Most runners want to go faster. It’s a natural desire. You run and run and run, and you want to see improvement. In both speed and distance.
But how do you go faster? Easy. You … go faster.
I’ve gotten a few questions lately via DailyMile and comments on this blog about tempo runs and track workouts, so I thought I would share my knowledge.
Let me be clear, I am not an expert. This should be obvious, but just in case you weren’t sure … I’m just a blogger who runs, or maybe a runner who blogs. Either way = not an expert. If you want actual expert advice, check resources such as Runners’ World Smart Coach or a Hal Higdon training plan to learn how and when and for how long to do these workouts properly.
Also, before adding speed workouts, you should have a good “base” before you start these. But I don’t know what that is. If you can run for an hour without stopping and/or walking, that’s probably a good indicator. And the basic rule is only do one speed workout per week. And not the day before or after another “hard” run (like your long run). For all of the workouts below, my warm up and cool down is usually a mile at my easy pace.
Tempo run: Warm up, run for a few miles at a “comfortably hard” pace, cool down.
From what I’ve read, “comfortably hard” is around your 10K pace. If you don’t know what that is, consult the McMillan pace calculator, or run by heart rate. (This is how I calculate my heart rate.) You want to maintain the same pace throughout your tempo miles. So don’t start off too fast.
Track workout (a.k.a. intervals): Warm up, run sprint intervals with recoveries, cool down. Most speed workouts call for sprints of 400m (1 lap around the track), 800m (2 laps) or 1600m (4 laps). Recoveries should be at your easy pace (sometimes I go slower) and can be done by distance (1-2 laps) or time (maybe half to 3/4 of the time you sprinted). I definitely recommend checking out the McMillan pace calculator to figure out sprint paces, and check out Runners’ World Smart Coach or a Hal Higdon training plan for suggestions on distance and number of sets. The big thing to remember about track workouts is that all of your sprint intervals should be at the same pace. You don’t want to push too hard on your first one and then have each one get slower. You want to hit the same pace each time, for the duration of the sprint.
If you don’t have access to a track, you can create a “track workout” on your Garmin dashboard and then send it to your watch. Once you start your workout, it will beep at you and tell you want to do next. This is also good if you have a hard time remembering what set (or lap) you are on while running.
If this sounds like a lot to remember, one really easy way to do speedwork is with a fartlek (it means “speed play”). It’s similar to a track workout, but without as much structure. Warm up, and instead of doing sprints structured by pace and distance, just sprint to a point in front of you – the end of the block, the yellow house, a mailbox, etc. Then jog (recover) for a bit. Then sprint to the next point. Then jog. Repeat. Cool down when you’re done. This is also good if you are out on the streets/sidewalks and get slowed down by things like intersections and stoplights.
Or, just go run some hills. I’ve always heard that hills are “speedwork in disguise.”
There are more workouts you can do for speed – pick-ups, progressive runs, hill repeats, etc. I haven’t really done much research on those, and that’s where I draw the line on pretending like I know what I’m talking about.
If you know more about running than I do and anything above is incorrect, or you have more to add, please correct me in the comments. Or, if you’re not correcting me, let me know what kind of workouts you do to get faster.