Week #9 – Speed Workouts
I often say that performance in endurance racing is not about who goes the fastest, it's about who slows down the least. A common statement made by runners after marathons is “at the halfway point I was ‘on track for’ (fill in the time) marathon…” Then something happens that slowed them down. Well, quite often what slowed them down was simply a lack of preparation, specifically their endurance workouts. Not speed training, just good old long runs to build endurance. I believe this comes first. So, you can run a faster marathon without speed workouts by building up your endurance. This endurance allows you to maintain a steady pace throughout your entire race.
There does come a time however, when your fitness or goals are at a point where to get faster you must train faster. The good news is that speed work need not (and should not) mean lengthy workouts or be done several times a week. Speed work does not have to be performed at the track or with a heart rate monitor. The non-elite runner can benefit tremendously by doing one interval workout per week on the roads or trails. Here is an example of one:
15 minute easy warm up
3 x 5 minutes hard at 2 minutes rest:
This means go for five minutes at a "comfortably hard" pace, slow down to an easy jog for two minutes to recover, then repeat this progression 2 more times. I equate the five minute interval to intensity where you're not dying, but you don't want to be there much more than five minutes.
15 minute easy cool down
You can also use shorter weekend races to get faster on the run as well. Running a 5K or 10K race every few weeks will help increase your run speed, helping get in some good speed workouts without the boredom of doing endless loops around a track all by yourself.