What Does Speed Training Really Mean?

How many times have you read that proper run training should include three types of runs – a speed workout, a tempo run, and a long run? Well, I agree! You should certainly have some form of each of those in your program. The long run is usually slow paced and long in duration – up to 30% of your weekly mileage. The tempo run is usually 20-40 minutes of sustained, faster paced running. And the speed workout? Well, it should definitely be faster than the others!

I sense a lot of confusion regarding speed workouts, though. Exactly how fast should you run? Why this speed and not that speed? How often should you run that fast? Let's find out.

The first thing that you should know is that you are capable of many different speeds. Think of a spectrum that begins at walking and ends in an all-out sprint. I have found that it is good to train at every one of those speeds to develop as a runner. ALL speeds have benefits!

Here are all of my “speeds” or gears. There are at least 11 of them:



Slow Recovery Run

Easy Run

Moderate Run (marathon pace)

Moderately Hard Run (10K-Half Marathon)

Hard Run (2 Mile-5K)

Very Hard (1 Mile)

Long Sprint (400-800m)

Short Sprint (100-400m)

Max Power (20-50m)

A beginner will have less speeds to choose from while an experienced, fast racer will have more. For example, a low-mileage marathon rookie will likely run the marathon at their Slow-Easy pace. A fast, high-mileage 5K'er will be comfortable all the way down to 5 minute pace.

When I think of the general programs I've seen in other online sites and running magazines, they often describe speed as running close to your current 5K race pace. This leads many runners to believe that if they do their weekly speed workout of 6 times 800 meters at 5k pace, they will become faster. Makes sense, right?

Well, no. You'll develop the ability to use less energy while running your current 5K pace, but you won't really get faster overall. I mean, wouldn't it be cool to run faster at all of your race distances?

Yes, please!

Ok, so here's what ya gotta do. The faster you are at a short distance race, the faster you can be at a long distance race. This is happens for at least two reasons: more muscle power means a longer stride & speed training makes you better coordinated so you use less energy at slower paces. It's one of the reasons I recommend beginners do slow running and sprint training – and less “in-between” stuff.

Take a look at your weekly schedule. How many different speeds do you engage every week? If you aren't doing any speed training, you'll need to start at the far end of the spectrum by working on your Max Power.

--Tack on two sprints at the end of two of your weekly easy runs.

--Sprint all out for 7-8 seconds (up a slight incline for best results).

--Take 2 minutes between sprints and just walk to allow your central nervous system recover so that you can hit that next one just as hard.

--Every two weeks add two sprints until you reach 8 sprints.

Where to take things from there can depend on many factors like your goals, muscle fiber make-up and time available to train, but this is a great place to start. Once your muscle power and coordination has improved significantly, then you are ready for longer speed sessions. However, without this base of basic sprint speed you are leaving speed on the table and won't reach your potential.

I've helped lots of folks who have plateaued and low muscle power is one of the most common weaknesses. Strength training is another route to achieve this goal, but that's for another day. Stay tuned!

Next week I'll discuss eating and hydration and how to do it right when it comes time for the Broad Street Run. 3 weeks to go!! Are you on track? Let me help you right the ship before it's too late.