(Thanks for the idea for this post, Trisha. Hope it helps)
Ok, I told you why I think speed work is good for your training. If you have decided to up your game and add some speed work to your routine, but you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas.
I think a lot of people equate speedwork with track work. Certainly, the track is a great place to do speed work, but it is not the only place. I find that some people have a very negative visceral response to the track and avoid speed work because of it. Maybe it is due to bad memories from high school/college track, the brutal objectiveness of the 400 meter oval, or the sense that the track is just too boring, but some people have a strong opposition to running on the track. However, if you aren’t opposed to the track, there are many advantages to doing speed work there, including:
- a smooth, even surface
- easy availability. Almost every town has one!- a standard distance that allows you to easily compare progress from week to week
- the ability to run with people much slower/faster than you and still feel like you are working out together
- and in many places, lights, which are nice for early morning and late night workouts.
An easy place to start is to pick a distance and do “repeats”, such as 8-12 x 400m, 5-10 x 800m, or 3-5x 1600. Start with a lower number of repeats and add on as you get more fit and are able to hold the paces consistent for each repetition. The amount of rest you take depends on how hard you are running: the harder you run, the more rest you need, but in general a slow jog for one lap is a good recovery. Repeats are great workouts for fitness, but are probably the most mentally challenging track workouts.
To keep things a bit more interesting, a variety of distances over one session can be useful. One example is a “pyramid” workout, such as 400m-800m-1200m-1600m-1200m-800m-400m. Or perhaps something like 3x1000m, 3x400m, 3x200m will stave off monotony. This breaks things up mentally and also allows you to hit a variety of paces in one workout.
Our group typically does workouts similar to those listed above every Monday, but we have two “hard core” workouts that we do once or twice a year each, named "The Michigan" and "The Meghan". These tough workouts aren’t for beginners, but if you’ve been doing speed for a while and are looking for a brutal workout, here’s what we do.
The Michigan: (and because we are all 4:45 milers, our times match the example times listed on that link. HAHAHA! Also, we do the whole thing on the track with 400m jog between intervals)
1 mile “fast”
1 mile “tempo”
1200 m “fast”
1 mile “tempo”
1 mile “tempo”
The Meghan (named after Meghan Arbogast, who casually mentioned this to me as a sample workout that she does. No wonder she is crazy fast at 50+!)
2 mile “tempo”
And then repeat the whole thing!
As mentioned, the track isn’t the only place to do speed. Plenty of hard running can be done no matter where you are. Good examples of this are a “tempo” run: Warm up, run at a strong (but not all out) pace for 10-30 minutes (my favorite is 20 - long enough to be hard, but not too long to wear you down) and then cool down. Another example is what some people call fartlek. But we call it minutes, probably because we are too juvenile to say fartlek with a straight face. After a warm-up do a sequence of hard minutes followed by an equal amount of moderate (not totally easy) running. For example, tonight my husband Mac did 8-4-2: which is 8 minutes hard, 8 minutes moderate, 4 minutes hard, 4 minutes moderate, 2 minutes hard, 2 minutes moderate. You can make up any sequence you want (5-5-5, 3-4-6, 2-3-2-3-2, are some other examples), aiming for about 20-30 minutes of total effort for the speedwork part.
One last option to add a little extra intensity to your training is a hill workout. This is easy: find a hill and run up it! Your speed will depend on the length and steepness of the hill. Jog back down to recover.
Jack Daniel’s running formula tables may be useful in determining appropriate pacing (Not everybody likes JD, but I find the tables useful as a general guide). However, I don’t think it is important for a beginner to get too caught up in hitting specific times. Just getting out out there and running harder than your typical run is a good place to start. Don’t try to do all three types of speed work in one week! Start with one day of higher intensity running per week. You can vary the workouts from week to week for variety and different types of training benefits. And be sure to warm up and cool down before and after, respectively.
Good luck with training!