If you want to be a faster runner, you have to start doing faster runs.
As circular and obvious as that sounds, most runners neglect a necessary component in any training program: speed work.
It doesn’t matter if you’re training for a 5K or an ultra-marathon, or if you’re goal is to simply cross the finish line, or to set a new personal record. Whatever gets you to the starting line, you’re chances of success increase greatly by being a well-rounded runner. So, if all you do is the same thirty to forty minute run a few days a week, you’re selling yourself short. Those “junk mile” days of the usual steady-pace efforts have their place, but they shouldn’t make up 100% of your weekly mileage. Instead, do at least one day of “speed work.”
There are many different ways to do speed work. In fact, that’s one of the most exciting aspects of the speed day: variety.
Not only do you have several tried and true workouts to choose from- mile repeats, Yasso 800’s, quarter mile repeats, ladders, fartlek, in-and-out miles, tempo runs, the list goes on- but you can tailor the workout to meet your specific needs in a myriad of ways. The basic premise is to run one unit of either distance or time at a fast pace, then run a smaller unit of distance or time at a significantly slower pace. Repeat as necessary.
Take for example the always dreaded, “mile repeats.” Warm-up at an easy pace for a mile, ten minutes, five minutes, whatever suits you best; just make sure you’re good and warm before starting the first fast interval. Then, run 1 mile at a challenging pace, somewhere around 85% of your “max effort” or “perceived exertion.” Follow that with a very easy jog (walk if you must, but keep moving!) for around half of the amount of time it took you to run 1 mile. So, if it was an 8-minute mile, recover for about 4 minutes. Repeat 1 to 2 times, working up to 3 mile-repeats (not counting warm-up and cool-down), or more as you progress. After your last repeat, cool down the same way you warmed-up.
People often ask at what pace they should run the fast interval. If you don’t already have a gauge to determine your pace, like a recent race you’ve run, then “max effort” or “perceived exertion” can help you determine the optimal pace. While running the fast interval, ask yourself honestly if you can sustain whatever pace you’re at for the requisite distance or time. If the answer is a solid “no,” scale it back a little bit. Just be sure to push yourself, because although you want to be able to complete the interval, you also want to it to be challenging.
For more tips, or if you have questions, visit my website ilikerun.com.