Structuring Your Training to Focus on Speed

There’s only one way to increase your running speed on race day – and that’s to run faster during training. Running speed training should make up a significant part of your preparation for 10Ks, half-marathons and marathons – or any race for that matter. While you will certainly want to include some longer, slower runs into your plan, running training for speed is vital for improving your overall times.

Let’s look at the benefits of doing running speed training and explore some simple running workouts for speed.

Why you should do running speed training

Each week of your race preparation you should aim to build in some speed training into your routine. If you’re training four days per week, for instance, you should try to include at least two speed training sessions, in addition to one long, slow run and another strength or cross-training workout.

When you run at high speed, your body generates energy anaerobically, which quickly builds up uncomfortable levels of lactic acid. However, the more often you run quickly, the more efficient your body gets at clearing lactic acid from your bloodstream, and that means you can run faster, for longer. This is the fundamental reason you should introduce running workouts for speed into your routine – they can help your body go that much faster, especially in moments when you’re worn out, or are racing for the finishing line.

Take care with running speed training

While increasing your speed training has many benefits for your running, it’s also important to avoid pushing yourself too hard, too soon. Aim to gradually increase the amount of speed training you do – your muscles and bones will take some time to adapt to the increased demands that speed training puts on them. By taking the precaution to build up the distance and time you spend running at speed, you make it much less likely you’ll suffer an injury.

How to structure your training for a focus on speed

Here’s how to structure your race preparation so you can improve your speed:

Work out your target time goal for the race: Whether you’re running a 10K, a half-marathon or a full marathon, the first step in structuring your speed training is to set a goal for your race time. Once you’ve set a goal, you can then figure out your target time per mile or kilometre.

For example, say you’re trying to improve your race speed for a marathon and want to complete your next race in 4.5 hours (i.e., 270 minutes). Since speed = distance/time, divide your target time by 26.219 to figure out the pace you’ll need to maintain per mile. (In this case, your pace would be around 10 minutes and 17 seconds per mile.)

Run mile repeats above race time
Once you’ve calculated your target race time, your next step is to run mile repeats at a speed marginally above this time. Mile repeats are a simple enough exercise – you simply run one mile, pause to recover, then repeat the mile. This kind of exercise gets your body used to running at just above your target pace and that means you get a feel for whether you’re running too fast or slow.

You might find it useful to download a running app to your phone in order to track your speed more easily.

Use variations of interval training

Interval training is one of the most commonly used running workouts for speed. You can either visit your local running track or find a suitable and easy to measure distance in your local park (the side of a football pitch is often ideal). After warming up, sprint a set distance at full speed before resting to recover and repeating the sprint multiple times. For example, try running at your fastest pace for 400 metres before pausing to recover, before covering the distance again. Over time, your speed and endurance will increase.

You can mix up standard interval training with variations on the theme:

  • Use ladders or pyramids, where you gradually increase (and, in the case of pyramids, subsequently decrease) the distance you sprint
  • Try hill sprints, where you run a set distance up a hill, stop, and then walk down before repeating
  • Use fartlek training, where you run at randomly chosen speeds between landmarks, sometimes sprinting, other times jogging, other times slowing to a walk

Use tempo runs
Tempo runs are another invaluable running workout for speed improvement. After warming up, you should begin running at a pace which gets you close to your anaerobic threshold but which doesn’t quite surpass it. This kind of run should feel comfortably hard – you definitely won’t be able to talk freely, but it shouldn’t leave you breathless in the same way interval training does. Tempo runs help to increase your endurance, which means that running at your race pace often feels less challenging.

There are so many running workouts for speed to build into your training plan. Choose the activity or activities which appeal most to you and play around with distance and pace as you find the perfect routine.