As a distance runner, I’ve been obsessed with efficiency and aerobic base building, but there’s one piece of my workout I consider important not just to speed but to optimizing form, anaerobic endurance, and forging new neuromuscular connections.
This important piece is speed work.
I roughly follow the 80/20 rule with my training, meaning that 80% of my running is done at an easy, conversational pace that lies just at the anaerobic threshold, and the other 20% is done at max intensity. It’s been show that the intensity between these two ends of the spectrum aren’t very effective (Journal of Applied Physiology). So this 80/20 rule works out nicely to 4 days of easy running and 1 day of track work.
I prefer the track because of the metrics I use to measure time and distance. I also like the consistent terrain which minimizes the chance of injury. Also, it just gets me in the zone to be on the track with other athletes in their zones.
3 Track Workouts for a Distance Runner:
The tempo repeats
The first track workout I’ll introduce you to is one that I use less often because of the relatively low intensity. It’s like an intense tempo run, but not as intense as max effort sprints. In this workout you would do 400 meters as fast as you can while keeping good form, then slow down to a recovery jog speed for 200 meters, and finally walk 200 meters.
The recovery here is serious, I personally try to get my heart rate down to the 120bpm area(200bpm max) with controlled breathing during the walk. You’d repeat this 6 times depending on your fitness level. When I started, 4 was way too much, now I am thinking of progressing to 7 sets. The only thing I try to avoid is making this type of workout longer than an hour. If you’re truly giving it your all, there is plenty of stimulus for your body to adapt in under an hour.
It goes as follows:
5 Minute warmup-jog | 3 minutes of dynamic stretching
Max pace for 400m | 200m recovery jog | 200m walk and controlled breathing
Repeat 4-8 times
This workout is the most intense of the three workouts I choose between. As a HIIT workout it follows timed intervals of work and rest. The interval I like to use is 15/45. That’s 15 seconds of all out sprints (which is commensurate with the capacity of the phosphagen system), then 45 seconds of recovery jogging to keep the momentum and circulation while actively resting and recovering the phosphagen system. Although 45 seconds will not provide a full recovery to that system, it’s plenty of time to get you back to mobility.
This workout should be done for 30 minutes or less and is effective in this duration if you are truly giving it your all during those 15 seconds. Word to the wise: don’t skimp on the very long warm-up period.
It goes as follows:
10 Minute warm-up jog | 5 Minutes of dynamic stretching | 3 Minutes of agility work
15 seconds maximum effort sprint | 45 seconds recovery jogging
Repeat 8-12 times
One of my favorite workouts as a distance runner, and the last one I cover in this post is something I refer to as strides. These are almost fartlek style in their approach meaning that on the recovery phase, it’s really up to you when to choose to accelerate. This is all about consistent and gradual adjustments in speed. After the warm-up, start at the end of the 100m mark on the track. This is only important in the beginning when you are fresh, midway through, this will be less relevant as the fartlek style of “how you feel” takes over. Start with 300m of your comfortable running pace and then as soon as you come around the corner to the beginning of the 100m mark, gradually start increasing your speed. Lean forward, stretch out your stride (without reaching), make sure those heels are almost reaching the glutes with each turnover. Getting the knees flexed all the way like this makes the pull through more efficient and quicker, which equates to quicker ground contact. By the 50m mark you should be nearing max speed and then, reaching the 100m mark bring the speed down slowly. Keep good form through this speed transition and avoid letting your feet stomp the ground.
It goes as follows:
5 Minute warm-up jog | 3 minutes of dynamic stretching | 1 lap at an easy pace
Nearing the 100m start: gradually increase speed | 50m: maximum speed |At 100m mark gradually slow down to a recovery pace | Repeat when recovery FEELS optimal
It’s up to you!
Speed work isn’t necessary and definitely shouldn’t be a part of every distance runner’s routine. Unless you’re concerned with getting faster then I would nix the idea of track work and do tempo runs instead. But, if you are concerned with increasing your pace, anaerobic endurance, and mental fortitude, head to your local public track and have some fun. This is one of the workouts that my in-person clients choose to do with me as it’s a good idea for someone to be coaching your, pushing you, and timing your for this style workout.
If you’re in the DC area, contact us and let’s set up a time to get in your speed work!