Anatomy of a Speed Workout

What does an effective speed workout for distance runners look like? What ingredients should you include so that you reap the most benefit for the time you're spending? Now, depending on the goal of the session, the main workout will differ from session to session. However, the general format will likely remain fairly consistent. Here's my current script.

Longer Than Your Average Warm Up

Let's first understand the purpose of the warm up. Speed work is very intense, relative to a slower paced run. We're going to ask our bodies to tolerate lots of force and do lots of reps (strides).  In order to do so, we've got to prepare adequately or performance will suffer and injury risk goes way up.

1. Easy Running

We need to shift our body's homeostasis from sedentary to aerobic, so some easy miles are called for. Start super slow and gradually build to a solid, but still easy pace. 1 mile is good for a low mileage runner, while up to 3 may be necessary for a high mileage athlete.

2. Dynamic Mobility Drills

Here, we're interested not in holding stretches, but starting to wake the nervous system up a bit by using balance, large range of motion, and some mild strength in all 3 planes of motion. Ankles, hips and mid-back need to be prioritized. The lunge matrix is a perfect example of a dynamic mobility sequence that addresses most of those. There are loads of other options here like knee hugs, butt kicks (video below), hurdle walkovers and inch worms. Even a fast paced yoga sequence would work. 5-10 minutes.

3. Running Form Drills

Including just a few drills that emphasize certain aspects of running form is smart. These bring awareness to specific aspects of the running stride – so pay attention and don't just go through the motions! Personal favorites include forward marches, forward skips, ankling and high knee carioca. 5 minutes

4. Strides

Typically you'll run 4-8x 60-100m and focus on accelerating gradually throughout the distance. You're starting to run fast, but it's not a sprint. The first few are a little slower and the last few approach sprint pace. I would never skip these before a race or hard track session as they really put the finishing touches on your readiness. Strides are discussed more in depth here.

5. Main Work Set

Now it's the “fun” part. And by that I mean the hard stuff. But you've warmed up thoroughly and now you're ready to go. Some classic examples of speed sessions include:

  • Sprint a straightaway and jog the turns. (Good early season workout)
  • 5X800m @ 5K pace with 2 minutes recovery. (5K prep)
  • 3X 1 mile @ threshold pace with 1 minute recovery. (Early half marathon prep)
  • 16X 200m @ 1 mile race pace with a 200 jog recovery. (Pre-season mile prep)
  • 10X 50m @ max speed w/ 2-3 minutes recovery. (Improve raw speed – good anytime)

This segment will vary depending on what you are looking to achieve.

Cool Down

Despite the widespread practice of running a couple of miles after a hard workout, research hasn't proven that it's beneficial in terms of recovery. However, experience tells us that we generally feel better after a short jog which helps us transition from high intensity back to rest. 

The goal at this point is recovery. Static stretches and a few yoga poses are perfect here and will help to transition your nervous system from 'fight or flight' to 'rest and digest'. Foam rolling in the evening after a speed workout is strongly recommended and may even help you sleep better. (You do have a foam roller, right?)

Check Out: Philly Surge Running

Want to experience a speed training session like the one above with some attentive coaches cheering you on? Coach Kari Smith and I have started a new speed training club that meets Tuesday nights at Temple U's track on N. Broad St. Check out our website for more info!