speedwork for runners

Liz Crain is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Liz, check out her coaching page.

Speedwork…it’s not everyone’s favorite type of workout, but still an important part of training. Adding speedwork into your training can help you level up your running! After a while, you might find yourself running the same trails at the same paces every day, which means you’re using the same muscles in the same way everyday. If you want to run faster in races, then you will need to run faster in training as well.

What is Speedwork?

Speedwork also referred to as interval training are workouts that include short periods of high intensity efforts followed by a recovery period. Intervals work both the aerobic and anaerobic system. The main goal behind interval training is to improve your aerobic capacity by stressing your aerobic power (VO2max). VO2max is a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense bouts of exercise. The higher the VO2max, the more aerobic power you have.

Why Intervals Boost Your Speed?

Interval have you spending more time at higher intensities than is possible if you were to do one long continuous effort. When you break your workout into shorter intervals and include a recovery period you can work your intervals harder and faster for long periods of time. Interval training also pushes the body past its comfort level by using both the aerobic and anaerobic systems. This will cause your body to adapt to the faster speeds over time and increases our tolerance to lactic acid buildup. Fast twitch muscles will also be recruited while doing intervals, which will help improve your running economy. Interval training can also help your body adapt to store more glycogen. Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles as glycogen as your main source of energy. 

Types of Interval Workouts

When doing any interval workout always incorporate a warm up and a cooldown. Begin each workout with a 5 to 10 minute warm up jog to get your muscles warmed up for the hard effort. Cooldown by jogging or walking 5 to 10 minutes. This cooldown will enable the body to remove lactic acid from the muscles, which can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). 

  • Track Workouts/Interval Runs: These are the most traditional type of speed workout. For a typical interval run, run for a set amount of time or distance and then follow with a set time/distance recovery jog or walk. Example: 4x 800m with 200m recovery or 4x 3mins with 2 min recovery
  • Fartleks: Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play.” It is a form of unstructured speedwork. Fartleks are very flexible and a good form of speedwork for new runners because they can be more flexible. You can do fartleks based on time or just based on objects you see on your run.  Example: Run to the stop sign up ahead, recover until you cross the street, run until you reach a tree, etc. or run 2min, recover, run 4 minutes, recover, etc.
  • Hill Repeats: Hills are not the most fun kind of workout, but extremely beneficial. Uphill repeats will force you onto your forefoot, raise your knees, and drive your arms, which will ultimately help you improve your form. Since you have to work quite a bit harder running uphill than on a flat track you will see major improvements to your speed and aerobic power. Hill repeats involve running uphill at a hard effort and then jogging back down for recovery. Example: 5x uphill run for 3 minutes and jog back down for recovery

When to do Intervals

Intervals are good for any runner to include in their routine. Depending on your goal race, speedwork will vary. For shorter races such as the 5k to 10k speedwork should be incorporated about once a week with the workouts increasing in duration and intensity as you approach race day. For longer races a speed workout should be included in the first period of your training cycle. These speed workouts will help you transition into the longer race specific tempo workouts.

Liz Crain is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Liz, check out her coaching page.