We all need speed work in our run training. I don’t care your age, level of experience, race pace—it doesn’t matter. Speed work is an amazing tool for any runner to improve and become stronger. Speed work has this reputation of just being for the “fast” runners, or that it causes injury, so a lot of runners will avoid it.
Myth: Speed work is just for faster runners.
The only way for any runner to get faster or stronger is to actually run fast. Speed work helps to build your aerobic fitness, helps you to build muscle and strength, and helps you to become a more efficient runner.
Myth: I’m going to get injured if I do speed work.
People get injured by not warming up, by doing too many miles that lead to overuse injury, but speed work (done properly) won’t injury you. Speed work, combined with proper recovery on the off days, is what helps to propel you forward.
Most of us adult runners got into it later in life. I started running at 29. Did I build my way up to a marathon? I wish. I started running and two months later did a marathon. I skipped years of progression that all professional athletes do before going into marathon training. Most professional athletes (the people in the highest level of the sport—how they tackle training is how you would get the most success) start with the very short distances in high school. Their longest race in high school would be the mile or the 2 mile (3200 meters) or the 5K in cross-country. Ironically, these are distances most recreational runners don’t even find worthy of training for.
Professional athletes work on getting faster at those distances for four years as a high schooler. Then in college, the most they would do for competition is up to the 10K for another four years. That right there is eight years of training under 10K distance. Us amateur runners (well, me) run for two months and then say: Guess I’m ready for a marathon!
And then if you’re like me, we wonder why marathon after marathon we aren’t getting any faster. Two reasons: 1. We never worked on our speed and created the proper foundation for our run training; and 2. Our bodies are tired from constantly marathon/distance training.
For all runners, the key to getting faster and stronger is to practice running faster.
When my own running was stuck in regression mode, I decided to take it back to basics. I was trying to run these fast times in the marathon, but then I realized that my goal marathon pace and my top speed were really too close together and I needed to improve my top speed. I worked on short distance speed for eight months, where my longest interval distance for my workouts was a mile—this is totally different than in marathon training where I was running really long tempos. When I went to train and run a marathon, I ran 28 minutes faster than my previous marathon (3:38 down to 3:11).
How did short distance training change me?
- I was so much faster than I thought.
- I really enjoyed training that way and it made running fun again.
- I was able to develop more confidence in myself.
- I learned how to trust my body and run off of feel.
- Marathon pace felt very slow when my top speed got a lot faster.
During my speed training, I focused on max effort, not on pace. I kept my intervals shorter to learn real speed. Before I was running speed workouts as part of marathon training, with paces corresponding to marathon pace. Now I was running speed workouts to see how fast I could go. It made running feel like play again, which is how it should feel!
By focusing on speed, by lowering my threshold, I came back to marathon training a different runner. Marathon pace felt a lot more relaxed. I learned how to relax and stay calm during explosive speed workouts, so it was easy to carry over that physical and mental approach to the “slower” marathon pace runs.
The speed training approach is for you, if:
- You’re burned out marathon training
- You’ve plateaued and can’t figure out how to get faster
- You have big goals & want to make some serious headway
My running took off once I started working on speed. I was so excited by this development because I felt like it was something that most runners were ignoring. We found the half marathon and marathon to be the sexy distances in the sport and so many of us were addicted to running one after another of these long events and just were tiring ourselves out.
My husband, Tyler, and I created a 12-week speed training program that works for literally any runner of any speed or experience level to teach them how to do speed workouts, learn to run by effort, improve their form, and have more confidence and fun while running. Fast Fall is speed training for anyone. And it’s been exciting for us to see that it’s such a fun, transformational, universal approach to speed for any runner.
Don’t let the intimidation of speed work stop you from getting faster—it’s just one more building block in unlocking your full running potential.