Speed work doesn't mean just running fast. When done thoughtfully, these workouts can provide huge performance benefits for runners preparing for a race.
Runners must first pick the right kind of speed work. Tempo, fartleks and intervals runs are just a few of the many types of speed work. So, before you head out the door for a speed session—even if you're an advanced runner—there are a few rules to keep in mind.
1. Paces Are Specific for a Reason
Every workout has a design in mind for your fitness. Many runners fall into the trap of thinking that the "no pain, no gain" mentality is the key to distance running success. Sometimes the exact opposite is true.
For example, tempo runs are designed to improve your anaerobic threshold and are at a pace at which your body produces lactate faster than it can clear from your muscles. For highly-trained runners, this is a pace that they can maintain for about an hour.
If your schedule calls for a 20-minute tempo run, this doesn't mean run 20 minutes as hard as you can. Rather, you should finish the tempo run feeling like you could have held that pace for another 30 or 40 minutes if you had to. Just because you can run faster than a designated workout pace doesn't mean that you should.
Running faster than your designated pace on speed work days puts your body into the wrong zone and doesn't allow you to reap the benefits planned for that day. Trust that your training will increase your fitness and make you a better runner.
2. Recovery Makes All the Difference
Training hard is like climbing a staircase. Hard sessions that raise your fitness and allow you to climb must be followed by restful days that allow your body to prepare for the next hard day. One of the most common mistakes by beginning and advanced runners is running too hard on recovery days.
Performance during speed workouts and races are often a reflection of how well a runner is able to recover. Slow down on your easy days and watch how it pays off during your harder sessions.
To recover well in between your speed sessions, use these tips:
1. Eat (or drink) a few hundred calories of carbs and protein within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing a hard session. This is the optimal window for restoring the muscle glycogen that has been used while running.
2. Avoid sitting for long periods of time after your workout. When you sit in your car for an hour or sit at a desk all day after running hard, your muscles stiffen and tighten up. Take the time to walk around.
3. Sleep more. When you sleep, your body's muscle repair is at its highest. Find time for a nap after a hard workout to kick-start your recovery. Additionally, don't underestimate the power of a good night's sleep; make sure you get eight hours of sleep every night, if possible.