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The Case for Speedwork

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I avoided speedwork for a long time. I was running for two years before I started to add it to my workouts. When I first started running, I just wanted to build endurance and be able to run more miles in a row without needing to walk. As I trained for my first four half marathons, I wanted to PR each time, but I still did not add speedwork to my training.

Then came my first marathon. When I “won” the lottery for the Chicago Marathon, they sent out a training calendar. I had never run a marathon before and had no idea what I was doing, so I decided to follow it. It included one speed workout each week. The first ones were brutal. It was summer in Florida, so the conditions were less than ideal. My body was not used to trying to hit different paces within the same run. Instead, it was used to going the same speed for every run.

Eventually, I started to love Tuesdays because it meant it was time for my speed workout. My marathon came and went (that’s a story for another post), and I went back to shorter distances for a while. In the five months after my first marathon, I set new personal bests in the 5K, 10K, and twice in the half marathon. I started really seeing the speedwork pay off.

Even when I’m not training for a specific race, I still keep speedwork as a part of my weekly runs. I’m not an expert by any means, but you can do a quick Google search to see that there are specific benefits to adding speedwork to your rotation.

A few tips if you are new to speedwork (or running):
1. Build a base. Do not go from no running straight into speedwork. Build up first so that your body can take the added stress of speedwork.

2. Learn your training paces. Speedwork is hard to do if you do not know what paces to run. There are many training pace calculators out there. You will need to use a recent race result or to do a time trial run. The pace chart I use can be found here. You will need to adjust your paces as you set new personal records.

3. Start simple. The group I train with suggests mile repeats as a simple form of speedwork. Two other simple types of speedwork are doing pick-ups during your regular run or ending with some strides.
Mile Repeats. For mile repeats, run a mile at a pace 30 seconds or so faster than your goal race pace. Make sure to recover for a couple of minutes with walking or easy jogging (or stop completely if needed) before starting again. You can start with two miles and then build up from there to the amount needed for your desired race distance.
Pick-ups. Pick-ups are just what they sound like. During your regular run, pick up the pace for 30 seconds to a minute every mile. These can also be done by distance (for example, speed up for a tenth of a mile or until you pass five houses). Build up to where you can add these in more often.
Strides. Strides are one of my favorites. Strides are controlled fast-paced running. It is not quite a sprint, but faster than you normally run. I like to do 100 meter strides at the end of a run, but you can also use light posts or driveways or any markers for distance. Start out doing two or three of them with recovery time in between and build from there.

4. Add variety. If you are ready for more than mile repeats, pick-ups, and strides, you can add other types of speedwork to your rotation. Interval runs are the most common type of speedwork I use. Fartleks (my middle school students would love that word) and hills are two other common types of speedwork.
Intervals. Interval runs come in all shapes and sizes. You can Google and find hundreds of interval workouts. The pictures in this post have some of them that I have done. My favorites involve different distances and paces all mixed together.
Fartleks. Run fartleks by feel rather than set paces. You can do it by time or distance (I usually do time). In fartleks, you alternate hard, medium, and easy paces. For example, run one minute hard and then one minute easy, two minutes hard and two minutes easy, three minutes hard and three minutes easy, and then repeat.
Hill Workouts. Hills are hard to find in Orlando, so I use parking garages and overpasses for hill training unless I can make it a little ways out to one of a few hilly routes nearby.

Like any other run, make sure you are listening to your body. If you need to slow down or cut a workout short, do it. Speedwork should not be every run you do. Someone told me to use it like a spice – sprinkle it into your training plan. Do not use it like it is a main ingredient. I typically do one speed workout a week, keeping most of my other runs at an easy or recovery pace. With adding a hard workout to your rotation, you need to make sure your body has time to recover properly.

Happy running!

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Friday 11th of October 2019

So happy to find your site! Travel and running couldn't be a better niche for me. Especially love finding new places to run when I travel. Please add more running content :) -CJ

Christine Wheeler

Friday 11th of October 2019

Thank you! I have a whole bunch of running posts in my drafts, so I will work on getting those out soon!

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