Sunday, July 10, 2011

Importance of Speed Work

If you're looking to increase your pace, speed workouts are the key. While I was training for my first few half marathons, all my runs were the same effort and pace, mainly because I only cared about completing the distance and not the time it took me to get there. Now that pacing and time are more of a goal, I am incorporating speed workouts into my weekly training schedule. Speed work helps you run faster because it teaches your body to tolerate running at an uncomfortable pace for longer periods of time.   

Here are a few types of runs which I incorporate into my training schedule: 

Easy Runs:
Top coaches and exercise physiologists believe that most runners should do 80-90% of their weekly training at the easy run pace (this includes your long runs). Easy runs build your aerobic fitness and muscular and skeletal strength. They also help you burn more calories and recover for harder workouts. 

Isn't that a funny name? Fartleks is actually Swedish for "speed play" which is exactly what this is. It is an unstructured and fun way to introduce speed workouts into your run. Imagine being a child just running around, and then all of a sudden a burst of energy comes and you run as hard as you can- that is what fartleks make me feel like, that I'm a kid just running around with spurts of energy ever-so-often. While running at an easy pace, inject spurts of speed at varying speed and distances. The bursts can be anywhere between 15 seconds to 2.5 minutes long, and the speed should merely be harder than your easy pace. There are no rules, so it is hard to describe fartlecks- so just enjoy it and see how far you can push yourself!

Tempo Runs:
Tempo runs help you improve your running economy and your running form. Different from farlecks and intervals because tempo runs force you to hold an uncomfortable pace for longer periods of time; these are more endurance speed workouts opposed to sprinting. They are sometimes described as "threshold" or "hard but controlled" runs. Tempo sessions generally fall into one of two categories: steady runs of 2 to 6 miles; or long intervals with short recoveries. Here is an example: 4 x 1 mile at tempo pace with 2 minutes of recovery jogging between efforts. You should do tempo runs no more than once a week, and they should make up no more than 10-15% of your total training. 

Intervals or VO2-Max Runs:
With these runs, you are running at or near 100% of your maximum oxygen capacity, which scientist call VO2-max; this is a dead sprint! These runs help you improve your running economy and racing sharpness. Here is an example: 4 x 400 at max pace with 200 recovery jogging between efforts. The key during the recovery time is to not let your heart rate drop; you're training your body to sprint when it is uncomfortable. You should do interval workouts no more than once a week, and they should make up no more than 6-10% of your total training. 

Tips I follow for speed work:
1. I do speed training once a week and usually alternate between the different workouts, which keeps me from become burned out from doing the same workout over and over again. 
2. You may hate to hear it, but during speed training the track and treadmill are your friend. You'll learn to love them because of the predefined distances which takes away the guess work. 
3. If possible, I always do speed work with friends; having a running buddy keeps me motivated and always pushes me farther and faster than I would have normally gone on my own. I can always see a significant difference in my speed when I compare my solo workouts to those done with friends. 

Last note:
Are speed workouts necessary? No way! If you're the kind of runner who loves to just lace up and go and these types of workouts seem way too structured, then just get out there and run! By no means do you need to have speed workouts to be a runner; I didn't do them for years. However, if you want to improve your speed or endurance, doing some kind of speed training would be beneficial. 

Do you do speed work? What is your favorite type of training run?

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