!)

  5. Great speed workout! I have only recently discovered how important speed workouts are, and I make sure to include at least one workout a week. My favorite distance is 400 meters though--long enough for me!

  6. Oh my gosh!! You are in the never ran a 10k club too!! Yay! I'm not the only one ;)

    great post about speed training. I always want to run faster, and I'm convinced the only way is to run faster. Haha. I love doing 800's for marathon training, lately I've just been doing negative split tempo runs. I start out easy and build until I'm almost at 5k pace by the end of 6ish miles. If I'm doing long runs on the tread like 13+, I will also continue pushing the pace the entire time. I think you are well on your way to smashing your marathon goal. :)

  7. I love this post and I love speed work. I became a very different runner once I started doing it.
    Mostly I like ladders and mile repeats best during marathon training but I do 400s, 800s 1200, too.

  8. love love love intervals. Did 10 400m today. For the Urbanathlon I like training intervals on steep winding hills to prepare for the Soldier field stair climb. I consider intervals a can't miss workout right along side the distance run for the week.

  9. Great tips!! Well, I generally don't have the problem of taking my speed too hard......well, maybe too hard as I'm convulsing on the side of the road but not too fast as I still have trouble hitting the paces for my MP. I usually don't feel like I have one interval left in me but I guess I'm not sure what to do about that....Those are some GREAT mile repeats! I haven't done mile repeats for so long because they aren't in my plan anymore. I've never made it more than 4!! I am surprisingly liking the shorter speed on the track as of late. I also like short tempo like 10-15 minute intervals with AR at HMP or so. The thought of long straight miles etc. at pace quicker than MP stresses me out. Running LR's quicker (+10-20 seconds or so) off GMP is probably the most confidence building workout for me when it comes to running a marathon. I don't always runs them like this but I need to have a few under my belt come race day to feel "ready".

    This was a huge babble:) Loved the post! Lots of great info here!

  10. Funny but mike repeats are not my fav!! At all! My fav workout is 400's:) although mist confidence building is definitely long hill sprints. Like 4 min up a steep hill at sub 7 min pace. Always makes me feel like I can conquer the world!

  11. Great post!
    I need to add more speed workouts in. I like the results, but don't really find them "fun" as some people say! Tempo runs are always good confidence boosters for me... keeping a challenging pace for a long distance. Throw some ladders intervals in there... those always make the workout go faster for me... and the way down seems "easy"!?!?!