You’ve been running steadily and consistently and are now looking to take the next step forward in your training. You’re Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi is whispering in your ear that you need to head to Dagobah to train with Yoda. You’ve gotten as far as you can in your base building phase and are ready to get a bit faster. Well, here’s how to run faster — you start to incorporate speed workouts into your training schedule!
Speed workout is an umbrella term for all the different types of strength building and faster paced exercises that should, if done correctly, make you faster. They often consist of shorter, quicker runs, also called intervals, broken up by small periods of slower running or rest. The key is to run these intervals much faster than your normal runs, often even faster than your goal race pace (if you’re doing any kind of race training), so that you can A) get your body used to running at these faster, more difficult speeds and B) run more easily at your target pace. You also build muscle strength, learn to run hard when your legs are tired and your breathing is heavy, and find out what you’re truly capable of speed-wise.
As a newer runner, you might be telling yourself that you’re not fast enough to do speed workouts or that you’re not serious enough to do it. If you don’t believe you’re fast enough, you’re wrong! Speed is a relative concept. You don’t do yourself any good by comparing yourself to others, regardless of whether they’re faster or slower than you. The goal in these speed workouts is to run faster in general and to challenge and improve yourself, not to beat the person next to you (but props to you if you do!).
If you pace yourself well and put the effort into the workout, you feel great afterwards — accomplished and ready to take on anybody in any race. Your legs are tired, your muscles need a good massage, and you feel the need to scarf down protein in any form, but you’re feeling those endorphins and are yearning to get out on that next workout.
But slow down there, Speedy Gonzales!
You may think that you can make the biggest improvement by just running faster in general and doing these types of workouts more often. If you incorporate speed workouts into all of your runs, you’ll be able to always run and race fast, right?
Unfortunately, during these workouts, you push your heart and legs more than what is sustainable, to the point where we’re activating different parts of the body and creating tiny micro-tears in the muscles. These strained muscles require multiple days to heal and repair themselves, meaning that for most people, speed workouts should only be done one or two times a week. Much like the periods of slow running or rest allow us to run the short, quick parts hard, our easy recovery runs and off days let us get the most out of these speed workouts. Speed workouts be done in moderation as there comes a point of diminishing returns where the body isn’t given enough time to recover. They’re an important part of training, but don’t overdo it.
So, ready to kick things into high gear? Now that you’ve been introduced to speed workouts, try some out for yourself — fartlek training is a great way to start, but you’ll want to work in pyramid workouts, hill repeats, and the ever-important and often underutilized tempo runs, too. Good luck out there!