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You Don’t Have To Be Fast To Do Speed Work

Even if you don't think you are speedy, you can still benefit from doing some faster workouts.

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mirna speed

*Courtesy of Fat Girl Running

I’m slow, and I’m okay with this. I’ve always been a back-of-the pack kind of runner.

A note on slow running: Whether I’m running a 12-minute mile or a 14-minute mile, I’m still running. There is still a fraction of a second when both feet are airborne, so this makes it running—not jogging, or that awful sounding contraction of walking and jogging (which is a word that should never, ever be used in my opinion) WOGGING. Ugh! What an ugly word! Also, if you run, you are a runner. Give yourself some credit. Rant over.

Anyway, as I said, I’m okay with being slow, but since I have the opportunity to run in the NYC Marathon this year, I’m actually going to work on getting faster. I don’t mean the sub-4-hours kind of faster, but the sub-6-hours kind of faster. In my job as a coach (and I’m a certified USATF Level 1 coach), it’s easy for me to train young cross-country runners to get faster. But now, I’ll need to coach myself, using my training and experience to get ME to run faster. This is going to be interesting to say the least.

My 26.2 PR is 6:14 at the Steamtown Marathon in 2012, and that was only because the first 8 miles were downhill. Otherwise, my road marathons tend to be in the 6:23-6:40 range and I’d like to get better.

My goal this year is 5:30. Lofty? Yes. Impossible? NO.

Well now this means I’m actually going to train…like actually do speed work.

I hate speed work with a passion, because why can’t I just keep running slow? Well, I could if I wanted to. But, I’ve always had the idea that if I could run NYC, then I would PR in my hometown. Achieving a 5:30 has always been the goal for running through my five boroughs.

So I thought I would share what I’ve been doing to get faster, because it’s working. I also wanted to share with this particular audience because if you’ve looked up any speed workouts online, you’ll find that the vast majority of them are unrealistic and seem impossible for the runner that is accustomed to doing a 15-minute mile or even a 12-minute mile. Like for example—I can’t even start out at 9-minute mile pace to warm up because I can’t even do a 10-minute mile. Catch my drift here?

Related: This Is Why You Should Stop Hating On The Treadmill

I’ve been working on my speed once a week, and I’ll probably up it to twice a week as I get into real marathon training in the early summer. I haven’t chosen a training plan yet, but I want to make sure I’m ready for some more serious work when the early summer arrives.

Here’s what a typical off-season week looks like for me this year. I happen to be doing a trail marathon so my long run will be 26.2, nice and “easy” and probably a little snowy.

M: Rest and recovery day/PiYo/Weightlifting

T: 2-4 miles easy (12-14 min pace, depending on the time of day and the KIND of day)

W: Weightlifting in the morning/2-4 miles in the evening

Th: 1-2 miles on the mill in the morning/anywhere from 3-6 miles of SPEED WORK (depending on where I am in training)

F: Weightlifting in the morning

Sa: 4-6 miles easy

Su: 8-20 miles long run—um, at whatever pace…

(For all of you Strava stalkers, I have not uploaded my treadmill runs, which have been many, yet.)

Speed work is all relative.  To me, it means faster, less comfortable running that I cannot sustain for a long period of time. I like to do my work on the treadmill so that I know exactly what pace I’m at.

When I say I do speed work, here are some examples of what I do after a 1-mile warm up at an easy pace (for me that is a 12:30-13:30 mile). I always do a mile. That way, I know that I’m really warmed up. Some people might be able to start after a half mile of running. Find what works for you.

Fartleks: On the treadmill at 5.0-6.5, fartlek is a Swedish word that means speed play. So in essence you are playing with speed. You speed up when you’re ready, and when you have exhausted yourself, you slow down. You can do this for a mile or for a few miles with walking/slow running breaks as long as you need them.

Repeats: This is the type of speed work in which you run fast for a period and let your heart rate come down almost completely. This trains your fast-twitch muscles to work, to actually engage. I like to do repeats of .10-.25 miles at increasing speeds from 5.5-7.0 mph. At the upper end of that spectrum, I will do only two of those. In all seriousness, I’m working towards being able to do a whole quarter mile repeat at 7.0. I can dream, right?

Intervals: These are much like repeats, but you don’t let your heart rate recover completely. You go back out, still fired up and exhausted from the last interval. This trains your body (more specifically, your fast twitch muscles) to maintain relative speed. So this might look like exactly what’s written above, with a 30-second rest in between each interval.

Tempo Runs: There’s nothing I hate more than running fast for a long time when I don’t need to, but tempo runs are really helpful for being able to do just that: running at a faster speed than you’re used to for a long time. Again, you’re training your fast-twitch muscles to fire when you call upon them. For me a tempo run lasts for about 3.1 miles (at this point, maybe more in the near future). I use my 5K PR (which is 35:39, an 11:28 per mile pace) and add 30 seconds to the pace and then do a 5K on the treadmill at a 12-minute mile pace. I actually know that I can probably do a faster pace than that, but that’s my story now and I’m sticking with it! (I do have a goal of doing a 33-minute 5K before the end of the year, so I’ll update you on that too.)

In addition to interval work, I have also started a program of strength-training/cross-training three times a week, and WHAT A DIFFERENCE!

I’ll talk about hill repeats (speed work in disguise) and track work when I get actually get to them in my training. And maybe I’ll even do some videos…

Related: If You Run Slow, Who Cares?