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If you are just
beginning to work on your speed as a runner, you really aren't. That is, what
you will be working on are: (1) strength; (2) power; and (3) running efficiency.
Strength is what sustains your ability to hold a good, hard pace over increasingly long distances. It is the difference between the runner who runs to finish the event, and the one who races it, close to the edge of exhaustion, but not hitting that edge until the finish.
Power is what gives you the ability to make the effort in the first place: to conquer the hill instead of just surviving it, or to get your legs up and down during the last stages of the race, rather than plodding along and slowing down.
Running Efficiency is what will maximize your strength and power, and your ability to best use the fuel that your body is storing at the start of the race.
So, if you're just beginning to work on speed, what should you do?
(First, make you are doing a long run each week, on average, of 8-10 miles. This is essential background preparation.)
The most basic "speed" workout is to run on hills. Hill-running teaches all three elements: strength, power, and running efficiency. Include hills in your long runs, and use hills for repeat workouts: start with a few repeats of a hill at least 150 meters long, using the downhill to recover. See if you can increase to 8 or even 10 repeats. But take your time building up.
The next most basic speed workout is "speed-play," or, according to the Swedes who popularized this form of workout, "fartlek." It means going to the place you should want to run the most — a trail with decent footing, or a large, grassy park, and running easy for the most part, but with bursts of fast running lasting as little as 20 seconds, and as long as 6 minutes. But not overly fast. This is a workout that is prone to burn out if not handled properly. Ideally, there should be some hills. Most of all, allow yourself to fully recover from your last effort before starting off on the next one. (Advanced fartlek workouts can be more difficult, but that's not for you to consider at this point.)
So, where does speed come in? Yes, as you progress, you will do some workouts that will maximize your basic speed. But they won't improve it, or not that much, because basic speed is what God has given you. Fortunately, basic speed is highly overrated. Most of the time when you see a long-distance runner cruising at an impressive pace, you are not observing basic speed — you are seeing strength, power, and running efficiency, highly developed, bringing out the best in that athlete.
All of us can strive for this, and all of us can achieve it.
Q: How much do I have to be running to join these workouts?
A: Generally, 25 miles per week or the equivalent in running and cross-training is a good prerequisite. In addition, you should be doing a long run of at least 1-hour on the weekends. If you do not yet meet these criteria, please join us anyway. You can jog on the track, and talk to the coach about ideas to begin working speed into your training program.
Q: What is the first, best, and most natural form of speedwork?
A: The answer is easy: Hills. It is not difficult to include hills in your regular training runs. Just running them at the same pace as you run on the flats is a type of speed workout. You can also do ?hill repeats? ? running fast up, then jog slow down, a hill of decent slope and about 150m to 200M in length.
Q: How fast should I be running these workouts?
A: For most people, perhaps surprisingly, the answer is ?slower than you are now!? Over-training is a far more common inhibitor of peak performance than under-training. Fortunately, the internet offers various tools to help you find, and stick to, the right pace. My favorite is at www.mcmillanrunning.com Click on the ?McMillan Running Calculator,? plug in a couple of your recent and best times and, voila, you will be provided a range of recommended paces for everything from your slow recovery runs to your fastest speed work. The calculator does not show the amount of reps or the prescribed rest period ? that, you learn at the workouts themselves. (The McMillan webpage does offer a detailed description of various types of workouts and the physiological theories behind them).
Q: What is my most important workout of the week?
A: Most weeks, it will be your long run. Nothing can replace the long run as the developer of the capacities necessary to succeed in long-distance racing, which includes everything from 5K on up. A close second ? assuming you have done your long run ? is the day or days you either rest entirely, or run or cross-train at a true recovery pace. The long run does and should take a lot of you. Respect that, and come rested to Wednesday nights in order to get the maximum benefit, and not over-train.
Q: Describe the various forms of ?speed? workouts, please?
Steady-State or Marathon Pace Runs: Continuous runs, starting at 25 minutes and building out to over an hour, that are an essential part of any marathon training program. These give you training at your specific race pace, and allow sustained hard effort under controlled circumstances. Can be run on any kind of course.
Tempo Runs: A continuous run of 20-25 minutes, run at or near your race pace for 10-Miles on a flat, fast course. Should be done under more controlled conditions, flat or gradual sloping surface and precisely measured. Can be extended to 40 minutes, but at over 25 minutes, should include at least one short break of 90 seconds jogging.
Tempo or Cruise Intervals: Technically, two different types of workouts, but with same objective. Tempo Intervals involve longer repetitions, at least 2000M, and done at Tempo Pace or slightly faster. Cruise Intervals involve repetitions between 400M and 2000M, done at about 10K. Both involve short rest periods, just to give you a bit of a breather before starting again. Sessions involve at least 5K of fast running, and as much as 10K to 12K for the truly fit and experienced.
Interval Training: Once you have developed your ?stamina? through long runs, tempo runs, and tempo/cruise intervals, ?interval training? is where you sharpen your speed and start really beginning to learn how to run faster. These are done at 3K to 5K pace. A session should not involve more than 4K to 5K of fast running.
Q: Wow, that's complicated. What do I really need to do to as a start?
A: Hills and Tempo Runs/Intervals. If you were not able to come to the track at all, but included in your weekly workouts a long run of 90 minutes or more, one session of hard hills, and one 20-minute tempo run, you would see significant improvement in your fitness and performance. CAUTION: Build up to this gradually. Lengthen your long run in stages, then add in hills, and then add in the tempo run. This process should take 3-4 months if you are a casual runner who has decided to ?get serious.?
Q: Can you give me the bottom line here?
A: First, gradually build up a stamina base , using your weekly long run as a foundation, adding no more than 10 percent each week (measured by miles or by time). Second, schedule rest and recovery each week, and also each month ? take an easier week. Third, when you start the hard workouts, figure out what seems ?comfortably hard,? and then dia l your speed back a notch . Be disciplined and stay at that pace. Fourth, join us for our SLR and Wednesday Track Workouts ? you will develop a ?feel? for all this with the help of other friendly runners.
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