To get faster – you must run faster. Novel idea right?
However, it is really important that you add speed into your workouts the right way. First, and foremost you should stick to the Hard/Easy Principle where your easy days really are easy – no pushing it allowed! Next, you need to plan out you training weeks using not only the Hard/Easy Principle, but also incorporating a cut back (or unloading) week every 4th week to keep yourself running happy, healthy, and injury free. Finally, before adding in speed work you need to make sure you have completed your base building phase. After all that is done, you can begin adding in speed work – running faster to get faster, but how?
Start off by adding in just one day of speed work a week. Begin by adding in tempo runs. A tempo run is described by Runner’s World as, “a faster-paced workout also known as a lactate-threshold, LT, or threshold run. Tempo pace is often described as ‘comfortably hard.’ Tempo running improves a crucial physiological variable for running success: our metabolic fitness.” You want to easy into tempo runs at first so your body can adjust to the new stress you are putting on it.
Start off by picking one of the hard days on your schedule and decide it will be your tempo day (ideally this should be the same day every week). Then, look at the mileage you have scheduled for that day. If you were supposed to do 5 miles your first ever tempo run might look like this:
5 min warm up walk, dynamic stretches, 2 miles at an easy pace, 1 mile at tempo, 2 miles at an easy pace, 5 min cool down walk, more stretching.
Week 2 would build on the first week and be very similar, but with a bit more tempo work, either increasing the tempo by half a mile or a full mile depending on how the previous week went. For example: 5 min warm up walk, dynamic stretches, 1.5 miles at an easy pace, 2 miles at tempo, 1.5 miles at an easy pace, 5 min cool down walk, more stretching.
Week 3 would again continue to build on the previous two weeks by either adding a half or full mile of tempo (or holding the amount study) depending on how the previous week went: 5 min warm up walk, dynamic stretches, 1 mile at an easy pace, 3 miles at tempo, 1 miles at an easy pace, 5 min cool down walk, more stretching.
Then, week 4 would be the cut back week where the tempo run would be much shorter to give your body a break.
After, your first 4 week cycle of tempo runs is complete I continue with another 4 week cycle of just tempo runs/only one day of speed work. It is really important to do this because you do not want to jump from not having any speed work days to having more than one speed work day a week in such a short period of time. In the second tempo cycle continue to build on what you have done. If you are shooting for a shorter distance race and the first round of tempos went well you may want to keep the distance the same, but try to bump the speed a few seconds. If you are shooting for a longer race distance (like a half or full marathon) this would be a good time to slowly extend the length of the tempo runs.
Once you have done a few tempo cycles and your body feels comfortable with speed work it is appropriate to add in a second speed work day. I suggest adding in intervals next as these work on speed differently than tempo runs (intervals are run at a faster speed for a shorter distance/length of time). Be on the lookout for a post later on how to incorporate intervals runs as your second day of speed work using the Hard/Easy Principle and the cut back/unloading week.
Remember that tempo runs should be tough, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, which is why you only add them to your schedule once a week. However, they should be manageable. If you are never hitting you tempo paces you may need to adjust your tempo pace goal. Or, maybe you are not running your easy runs slow and easy enough for you body to recover and be ready for the tempo effort and you need to slow it down a bit more. The chart below is a rough suggestion on tempo paces based on your current easy pace. (When I plan out tempo runs with my clients not only do we take current paces into account, but also their goals, training schedule, etc. so use this only as a baseline to help you understand the difference in pace between easy runs and tempo runs.)
Let me know –
Do you do any type of speed work?
Have you run tempo runs before? -or- Are you doing them currently?
Feel like this is a lot to take in? You can always hire a professional running coach (make sure you pick someone who is certified) as they will set up your plan for you taking all these factors into account. You can visit my run coaching services page to learn more about coaching.