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Running Speed Work (Intervals)

Speed work (Intervals) is the third running training step, the icing on your training cake, to a faster race and better finish. You’ll put the finishing touches on your endurance and strength workouts with three to five weeks of speed training. Speed work will give you an extra gear to shift into during races or training duels.

Although speed work can give you the ability to crank out personal records, it’s also the cause of many running injuries. Consider doing speed work only after building a training foundation of endurance and strength. Only with this foundation can speed work be effective and safe.

Warm-up Is Key
To prevent injuries and increase your performance, warm up and stretch thoroughly before you run any speed work. Run at least one to two miles easy as a warm-up. Pay special attention to your stretching before and after speed work.

Set Your Distances
The idea of speed work is to teach your body that it can run faster by running it faster. And the way to run it faster is to run shorter distances at a faster pace.

Set your speed work distances relative to your race distance. Run longer intervals when training for longer races and shorter intervals for shorter ones. Run intervals of 200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters and 1 mile for races of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) or less. Decrease the length and increase the pace of your intervals as your conditioning improves through your training season and your race date nears. Run shorter, faster intervals two to three weeks prior to your race to help you peak.

Set Your Intervals
As a general rule, run your intervals at a pace faster than your race pace. This teaches your body that it can run faster than your race pace. But the key to getting the most out of your speed work is to run your intervals at just the right amount faster than race pace. Running too fast will lead to injury and running too slow will limit improvement.

Run mile intervals 3-5% faster than race pace. Run 800 meter (1/2 mile) and 400-meter (1/4 mile) intervals 8-12% faster than race pace. And run 200-meter (1/8 mile) intervals 12-15% faster. For example, if you run a 40:00 10k, that’s a 6:22 race pace per mile. Your intervals, meaning your goal time to complete a given distance, would be:

1 mile: 6:00-6:10
800 meter (1/2 mile): 2:50-2:55
400 meter (1/4 mile): 1:25-1:30
200 meter (1/8 mile): :38-:42

Adjust your interval pace to your conditioning level as it changes throughout your training season. Refer to the Interval Pace Chart in RunLog’s guide to find your speed work intervals pace. And remember, run hard and fast, but run controlled.

Set your Recovery
Set your recovery times and distances so you can maintain consistent times throughout your workout, but not long enough for you to get cold between intervals.

As a general rule to recover between intervals, walk, or jog easy, half the distance of the interval being run. Limit your recovery to less than five minutes to prevent an unintended cooldown.

Sample Speed workouts
Use the following speed workouts as examples of how to build your own speed workouts:

Mile Intervals
(1) Stretch and warm up completely with an easy 1 mile run.
(2) Run 4 x 1-mile intervals at 3-5% faster than race pace.
(3) Walk/jog 400 meters (1/4 mile) between intervals. Maintain consistent interval times and rest between intervals.
(4) Warm down with an easy 1 mile run.

Remember to adjust your interval and recovery times according to your fitness level as it changes throughout your training season.

800-Meter Intervals
(1) Stretch and warm up completely with an easy 1 mile run.
(2) Run 6 x 800-meters (1/2 mile) intervals at 8-10% faster than race pace. Maintain consistent interval times and rest between intervals.
(3) Walk/jog 200 or 400 meters (1/8 – 1/4 mile) between intervals, depending on how hard you run the intervals.
(4) Cool down with an easy 1 mile run.

400-Meter Intervals
(1) Stretch and warm up completely with an easy 1 mile run.
(2) Run 3 sets of 4 x 400 meters (1/4 mile) intervals (for a total of 12 x 400 meters) at 10-12% faster than race pace.
(3) Walk/jog 200 meters (1/8 mile) between intervals, and rest 5:00 minutes between sets.
(4) Warm down with an easy 1 mile run.

Remember to adjust your interval and recovery times according to your fitness level as it changes throughout your training season.

400/200-Meter Intervals
(1) Stretch and warm up completely with an easy 1 mile run.
(2) Run 400 meters at race pace.
(3) Walk/jog 200 meter recovery.
(4) Run 200 meters at 12-15% faster than race pace.
(5) Rest for 4:00 minute recovery.
(6) Repeat four times (for a total of 4 x 200 and 4 x 200)
(7) Warm down with an easy 1 mile run.

200-Meter Intervals
(1) Stretch and warm up completely with an easy 1 mile run.
(2) Run 4 x 200 meter intervals at 12-15% faster than race pace, with 30 second recovery between intervals.
(3) Rest 4:00 between sets of 4 x 200.
(4) Repeat set four times (for a total of 12 x 200 meters).
(5) Warm down with an easy 1 mile run.

Remember to adjust your interval and recovery times according to your fitness level as it changes throughout your training season.

Negative Split Intervals
(1) Stretch and warm up completely with an easy 1 mile run. Then, concentrate on running each of the following at a faster pace than the previous interval (negative splitting).
(2) Run 1 mile at 3-5% faster than race pace.
(3) Walk/jog 400 meter recovery.
(4) Run 1200 meters (3/4 mile) at 5-7% faster than race pace.
(5) Walk/jog 400 meter recovery.
(6) Run 800 meters (1/2 mile) at 8-10% faster than race pace.
(7) Walk/jog 400 meter recovery.
(8) Run 400 meters (1/4 mile) at 10-12% faster than race pace.
(9) Run an easy 1 mile warm down.

Sample Week of Speed work
Here’s a sample week to show how to incorporate endurance, strength and speed workouts for 3k to 10k race distances:

Monday:
Do a medium distance run about 80-100% of race distance. Relax and run a smooth, controlled pace.
Tuesday:
Run 4 x 1-mile intervals. Keep interval times as consistent as possible.
Wednesday:
Run a short distance run of 50-75% of race distance. Relax and recover from Tuesday’s workout.
Thursday:
Do a Pyramid Fartlek workout (:15 hard/:15 easy; :30 hard/:30 easy, up to 2:00 hard/2:00 easy, and back down.)
Friday:
Run medium distance of 80-100% of race distance. Maintain strong pace, good form and run tall.
Saturday:
Run long, slow distance of 125-150% of race distance. Run smooth and relaxed. Enjoy the scenery along the way.
Sunday:
Day off. Give your body a chance to rest and recover from the week.

Log your speed work results in a RunLog running log.


 

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