After my marathon debacle, I decided to switch my focus for a while. I had been emphasizing slower distances and building mileage instead of increasing speed. This summer, I’ve decided to switch focus and try and increase my speed by adding workouts. Problem is? I’m not actually a big fan of running circles around a track. It always feels harder to me. Sometime I will choose a track if I really want a flat run, but it’s not my first choice.
Speed has always been hard for me. I think it’s hard for many of us, because we naturally want to stay comfortable. Running faster is anything but comfortable! But as one of my favorite quotes says, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” Ain’t that the truth.
So this summer, as I’ve been trying to pick up my speed, I thought I’d share some of my favorite speed workouts that don’t require access to a track, and sometimes, not even a watch.
First Things First
With all of these workouts, warm up with an easy mile or two. You can also add in some dynamic stretches, like leg swings, or maybe even a couple strides (see below). To get an idea of your pace, you can use an online pace calculator like the one here, or just go by effort. After the workout, be sure to cool down with a mile or two at an easy, recovery pace.
I love hills. I don’t know why. Most of the time when I try and sprint, I feel very out of control, like my body can’t keep up with my legs. Hills provide the needed resistance, and build strength as well as speed. You have a couple of options when is come to incorporating hill workouts into your running:
This is exactly as it sounds. You find a big hill and sprint up it for 30-60 seconds. I would recommend starting with five or six 30 second hill sprints and work up from there.
Another option is just to find and incredible hilly run. Luckily for me, everywhere around my house is hilly. I can’t run anything within a 2 mile radius that isn’t hills. When it comes to longer hill runs, don’t worry about keeping the same pace up the hills, instead try and maintain the same effort as you do through the rest of your run.
Now if you new to running and have never heard this term before, don’t let it gross you out. It’s actually Swedish meaning “speed play”. Fartleks are great for people like me, who would rather just go for a run out the door, and not worry about hitting every pace for a 400 or 800 repeat.
After your warm up, begin running hard for a set time. It could be a couple of minutes, or you could use landmarks. For example, I’m going to run hard for two blocks, then easy for one, and then keep alternating between running hard and easy. I usually shoot to hit my 5k pace (or faster), but I never actually know because I don’t have my pace show up on my watch. Just run hard enough that talking would come out in one or two words spurts, but not all out sprinting.
Tempos might just be my favorite. Also known as threshold runs, these runs raise your lactate threshold, or you body’s ability to clear lactate. (This happens as a byproduct as your muscles are deprived of oxygen. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.)
After warm up, choose a set time, like 20 minutes, or a set distance like 3 miles, and run at your threshold pace. This is probably close to your 10k pace or the fastest pace you can hold for about an hour. It should feel “comfortably hard.” I (almost) always feel so strong when I do tempo runs. They’re definitely not easy, but they are very beneficial for your overall speed.
Probably the simplest thing to add to your running are strides. At the end of a run, start running harder, gradually building up to about 90-95% of your all out effort over the course of about 100 meters or so, then gradually bring it back down. When I lived in town, I would use the length of a block to help me gauge the distance. Strides are fun, easy to add in, and do a lot for your speed. Start by adding 2-3 strides at the end of an easy or slow run.
Try one or all of these workouts. I would pick one or two to fit in a week, and have plenty of slow, easy recovery runs in between.
Watch your progress and have fun! Remember, get comfortable with being uncomfortable and see how much you will grow!