Speed workouts are important for all runners, regardless of the distances they’re training for–even the marathon distance. The base of marathon training is long, steady-state running, but to maximize overall speed, even marathoners need to include interval or speed training in their routine.
But what does a marathoner speed workout look like? How often should you include them in your overall training? And how close to race-day should you back off doing speed workouts?
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To get the answers to these questions and more, we spoke to Jennifer Burningham, a Portland-based running coach, to get the straight scoop on how marathoners can add speed workouts to their training.
One Size Does Not Fit All
When beginning to integrate speed workouts, many marathoners question how often they should be performed. Burningham finds the frequency of speed workouts will usually vary based on a runner’s age. “I'd say once per week for somebody that’s in their twenties," said Burningham. "Getting into your thirties or forties, I would say once every ten days is good. Fifty or older, once every two weeks.”
This variation in recommended frequency is due to differences in recovery times. Simply put, "a twenty-something is going to recover faster than someone in their fifties."
It’s important to note, however, that it isn’t necessary for any age group to perform speed workouts multiple times per week. Just because intervals aren’t performed at a high frequency does not mean that it will take a long time to notice results.
By including speed workouts 2-4 times per month, Burningham explains, runners should start to feel stronger in as little as two months.
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Getting Close to Race Day
Because of the intensity of interval training, the frequency of these workouts should taper off as race day approaches. Burningham’s runners don’t perform any speed work two weeks before a marathon. “I really cut it back,” said Burningham. “The last two weeks before a marathon, I just tell them to rest and cut down mileage so they have a lot of energy for race day.”
The Right Terrain
Another issue that many runners have with speed workouts is finding the right terrain to perform them on. Not everyone has access to a running track, so how important is terrain for interval training?
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The key, according to Burningham, is to do the intervals somewhere that is measured. “If you've got a measured bike path nearby, great. Flat and measured is the best terrain for speed workouts.”
Because a fast terrain lets you keep track of your running pace, key to improving as you head toward race day. "If you really want to know your pace, and you should, then flat terrain is what you want to go with.”
Why Speed Workouts?
The big benefit to speed workouts? (Besides, you know, getting faster.) It just might be efficiency.
"Speed workouts help you get the most bang out of your training buck," said Burningham of Because they not only assist you in running faster and feeling stronger, but they will also aid in recovery time by forcing your body to adapt to higher-intensity training conditions.
As an added bonus—speed workouts help to curtail training monotony. And having fun while you run, might be the best running technique you can add to your training.
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