Beyond “Junk” Miles – Five Speed Training Workouts for Runners

Five Speed Training

 

I never understood how people could think running is “boring.” When the world is literally your training ground (mountains, valleys, roads, trails) and can be done nearly anywhere, it’s hard to understand how one can become “bored.” I will wholeheartedly maintain that running is not boring. However, your training just might be. 

One mistake that I often see new runners make is running the same mileage (or amount of time) and the same pace for the same route. Day in and day out these runners will resign themselves to their mileage and wonder how people could possibly enjoy this sport. More experienced runners are often no better, getting stuck in their routines and in their comfort zone and failing to branch out and try something new.
One foolproof way to break out of a running rut? Add speed training. 

Yes, I said it. Speed training. It’s not just for those who are seriously competing and it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Even adding just a few minutes of speed training into a run can do wonders for boosting one’s confidence and breaking up the monotony.
Five Speed Training Workouts to Try:
1. Intervals 
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Intervals are uptempo (read: hard effort) runs for a specified distance (frequently between 200m and 1600m) with a specified period of rest in between. Interval workouts are a great way to improve leg speed and they are mentally challenging in an entirely different way than long-distance running. In most instances, the key with interval training is to continuously hit your target pace throughout each set (so that your later intervals are still at the same pace as the earlier ones). However, intervals may also be progressive in nature (where the pace may become faster each set – for example starting at half marathon pace, dropping to 10k pace, dropping to 5k pace, and so on). While intervals are traditionally thought of as track workouts they can be done anywhere (so long as you have a Garmin, a pre-measured course, or some flexibility and creativity with your interval distances).

For example, an interval workout may have you do 8 sets of 400m (2 miles total) at 5k pace with equal rest. In this case, if you run an 8 minute mile during a 5k – you would run each 400m interval in 2 minutes and take a 2 minute break (or jog) in between.

2. Hills
Hills can be are deceivingly hard. I usually go into a hill workout thinking

grass-698419__340“it can’t be that bad” and then about a quarter of the way realize “oh yes it can” (but in a hurts-so-good kind of way). Like interval workouts, hillworkouts can be tailored any number of ways toward a goal race. Not only does hill work give you that practical “real-world” experience (as most of us will encounter hills at some point during training or racing) but they also benefit both one’s aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

When I do hill workouts, I tend to stick with a routine that I learned back in high school. Each set of my workout consists of three times up the hill. The first run is high knees (to improve technique and form). The second run is backwards (to build quad strength). The third run is a sprint (to improve power, strength and speed). I then run easy down hill and repeat sets as needed.

3. Fartlek 
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Fartlek runs are the perfect marriage between an interval run and a continuous run. They are also extremely easy to adjust to accommodate differing training schedules. Generally, a fartlek run starts as a training run but with brief periods where you pick up the pace. These speed portions can be informal (for example, sprinting from one tree to another) or formal (set by specific time or distance). Effort can also be varied as well.
I particularly like doing modified fartlek runs during my marathon taper when I am  trying to take it easy but don’t want my legs to get stale. During this time, I will run the majority of my run east and then add in a fartlek portion for the last 20 minutes or so. I tend to keep my fartlek’s informal, choosing random landmarks along the course and picking up the speed accordingly. The shorter the distance between landmarks, the faster I will run. This is also a good way to test your legs at different paces without too much strain. Fartleks can also be made far more intense by doing a simple warm up, running fartleks during the majority of the mileage, and adding a cool down.
4. Tempo Runs

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Tempo runs are a workout where your pace should be “comfortably hard.” Typically this means that it is run a pace that feels challenging but that can be maintained for long periods of time (i.e. you could speak a few words, if needed, but would not want to carry on a conversation). Tempo runs are an excellent way to prepare your body for racing (both physically and mentally). The key to the tempo run is increasing your lactate threshold, thereby improving your overall metabolic fitness (and ability to hold a certain pace for a sustained period of time). Tempo runs are the go-to workout for longer distance runners but can benefit runners at any distance. While a 5k runner may only run up to 2 or 3 miles for a tempo run, a marathon runner may run 10 miles (or more) at tempo pace.

The key with tempo runs is building up appropriately. A beginner may only run tempo pace for short periods (with brief jogging breaks in between) while more advanced runners will often run their tempos continuously. Tempo pace will often change relative to goal race.

 

5. Progressive Runs
figures-1384865__340 Progressive runs are a great way to train your body not to give into fatigue. This is especially critical when training for a race. A progressive run divides alonger training run into portions. Typically, the run will start at an easy pace. By midway, the pace will pick up so that it is more challenging. The last segment of the run will be the fastest (which will feel especially challenging because this is when your legs are the most tired). Progressive runs are also great for providing a mental confidence boost!

For example, if you were training for a marathon with a goal marathon pace of 8:00/ mile, your progressive run may be 4 miles at 9 minute pace or slower, 4 miles at 8:15-8:45 pace, and 4 miles at goal marathon pace or faster. Progressive runs can also be done for shorter distances using the same principles.

Please keep in mind that I am not a professional and these tips are based solely on my own experiences as a runner. As always, consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program and make sure that any workouts that you do are tailored toward your skill, experience and ability!

Have you tried any of these workouts? How do you keep your training interesting?