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There are a ton of resources available if you are looking to get faster—websites, books, and even other runners. But before you can start incorporating some of the workouts into your training, the first thing you probably want to do is become familiar with the lingo, which can be a bit overwhelming if you are newer to the sport. I didn’t understand what a lot of the terminology was until I had already been running for years, but once I did, I was much more open to adding them into my training.
Below are some of the most common types of speedwork. There are endless variations for each (and you can even get crazy and combine a few of them!), but these will give you a good foundation from which you can build upon.
Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish and involves short periods of fast running followed by short periods of slower running. There’s often no set distance or pace. You can even do it without a watch or Garmin. Fartleks are a great way to get your feet wet with speedwork since it’s a fun, creative, and less structured form of interval workout. Some examples of fartleks:
- Use landmarks (light posts, stop lights, streets): Run fast from one landmark to the next, and then run easy until you hit the next one. Or run fast for 5 light posts, then run easy for 5.
- Time: Run hard for period of time (1-5 minutes), then run easy for period of time. Repeat.
- Pyramid: 1 min hard, 1 min easy, 2 min hard, 2 min easy, 3 min hard, 3 min easy, 2 min hard, 2 min easy, 1 min hard, 1 min easy
Surges are short bursts of fast running in the middle (or end) of any type of run. These usually take place during easy or long runs. Surges last anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. Runners should target a comfortably hard pace (think 5k-10k pace), followed by short periods of easy-paced running. Surges are a great way to inject some faster running into your workout while also helping to break up the monotony of an easy or long run. Some examples:
- If you are new to surges try: 4 x 1 minute on, 3-5 minute off (with “on” being fast and “off” being easy-paced)
- Work up to: 6 x 2 minutes on, 3-4 minutes off (great workout to add to a longer run!)
A fast finish is simply that—finishing the run fast. It is one of the easiest ways to incorporate faster running into your training while preparing your body and mind to finish races fast. You can do this on easy runs or long runs, and it won’t leave you exhausted or wiped for the next day’s run. According to Matt Fittzgerald, “A habit of indulging in controlled fast finishes whenever you please will make you a little fitter over time by adding a bit of extra work—and fun—into your training.”
The basic idea of a progression run is to gradually pick up the pace as you run—so you want to start slow and end fast. A progression run typically doesn’t have set paces. It’s a very fluid workout (although advanced runners may have specific paces to hit). Progression runs are my favorite type of run because they force me to start slow and easy, and to take cues from my body. And it’s a huge confidence booster—there is nothing as satisfying as finishing a run (regardless of distance) feeling fast, strong and in control. While there a ton of ways to do a progression run, two of the more common forms are:
- Miles: This is how I prefer to do my progression runs. I aim to run each mile faster than the previous mile which means I start slow and try to have each mile split be 5-15 seconds faster per mile than the previous one.
- Segments: Separate your run into equal parts. If you are running 6 miles, run the first two slowest, the middle two faster and the last two fastest (on average).
According to Jack Daniels, Ph.D, author of Daniel’s Running Formula, a tempo run is “…nothing more than 20 minutes of steady running at threshold pace.” Also known as an anaerobic threshold (AT) run or lactate-threshold run, a tempo run should feel hard—but not too hard—and could be maintained for about an hour in a race. Tempo or threshold runs aim to increase the speed you can sustain for a prolonged period of time, while increasing the time you can sustain that relatively fast pace. Common types of tempo workouts are:
- Continuous Run: Start at 20 minutes and work up to longer times/distance – and run a consistent, hard pace
- Tempo Intervals: Shorter, faster segments such as a 2 x 2 mile workout (run 2 miles at tempo pace with a few minutes of slower running recovery followed by 2 miles at tempo pace)
Intervals consist of repeated short segments of fast running separated by slow jogging or complete rest. The intervals allow you to run much faster than you usually do, adapting your body to higher demands and your leg muscles to faster turnover. Over time, you become more physiologically efficient. Intervals increase your overall speed. Examples include (more can be found here):
- Specific Distances (such as 200, 400, 800, 1600): 6×400 with 2 minutes of recovery. This means you run 400m at a designated pace followed immediately by 2 minutes of easy running (or complete rest). Repeat 6 times.
- Ladder Workout: Mix up some of the distances so you build up in distance and then work back down. Example: 400, 800, 1600, 800, 400 (all with 400m recovery).
If you are unsure of what paces to target for some of the workouts, there are multiple websites which give you a general range for specific workouts based on your recent race times. Two of my favorites include: Maximum Performance Racing and McMillan Running Calculator.