Training & Racing

Speedwork and Interval Training – Part 2

Speedwork and Interval Training – Part 2

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 out kick the runner who always sprints past you in local 10Ks, to get a PR in your marathon or finish your next 100 miler stronger, 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.

If you’ve already added a speed session or two to your schedule then you’ll know all of this already. If you haven’t, then here are a few things to remember.

Ease into it. When you started running, you ran for just a couple of miles every other day, and gradually built up to your current mileage. You didn’t suddenly start running 35 miles a week, so adopt the same approach to speed work. Put at least three months of steady running behind you, then start with just one session every 10 days or so.

Not too hard. Speed sessions aren’t about sprinting flat out until you’re sick. They’re about controlling hard efforts and spreading your energy evenly over a set distance or time, just like you would in a perfect race.

Warm up and warm down. Before each session, jog for at least 8-10 minutes to raise your blood temperature, increase blood flow 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.

Pacing yourself. When you start speed work you might find pacing yourself difficult. If you’ve run a 5K race and a session calls for that pace, then you’ll have an idea of what it feels like. But if you haven’t raced the distance indicated for the session, don’t worry, because you’re most likely to find the right pace through trial and error anyway.

While the idea of speed work is obviously to run quickly, you’ll rarely be running flat out. Instead, the time for each rep should be pretty similar, unless indicated otherwise. Run too hard at the start of a session and your times will fall off; take it too easy to begin with and you will speed up, but the session won’t benefit you as much as it should.

In fact, for your first sessions it’s better to be cautious, because you don’t want to immediately hate speed work, and you’ll know that next time you can push yourself harder

Types of Speedwork

Speedwork intervalsRepetitions/intervals
Periods of hard running at 5K pace or faster, between 200m and 1200m in length, or 30 seconds and five minutes. Recovery periods can be short (30-90 seconds), or of an equal time or distance to the reps. Running at harder than race pace for short periods not only improves speed, but also allows you to work on your running form. When you’re pushing hard, it’s important to concentrate on things like arm and hand motion, posture and stride length. If you can keep these together during a hard session of reps, it will be easier to do so during a race. Don’t attempt reps until you’ve tried other types of speed work for a couple of months.

It’s recommended to vary your distances from one session to the next. Here’s an example of how your interval sessions might look (you should adjust the number of repetitions to fit your fitness level).

(between reps)
30 seconds
1 minute
2 minutes
200m continuous jog

Tempo intervals
These are longer than ordinary intervals in that they take between 90 seconds and 20 minutes (or between 400m and three miles) and are run a little slower than your 5K pace. These work a bit like threshold runs – they raise the point at which lactic acid builds up in the muscles. Tempo runs are also repetitions of longer distances (one mile repeats, sets of 2 miles together, holding up to six miles at a certain pace during your long runs, etc). The importance of tempo intervals is that they set your body into the pace you would ideally hold in your marathon or in periods of your ultra race under ideal conditions.

Fartlek is Swedish for ‘speed play’ and is the fun side of speed work. Best done on grass or trails, you simply mix surges of hard running with periods of easy running. Run fast bursts between lamp posts or trees when you feel like it, and as hard you like. Great for newcomers to speed work.

Simple: find a hill that takes between 30 seconds and five minutes to climb at 85-90 percent effort, and run up it. Jog back down to recover. A great alternative to track intervals.

Speedwork and Interval Training – Part 2 is a follow up article previously written by Tere Zacher titled How Does Speedwork Make You Faster? – Part 1

Photo credits: runner on track, track.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 5 posts on Trail Running Club.

Tere is a sports psychologist and life coach with the following degrees; M.A. Sports Psychology, M.A. Education, M.A. Counseling, B.S. French and Mass Communications and is fluent in French, Spanish, English and is currently studying American Sign Language and Italian.

Born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tere is a former 50M World Champion Swimmer (Morocco 1998) and the current Latin American Record Holder in the 200 freestyle. Tere has now turned her focus on becoming an Olympic Qualifier for the marathon in Rio de Janeiro 2016.

Along with a full time training schedule Tere works with clients in her sports psychology and life coaching practice to break mental barriers and become the best they can be. Tere also enjoys sharing her sports psychology and life coaching skills through public speaking engagements.

Tere is sponsored by iRun Perfect Food Bar Bikram Yoga North Scottsdale

As well as being a trail ultra marathon pacer extraordinaire in distances from 100K to 100 miles, since 2008 Tere has placed in the women's Top Ten 25 times in 28 races including recent finishes of the following;

• 3rd Place Woman - 2012 P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon
• 2nd Place Woman - 2011 Holualoa Tucson Marathon
• 1st Place Woman - 2011 ARR Thanksgiving Classic 10 Mile Run
• 1st Place Woman (2nd Place Overall) - 2011 Shun the Sun Half Marathon
If you're interested in overcoming your mental barriers or looking for a Running Coach to help with your training please contact me via email.

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