What’s the difference between 200s and mile repeats? How fast should you run them? How many repeats? How much rest in between? What’s the reason for tempo runs?
work is an important part of most training programs,
whether you’re training for your first 5km or latest 100-miler.
all speed work is the same, and not all may be right for you. Different
of speed training – different effort levels and lengths – have
benefits for your training. Choosing the right kind depends on your
level, what kind of race you are training for, and your own strengths
hate running circles around a track? Don’t worry. You
don’t have to. Intervals can be done anywhere – road, path, and trail.
don’t even need a watch.
are different types of speed training, with different purposes/benefits.
From as short as 6 sec up to about 45 seconds. The main purposes of sprints are:
Improve form and increase leg turnover. Faster running is generally more efficient than slow running. Your feet spend less time on the ground absorbing energy and you carry forward more of your momentum. While you can’t maintain a sprint over longer distances, practicing good form with sprints will train you to be more efficient when you run slower, and be able to sustain an efficient stride over longer distances.
Engage more of you muscles and fast twitch fibers. Stride power is largely a factor of how much of your muscle fibers you engage. With sprinting, you use a larger percentage of your muscle fibers with each stride. Train them with sprints, and you will be able to use more when you run slower.
Prepare your legs for harder efforts. Before you start doing harder intervals – e.g., 400s, mile repeats, tempo runs – you should condition your legs to handle the harder workload.
Striders - The
first type of speed work all runners should start their season with is
Striders are done at a moderately fast pace, where the focus is on leg
turnover, not pure speed. Keep your stride short and quick,
uncomfortably so –
improvement comes from pushing yourself a little beyond what’s easy or
comfortable. Imagine you’re running on hot coals – the harder you hit
ground and longer you spend there the more it hurts – and pick your
foot up as
soon as it hits the ground.
REACH! This is important, so let me repeat – don’t
reach with your legs! Keep your stride short and make sure your foot
under your body, not in front of it. It might help to keep your stride
doing striders on a slight grade, but it shouldn’t be a hard run. It
easy on the muscles.
on the track, where you
sprint the straights and jog the curves. However, then can be done
that’s fairly smooth. Go fast for about 15-30 seconds, or 25-50
Gradually build your speed for the first half, and then maintain that
the end. Jog/walk in between for a full recovery, about the same
twice the time.
do early in the season, after several
weeks of easy running, and for a few weeks, before starting any hard
This is also the first, and perhaps only type of faster running new
should do for their first season. Add them to the middle or end of an
easy-moderate short run (i.e., only after a very good warm-up). Start
4-6 repeats (a repeat is a round of hard then easy), gradually
increasing up to
10-12 over several weeks or months.
hard intervals or tempo runs, striders
are a great way to end your warm-up and prepare your body for the
Power Bursts –
Very short, 6-10 seconds, hard sprints, preferably up a very steep but
run-able hill. These short sprints engage the fast twitch muscles and
introduce a light, quick, efficient stride. Drive your knees up and
the arms back forcefully (as if you’re hitting someone behind you in
You can start by taking a few strides in place, to simulate the motion,
driving uphill. Walk back down the hill for a full recovery, ~30-40
are preferable because it prevents over striding
(i.e., reaching), increases the workload on the muscles, while reducing
stress on joints, bones and connective tissues and the risk of injury.
steepest, run-able hill, perhaps around a 10% grade. The specific grade
important than how it feels. By run-able, I mean not so steep that you
walk, and not so rocky that you have to alter or think a lot about your
Your focus should be on form. Smoother is better. If you have to do
flat ground, make sure you don’t reach, and plant your foot under your
is a good early season, pre-cursor to longer intervals.
New runners probably should avoid them. Do these towards the middle or
end of an
easy-moderate run. Start with 6-8 repeats, and gradually increase over
Keep them under 10 seconds; longer is not better.
Hill Sprints –
Hard sprints, 20-40 seconds, with a fast and powerful stride, up a
still run-able hill. After doing the Power Bursts for a few weeks, you
start adding these longer sprints. These will build more power into
stride, and allow you to carry a faster turnover longer. Go hard, but
an all-out sprint. Drive your knees powerfully up the hill, and stride
Count your stride rate on a regular moderate run, and strive for 5-10
strides/minute faster (left-right = 1 stride).
start to tighten, your form starts to
break, and your stride starts to slow – typically around 20 seconds at
then go just a couple of strides more while working to maintain your
leg speed. Over time, you’ll be able to increase the amount of time you
hold your form during the sprint, so increase the time accordingly. You
have to work to maintain your form and stride rate at the end, but you
shouldn’t feel dead at the end. If your stride breaks down, you’ve gone
these towards the middle or end of an easy-moderate
effort, short to medium length run. Start with 6 repeats, and increase
repeats and length of the sprints. Over time, you should be able to
your form 40-45 seconds.
slightly less steep grade, around 6%-8%. Again, the
feel of the hill is more important than the specific grade.
1-2 minute hard efforts. The main benefits of short intervals are:
Ladder is a workout where you increase then decrease the distance. For example, 1min – 2min – 3min – 4min – 3min – 2min – 1min, keeping either a steady rest interval in between (e.g., 1min), or slightly increasing it for the longer work intervals.
Pyramid is where you start with a longer interval, then go to shorter intervals, but increase the number of repeats. For example, 1 x 1mi, 2 x 800, 4 x 400.
Add games with
friends. One of my favorites is partner 400s or 800s. Get with
who’s about your speed – a little faster or slower is OK, but you don’t
one to have too much rest and the other too little. One runs while the
rests, then switch off like a relay. It’s fun to have competitions with
similarly combined time teams. Have the faster runners in the pairs
together. For example, I did this with a partner who was running 68 sec
against someone doing 69s, and would hand off to me doing 75 sec
someone doing 74. I would start my lap in the lead, then fight to hang
it back to my partner. The competition made us all run a little harder
and more consistently than we otherwise would've.
Words of caution
While speed training has tremendous benefits, it’s not without risk. More explosive muscle contractions and longer strides can lead to injury if not done right or too soon. Therefore, follow these guidelines.
make sure you have a solid base
of running in your legs. For
new runners, this may mean several months, or even a whole year of easy
first; I would recommend doing striders after several weeks, but
until you can sustain an hour+ of running. Then, I might wait a year
doing anything harder than a tempo effort.
off an injury or long layoff,
ease into speed training first building your legs with easy runs, then
and sprints before doing intervals.
Don’t overload on
intervals. More is not necessarily better. Higher efforts mean greater
on your muscles, joints, endocrine and immune systems. When you first
doing intervals (from hill sprints to VO2Max), start with only 15
“hard” efforts (e.g., 10 repeats of 1:30 hard, 1:30 easy, equals 15
hard effort), maybe only 10 for new runners. Increase it over time,
letting your body adapt to higher workloads. At peak, fitter runners
doing 30-40 minutes of hard effort (e.g., 5-8 x 1mi repeats).
intensity and volume at the same time. Your body has to adapt to
training. Too many changes at the same time can lead to injury or
you start adding speed work, slow down or stop the increase in total
volume, or even back off a little. Similarly, when you need to increase
training volume, ease back on the intensity.
Faster is not
necessarily better. Run the prescribed effort levels and paces to
desired stimulus effect. If you aren’t able to sustain your speed
interval workout, then you are running them too hard (or doing too
better to slow down a little than to extend the rest between intervals.
Don’t leave it on the track. Workouts are not races. You
finish a workout feeling tired, but that you could’ve gone a little
a little longer. You need to be able to come back the next day.
is important to remember when
running with a group. Use the group
to motivate you, but don’t run so hard trying to keep up that you do
Run your own pace and don’t get caught up in racing your friends.
with a group, don’t let the socializing interfere with the
workout. Sometimes it’s easy to start chatting during rest periods
extend the rest too long. This reduces the desired stimulus effect and
time. Save the chatting to before or after the workout.
your stride short and quick. Don’t reach with your
legs. Speed comes from leg turnover, not from reaching. It may take
about shortening your stride – I think of running on hot coals – but as
stride and go faster, your stride length will actually increase.
you feel any sudden pains or twinges in your muscles
or joints, immediately slow down or stop. That may mean that you’re
over-extending your stride, that you didn’t warm up enough for the
that your muscles are tired and over-stressed from too much training
enough rest, or that you’re muscles aren’t ready for intervals quite
off, and try again another day.
Warm up well. Speed puts greater stress on the muscles, so they need to be warmer and looser than when just jogging. The colder it is, the earlier in the day it is, and the longer you’ve been sitting still, the more warm up you need before running hard. On a summer afternoon, you may only need 5-10 minutes of warm-up before starting intervals. However, on a chilly winter morning, just after waking up, you may need 30 minutes or more before you can start sprinting.