Speed workouts won't just make you a faster runner, they are crucial to building your overall endurance and vital to boosting your race-day success.
But as with any aspect of training it can be confusing to know what to do and when. (How much speed work should you do? How much is too much? Should you do speed workouts on a treadmill or on a local trail?)
Here are seven of our in-house running experts offering their strategies on how to make the most of speed workouts—and how to set yourself up for your best race season yet.
Speed Workout Tip No.1: Find the Right Terrain
"Scout out the right course. Avoid traffic and other hazards. Also shun fast downhill running. It looks easy, but it's actually tough on the muscles and can lead to injuries in a hurry.
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"Consider the surface. Grass and dirt trails are nice, but a smooth surface is even more important. Tree roots, sidewalk cracks and potholes can be dangerous. Rubberized tracks smooth and springy are often your best bet."
Speed Workout Tip No.2: Hill Repeats
"One of the best ways to strengthen those hip flexors and improve the power of our swing phase is with hill repeats. As we gain strength, our chances of getting injured are diminished, and we gain mental confidence.
"Once you've done 15 X 2:00 of a steep hill, 1:00 climbing a similar incline in a race will look like a mole hill. This is because running hills improves speed.Your effort increases as you run up a hill, even if you reduce your pace.
"So, in a race, the best way to run a hill is to maintain effort and forget about pace while on the hill--even effort is the surest route to a faster time. Trying to maintain pace on the hill is like surging and varying the body's perceived effort, which will only tire you prematurely in the long run."
Speed Workout Tip No.3: Reduce Anxiety With Fartleks
"If the image of a track, or even stepping onto a track, is intimidating or not feasible, one alternative is "fartlek." In Swedish, it means "speed play," and it involves running sections of a longer workout at a faster than normal pace. A five-mile road workout that is mostly done at an 8:00 pace, for example, could include perhaps four segments of 2:00 each run considerably faster.
"Of course, you'll need a watch for all of that. But some runners prefer an option that doesn't need to be timed. They'll stay out on the roads and do their speedier running by counting traffic lights or telephone poles. They'll sprint for three traffic lights, recover slowly for three, and sprint again for three more. It may be a bit more exhilarating and liberating than conventional track work."