If you want to improve your racing
times, it is logical that you need to increase your speed. But, what is
speed? Should you train to improve your top speed (which can only be
maintained for a few seconds), or to maintain a faster pace over the
course of a race? There are several definitions of speed, and which type
of speed you aim to improve determines the types of training that you
course, for most runners speed is a relative term. For a distance runner,
any training at faster than race pace will help to improve some aspect of
your speed. But, which types of speed training will make best use of your
precious training time? Let’s look at a few facts and misconceptions
about speed training for distance runners.
you want to improve what a sprinter would call speed (and what I will
refer to as “pure speed”) then you need to do short powerful
accelerations and serious weight training. Pure speed training consists of
up to 10 seconds of all-out sprinting with a work to rest ratio of at
least 1 to 4. This sort of training will improve your pure speed and, if
you had previously been training as a distance runner, will greatly
increase your likelihood of injuring various body parts. It will also do
very little to improve your racing performances at distances of 3,000
meters or longer, because pure speed is irrelevant to distance running
success (which is fortunate for most of us).
second type of “speed-work” consists of high intensity repetitions of
200 to 400 meters at 1500 meter race pace or faster. This type of training
(which I will refer to as “short interval training”) is important for
success in races of 800 to 3,000 meters. Running intervals at this pace
produces high levels of lactate, improves your ability to produce energy
using the glycolytic system (what you probably think of as running
anaerobically), and trains your body to buffer high levels of lactate.
Unfortunately, these adaptations are not particularly relevant for longer
races, in which the aerobic system predominates.
which types of speed training are most effective for distance runners? The
two types of speed training most critical to distance running success are:
VO2 max training and technique training.
max training is designed to improve your maximal aerobic capacity. Your
VO2 max is determined by the maximal ability of your heart to pump
oxygen-rich blood to your muscles and of your muscles to extract and
utilize that oxygen to produce energy aerobically. By improving your
maximal aerobic capacity, this type of training will help to improve your
sustained speed, which is most important for distance running success.
most effective training to improve your VO2 max consists of running
intervals of two to six minutes duration (typically 600 to 1600 meters) at
your 3 km race pace. Your recovery jogs between intervals should take
about 50 to 100% of the time it takes to run each repetition. The stimulus
to improve your VO2 max is provided by the amount of time that you
accumulate in the optimal intensity range during a workout.
that over 90% of your energy in races of 5 km or longer is produced
aerobically (and the proportion gets higher the longer the race), it is
this sustained speed that you need to improve your racing performances.
Running your intervals faster than 3 km race pace will reduce the stimulus
to improve your VO2 max by building up high levels of lactate in your
muscles and shortening the duration of your workout.
other important type of training to improve your speed is technique
training, which consists of various drills to improve your running form,
and strideouts which focus on running fast yet relaxed.
consist of running short repetitions (typically 80 to 120 meters) quickly
while emphasizing good running technique. These sessions teach your body
to eliminate unnecessary movements and to maintain correct posture and
control at fast speeds, both of which help increase your coordination and
speed. Strideouts are short enough, and done with sufficient rest between,
that your lactate levels remain low to moderate throughout the workout and
you recover quickly.
typical session is to warm-up for 20 to 30 minutes and then run 10
repetitions of 100 meters in which you accelerate up to full speed over
the first 70 meters and “float” for the last 30 meters. It’s
critical to remain relaxed during these accelerations. Avoid clenching
your fists, lifting your shoulders, tightening your jaw and neck muscles,
etc. Concentrate on running with good form, and focus on one aspect of
good form, such as relaxed arms or complete hip extension, during each
acceleration. You should be relatively well-rested when doing these
sessions, so you are able to maintain excellent technique throughout the
fast, yet relaxed is an acquired skill. Runners often do not have an
accurate sense of their running style. An experienced coach or a video
camera can provide valuable input for assessing how you run. Your running
style will improve after a few of these sessions as running with correct
technique becomes more natural.