Don’t Let Speed Work Scare You

Many of you got into running for a myriad of reasons: become physically fitter, clear your head, lose some weight, find an active social network of friends, etc. It would be pretty safe to say that the average adult runner is not a big fan of speed work. I would go as far to say that it scares the running shorts off many of you!

But my poor misguided endurance runners, if you ever really want to drop your times then speed work is your best friend. While running more miles will drop your times when you’re first getting into shape and learning how to run your particular race distance, it’s not a cure-all. After months and years of training, you may find that you’ve hit a plateau and that your times aren’t dropping as quickly (or at all) like they did when you first got started.


Sprinting is essential to becoming a better runner. Sprinting works different muscles and systems than does slow and moderate paced runs. Becoming a better sprinter improves your overall running mechanics and makes you more efficient over time. You don’t need to do hours and hours of sprint work to help your 5K, 10K, half or full marathon times; but a little will go a long way.

Sprints aren’t Intervals

While there is a place and good reason to do interval work to improve your running times, I’m not talking about doing 8 x 800 @ 10K pace, or 8 x 1 mile @ marathon pace, or even 16 x 400 @ 5K pace; these workout are appropriate for an endurance runner. I’m just saying they aren’t speed work.

So What the Heck is Speed Work Then?

Speed work is running at your top-end speed for a short period of time, and then following it up with a long rest (2-5 minutes depending how far you are running). The idea here is quality over quantity. With speed work you don’t want your running form to break down or for your times to get slower and slower with each repeat.

Examples of speed workouts:

  • 6 x 30 meter hill sprints with a walk-down recovery
  • 5 x 100 meter sprints with a 4-5 minute walk recovery
  • 8 x 10-20 second sprints with 2-3 minute walk recovery

Remember that you should be running all out when doing these workouts. I would warn for my newbie or older runners out there that for safety sake it’s all right to ease into these sprints. We don’t want to tear something and be out for weeks and months. Also, do these sprints from a “rolling start”. What that means is to not start the sprint from a standing position; rather, lightly jog to the “starting line” of the sprint and then take off from there, this will not be as traumatic of a jolt to your body when changing gears to your high-end speed and will lessen the chance of injury.

If you are merely a recreational runner and don’t necessarily care about improving your times that much, then throw a speed workout in 2-4 times per month after an easy run. If you are a bit more serious with your running and want to have those times drop like they used to then try adding a little speed in nearly every workout you do.

Don’t be scared of speed, embrace it brothers and sisters!


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