Fartleks, intervals and repeats, oh my! Have you ever wondered what the purpose of the different speed work routines are? Today I’m going to let you in on the secrets. First, let’s talk about why speed work is an important building block for a training plan. As runners are progressing from easy miles to structured workouts, speed work will usually be the first addition to the plan. Remember, it is important to only change one variable at a time. This means that you shouldn’t add speed and tempo runs in the same microcycle.
Why do we do speed work?
Speed work is a great way to work on running form, increasing cadence, increasing efficiency, and increasing muscle fiber recruitment (specifically focusing on our IIx fast twitch muscle fibers which aren’t typically trained during tempo or long slow runs). The goal with speed work is to run fast while maintaining control of proper form and keeping your movements fluid. As they say, if you want to run faster, you need to run faster.
Speed work can be broken down in to pure speed workouts (think short interval sprints up to 100m) and speed endurance workouts (longer intervals at slightly slower paces up to 1 mile repeats). It can also be divided in to supra Vo2 max efforts (usually less than 800m) and Vo2 max efforts (800m and up). To work both ends of the spectrum, ladder or pyramid workouts combine different distances in to one workout. There are also “easier” speed workouts designed to just get your legs turning over, getting used to speed transitions, or getting used to the feel of different efforts.
How about the lingo?
Different coaches define speed work in different ways so always seek clarity if you are not sure. Here are some basics:
Strides– Strides are not meant to be an anaerobic workout. This means that there should be a full recovery after each stride. To perform the stride, you will need about a 100m space. On a track, this would be the straight-away. Start at an easy pace and gradually work up to 85-90% of full speed over the first 20 meters. Maintain full speed while paying attention to good form. Over the last 20 meters, gradually slow down to a stop. Rest and repeat. Strides are usually performed after (easy) workouts to focus on leg turnover and form. Depending on experience level you can do between 4-8 strides.
Pick-ups– Pick-ups are usually intermittent “sprints” during an easy paced run. This might look something like 5 miles easy with 6×60 second pick-ups to 5k pace with 3 minutes easy between. This type of workout helps with leg turnover and transitions during races when our speed changes.
Fartlek- Fartlek translates in to “speed play.” I instruct my runner to run fartlek workouts as such. This means that they would go out for a 4 mile run and use landmarks as distances to change pace between easy, medium, and hard efforts. Another way to do this if you are running in a group is that you take turns leading for varying amounts of time. The leader gets to pick the speed for their run segment.
Hill Sprints– Hill sprints are usually an introduction to flat sprints and they are typically performed in the base building phase. Sprints are started on the hills because that forces you to run with proper form. The degree of the hill is also a factor for the type of workout. Steep hills are going to be strength type workouts while moderate hills are better for speed progressions.
Intervals– To define intervals, I am going to use Jack Daniel’s definition from his book, “Daniels’ Running Formula.” Interval training should be performed at Vo2 max or just slightly under with work bouts between 3-5 minutes and recovery intervals no longer than the work interval. He also discusses that shorter work bouts could be used but rest intervals need to be reduced to keep the training at Vo2 max range. The goal is to maximize aerobic power. An example of this type of workout would be 4-5x 800m @ I pace with 2 minute jog recovery.
Repeats– Also defined via Jack Daniels, this workout is designed to maximize anaerobic power. Repeats should not last longer than 2 minutes and the rest interval is 2-3 times the work interval (measured in time not distance). If your work interval is 1 minute, your recovery should be 2-3 minutes. He offers that you can substitute that by jogging the same distance as the repeat walking the last 10-15 meters to ensure that you are prepared to run the next repeat. The goal of this workout is to run the repeats at the same speed with proper form. If you cannot make it through with the same speed, either the rest interval was not adequate or the pace was too fast. An example of this would be 8x 200m @ R pace with 200 m jog recovery.
How does this get applied to training?
Once again, this all comes down to individual training goals and distances. The list above is organized from easy workouts to increasingly more difficult workouts. Those that are new to speed work should slowly build up tolerance to speed work. Moving through a progression will help your body adapt and decrease your injury risk. As training plans progress, they will move from easy generalized workouts to the harder, race specific workouts. So, speed work will look a little different for each person.
What questions do you have?