The need for speed
Dec. 2, 2017 at 9:27 p.m.
For those of you following the Citizens Run Against Cancer half marathon training program, you should be entering week five of the training and have therefore established a fairly good foundation of running. Before adding in any type of structured speedwork to a training program, I typically recommend building your base for four to six weeks. This gives the muscles time to gradually strengthen for running and also allows some noticeable improvements in your cardiorespiratory system.
Adding speed work to your training program has a physiological value in that it improves the muscle's ability to metabolize lactate and allows for cardiovascular adaptations to occur. When excess lactate accumulates, it inhibits aerobic energy available for muscular action, thereby impairing performance. By training at a higher intensity, muscles adapt to the higher energy demands by developing the ability to use lactate as an energy source rather than have it accumulate in muscles and the bloodstream.
There are several types of high intensity workouts to use in your training arsenal to improve speed. Speed work also improves aerobic capacity, increases lactate threshold, improves running economy, improves muscular strength and power, and improves efficiency of fast-twitch muscle fibers. These workouts include interval training, tempo runs, fartleks and hill repeats. Speed work can be beneficial, but if not done appropriately, by doing too much too often and too fast, you could wind up injured.
An easy way to start to introduce speed into your training is by adding stride outs and running drills. Stride outs can be done after almost every run to improve running efficiency and speed. They can also be used in your warmup before your interval work as a way to prepare your body for the faster running to come. Stride outs should be done as a way to focus on running form while building into your speed, gradually accelerating over a distance of approximately 80 yards to 90 percent full speed before decelerating at the end. Key drills such as butt kicks and high knees help improve running form and flexibility.
Another great way to transition from easy running to adding some speed training to your weekly running mileage is by adding fartleks. Begin by running easy for 10 to 15 minutes, and then begin your fartleking. You can do a fartlek in one of two ways. The first is by choosing landmarks, such as light posts or mailboxes, to start and end your surges. Do surges at a variety of speeds and distances, but try to aim for race pace speeds and 50 yards to a half-mile in distance. The other way to run a fartlek workout is by running for a certain time period. A simple workout would be, after your easy warmup run, to add in four to eight surges of 1 to 2 minutes each, with 1 to 2 minutes of easy jogging in between the surges.
Running intervals are shorter in duration but higher in intensity and are typically 400 meters to 2,000 meters in length. They can be done on either a track or a measured road. Or if you own a GPS device of some sort, you can use that to determine distance. You can also perform intervals in terms of time, starting off with intervals 30 seconds long and working up to doing intervals for 2 to 4 minutes at a time. In general, you will want to run longer interval distances to prepare for longer races, and shorter ones for shorter races. Intervals are run in one of three categories: at or near race pace, faster than race pace and near-sprint. A good rule of thumb is using your 5K race pace for your interval pacing during a workout. For longer intervals, use your 10K race pace. Intervals work to increase maximum oxygen consumption, improve running economy and increase your speed. All interval workouts need to include a warmup of easy jogging, including the stride outs and running drills. During the workout, make sure to incorporate recovery jog/walk intervals between the hard effort intervals. These recovery blocks should be approximately the same amount of time you spent running the interval or slightly less.
Tempo runs are the simplest of the speed training workouts; you simply warm up with an easy jog, run at a challenging and steady pace you can hold for 15 minutes or more, then cool down. With tempo runs, you run at a pace close to your threshold pace without exceeding it. Tempo training helps runners develop a feel for a certain tempo pace, which will carry over into your races. The key with tempo runs is to balance your pace and distance you run. Tempo runs are best used for training for the half-marathon and marathon distances, as you get used to running for several minutes at a slightly uncomfortable pace,typically near your half- marathon race pace. If you are more of a novice runner, tempo pace is approximately 10 to 20 seconds slower than your 10K race pace, or 25 to 35 seconds slower than your 5K race pace. Control is key in pacing on your tempo runs, and you should be able to talk, but not necessarily in full sentences.
The final type of speed workout that can be utilized is hill repeats. Hill training is often referred to as "speedwork in disguise". Hill repeats are basically like track intervals, but instead of running around a track, you run up a hill. Hill repeats are great for improving running economy, building speed, and increasing your resistance to fatigue which will help you maintain good running form and a steady pace. As with the other speed workouts, always begin by warming up with an easy jog for 10 to 15 minutes. Adding in running drills such as butt kicks, high knees, and bounding will also help in terms of loosening the body up and preparing it to run up the hills. When choosing a hill to do repeats on, try to find one that's at least 200 meters long or one that will take you close to 90 seconds to get up. Begin the hill run 20 yards from the base of the hill, running up the hill at a strong effort, not all out but at about 85 percent effort. Once you reach the top, don't quit, but continue to run for about another 20 yards once on the flats. Recovery is an easy jog back down the hill for approximately 2 minutes, before heading into the next hill repeat. You can also do a continuous hill repeat run, finding a route that includes four to six hills. Running through downtown Victoria or around Old Victoria, are probably the best areas for this. Simply run hard up each hill you come to, and once at the top, recover for a few minutes at an easy pace.
By adding in speed work each week, you are sure to improve running economy, tap into and develop those fast-twitch muscle fibers, and come away a stronger and faster runner.