Every runner has different needs, and you should tailor your speedwork program to both your ability and your training goals. Seems like common sense, but juggling the variables of distance, repeats and rest intervals can be a confusing business. Never fear, Cool Running is here with some handy guidelines to help you design a personal speedwork program.
First, as a general rule, be conservative. While speedwork is the best and fastest way to improve, it is also the best and fastest way to injure yourself. Increase the intensity and duration of your workouts only gradually. Push yourself, but as always, don't overtrain. Listen to your body and don't be afraid to quit a session if you feel you've reached your limit. If, for example, you are running track intervals and you find it impossible to maintain the same pace through all your repeats, you should strongly consider calling it quits for that session and adjusting your pace the next time around.
In general, you should run shorter repeats if you're preparing for shorter races and longer repeats if you're preparing for longer races. The longer the distances, the fewer repeats you should run.
The total mileage of a speed workout, excluding your warmup, will be one or two miles for beginners and as much as five or six for experienced speedsters. You are of course welcome to run a variety of interval distances, even within a single workout, but if you are just beginning you might want to keep things simple by running one distance at first. How long that distance should be depends on your needs:
220 Yards (200 meters or 1/2 lap)
To train for short distances (5K and under) and to sharpen speed.
440 yards (400 meters or 1 lap)
To improve aerobic conditioning at slower paces and to improve speed in the last stages of preparation for short races (5K and under).
880 yards (800 meters or 2 laps)
To train for distances 10K and under for speed. For distances above 10K the distance helps sharpen your sense of pace and improve aerobic conditioning.
Mile (1600 meters or 4 laps)
To develop ability to hold onto a strong pace for significant distances, particularly for those training for longer races (10K and up, including the marathon). Like 880s, miles help sharpen your sense of pace.
Yes, running hills is a form of speed work, ideal for building strength and good form. Short hills should be steep enough to give you pause, but not so steep that your form falls apart. Look for inclines between 100 and 200 yards long.
To develop strength, stamina, and at least as important, confidence. Hills should be about 1/4 mile long and not quite as steep as your short hills.
How Much Rest?
The amount you rest during the intervals between repeats is just as important as the amount you run. You need more rest when you run longer distances, faster paces or more repeats. Beginners to speedwork will need more rest than more experienced runners.