This is part 1 of a three part-series of articles from our Tuvizo sponsored athlete Andrew Tunstall.
We all know what speed work is – or at least we think we do - and we all agree it would add value to our training regimen. Anecdotal evidence has it, however, that most of us long distance runners don’t seem to “get around to it”. The purpose of this little article is to do away with a lot of the mystique around this dark art and show just how easy it is to incorporate, and extract value from, real speed work in your programme.
FIRST UP – WHAT IS IT??
Well, it is popularly held to be something like "training significantly faster than race pace" – and I guess it is, simply enough. Unfortunately for most of us though, that is where the understanding starts and ends, so we think a 21km race is “speed work” if we are training for the marathon; or a 5mile club time-trial is “speed work” if we are training for a half marathon. So off we go and dutifully run a flat out 5 mile once a week, then can’t understand why we do not run a marathon PB three months later.
I have news for you. A 5mTT, as hard as you can go, is not “speed work”. It is an all-out concentration of effort for 25 to 40 minutes that ends with you crabbing across the finish line in an uncoordinated tangle of limbs and spittle in serious oxygen debt. It is strength endurance – the ability to keep fighting against burning muscles and bursting lungs. It is not speed work. On the other hand, repeating 100yard sprints if you are hoping to bring down your half marathon time are not going to help you much either – they will simply be too fast, with the result that you will train fast twitch muscle fibres instead of the slow twitch fibres you use to race. Also, your sprinting technique will be different from your endurance running style, so there will be very little neuro-muscular benefit. Not to mention the increased injury risk posed to you to by the violent efforts involved!
The point of “Speed work”, for an endurance runner, is to teach the body to run efficiently and comfortably at a faster pace than you have previously been able to do. Note EFFICIENTLY and COMFORTABLY! As you adjust to the rhythm of this new pace, it becomes mechanically easier (more efficient…) and you learn to relax and run with better coordination. Like an efficient golf swing. You are not going to refine that by hacking divots out of the turf with a heart rate of 180 and burning shoulder muscles!
So too if you want to develop a more efficient, relaxed running rhythm at a higher speed, you have to practice it WHEN YOU ARE NOT TIRED and un -coordinated. My typical speed sessions involve repetitions of no more than three minutes at a time, and more often anywhere between one and two minutes. I then do a number of repeats – but never so many that I start to lose a comfortable rhythm – interspersed with rests for as long as I feel like (again, the point here is not to see how exhausted I can get).
GIVE US AN EXAMPLE!
Ok, let’s say you are wanting to run a half marathon in 1h45. That means 5min/km or 8min/mile. To do that, you will need to be able to run a 10k race in about 47 or 48minutes (4:45/km or 7:40/mile pace) and a 5km in 22:30 (4:30/km or 7:20/mile pace). So “speed work” for you should be somewhere between 4:00 and 4:15/k, or about 6:30/mile pace. Sounds fast? Well, not if you only run for a minute then it isn’t. Then give yourself a full two to three minutes to stand around and stretch before you do it again.
You will surprise yourself and find you can do 6 to 10 of these one-minute repeats, without killing yourself, and guess what – ten of those adds up to a mile and as half of running faster than you ever run. Once a week for six weeks (yes, that’s all) and you will find your target pace for the 5km feels like a jog. Work it up to something like 4x2min plus 4x1min repeats, and after another 4 weeks can you imagine how easy 5min/kms or 8min/miles will feel once your body is “used” to the sensation of 4min key pace? Then go and run that half marathon.
WHAT TO DO
- Measure the course you use – like around a park or playing field, for example – so you can keep track of the actual speed you are running. (Or run with a Garmin Forerunner.) Over the weeks, it will get easier – but don’t speed up; rather add more repeats.
- You can make the repeats longer, or mix them up – so long as you don’t get slower through fatigue (then you are doing too many), or start sprinting!
- Jog 15-20 minutes beforehand, and another 15-20 minutes afterwards, so you warm up and down properly. This will also give you a little “mileage” which will help ease your runner’s conscience!
- Stretch – but only after the warm-up jog. Do not stretch cold.
- Enjoy the variation in your routine J
- DO NOT make your rests too short (remember, you do not want to “feel like you have trained hard”)
- DO NOT do too many repeats (as soon as it starts to feel stiff or awkward, STOP. Pushing on tired, and slowing down, will be counter-productive. If you don’t feel tired after 10, stop anyway, and just make them a little longer next time.
- DO NOT go too fast. Be very strict about the target pace. If you run too fast, your technique will be wrong, and inefficient. Remember this is not a sprinting session – you don’t need that. Sprinting requires a different action and employs different muscle fibres.
- DO NOT race against yourself. The target pace is very important. No fighting!
- DO NOT skip this weekly discipline (this is the second most important session you will do, after your weekly long run)
- DO NOT do this more than once a week (because it will not “make you fit”)
- DO NOT neglect the other aspects of your training. These sessions in isolation will not get you that half marathon PR!