Speed workouts are a lot of fun, but they can seem daunting if you don’t have them already laid out in your running plan or haven’t done them before. I like them because they are short. But they do require some extra planning.
First, it helps to have a route that won’t force you to stop unexpectedly. So routes with lots of foot traffic, busy crossings, or traffic lights are generally out for me. This is a great time to get familiar with your local high school track oval, if it’s open to the public. Most are once practices have let out. You can get a feel for when that is by driving by a few days a week to see if there are random adults walking or running the oval. Another great place to run a speed workout is a local park with paved walking trails. These trails are usually short and may even have mileage marked, which is helpful.
Second, based on where you are running, decide what kind of speed workout suits you best. Intervals are based on distance, so you will need to know how far a quarter- or half-mile is. You can also set your Nike+ app to notify you of distance at these intervals.
If you can’t reliably mark distance, then try fartleks. They are based on time, so if you have a stop watch, you use that, or use the one on your phone and have it turn over automatically. Fartleks consist of running for a set time, and then recovering for a shorter amount of time. If you have some sort of reliable marker along your route, like fence posts, telephone poles or even cracks in the sidewalk, you can use that, too. Podrunner also has a great selection of free fartlek soundtracks you can download. Just run and recover with the music’s tempo.
Hill workouts are pretty simple. Find a hill, and run up it 5 to 10 times, jogging down to recover. If you live somewhere flat or don’t have access to a safe hill, treadmills feature hill workout sessions. To DIY your treadmill workout, use a 6-percent grade.
Progression runs consist of a set distance where you use the first and last miles as warm-up/cool-down. In between, you start at a comfortable pace and then speed up a little bit each mile and sustain it.
Tempo runs fall somewhere in between speed work and conditioning. A tempo run will also feature the first and last mile as warm-up and cool-down, and in between will have you run your race pace. This gives you a good feel for the pace so you can run it without checking your phone or your time.
You should know your resting heart rate before you begin so you can figure out if you are working hard enough during your speed workouts. Typically, runners get up into 80 percent of total effort when running speed workouts. At the very least, you should feel winded and extremely useless when you get home. With speed workouts, always always always do a warm up first and cool down after.
Do I Need Speedwork for My First Marathon?
Yes and no. No, in the sense that you aren’t trying to break any records. But, yes, in that speed workouts up your overall fitness. The more fit you are, the better you will feel and run on race day, regardless of your time. And we all know that every race is more fun when it doesn’t suck.