Thursday, September 3, 2009

Feelin' the Need for Speed

Michelle and Trea asked me questions recently recently about incorporating speedwork into their training plans to improve their race times. I started taking speedwork seriously in this past January during my training for the 2009 New Jersey Marathon. Within a few weeks I started to notice that not only were my race times improving but so were my training runs.

Most of my speedwork consists of various intervals on the E. 6th track. A group of experienced pacers lead the workouts. The intervals vary in distance and intensity. One week we could be doing 8 x 400m (1 lap) at 3k pace and the next week we could be doing 6 x 600m (1 1/2 laps) at 5k pace. Every 6 weeks or so we go off the track for a tempo or fartlek run on the West Side Highway path.

Trea asked how fast to run the intervals. My weekly group splits up by 5k pace. The groups start with the 6:30 milers and increases by 30 seconds. The pacer then tells us the splits we should be aiming for on each interval. What if you can't find a group to do speedwork with? The McMillan Running Calculator is a great tool to help any runner calculate their splits for speedwork. Simply enter a recent race time and McMillan will produce a range of times to run most typical intervals. There are two important things to note here: 1) When using McMilan, you need to enter a recent race time not a goal time for your next race. The reason for this is that your current fitness level is probaly not up to running your goal time just yet. If you run the intervals  based a goal time, you will be running faster than your body is used to. 2) Remember that McMilan produces a range. Some runners will be at the faster end of the end of the range and some will be at the slower end of the range. The key is to run each interval at a consistent pace within the range. Do not run one interval at the fast end and another at the slow end. Keep them consistent.

Michelle, and please correct me if I'm wrong, is having difficulty getting to an organized speedworkout and would like to incorporate speedwork into her daily runs. There are ways to do that as well.
  • Tempo Runs: The simplest way to define a tempo run is "comfortably hard." McMilan can help you calculate your tempo pace. Another easy way to calculate your tempo pace is to add 30 or 40 seconds to a recent 5k time or 15 to 20 seconds to a 10k time. Check out this article from Runner's World for more on tempo runs.
  • Fartleks: Fartlek is Swedish for "speedplay" and is an easy way to incorporate some speedwork into any run. All you do is simply run faster to a nearby landmark (like a tree, mailbox, stop sign, etc..) once you reach the landmark, slowdown and recover. Start with 2 or 3 of these "pick-ups" and build up to more when you feel comfortable.
  • Hill Repeats: During one of our runs, Brandon mentioned that running hills is speedwork is disguise. Try and find a hill about 1/4 in length and run up it 4 to 6 times. Again, keep your pace consistent. Don't sprint up the first time and walk up the time. How fast you run each repeat will depend on your current fitness level and the grade (steepness, if that's a word) of the hill. Find a pace that you think you can consistenly hit 4 to 6 times. 

Trea and Michelle, I hope this post answered your questions. I love getting questions, keep 'em coming. 

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