Advice,Fitness,Running,Workout Ideas

Speed Work for Beginners

The best way to become a stronger and faster runner is to incorporate speed work into your training schedule. It doesn’t need to be complicated, and when you’re just getting started, it doesn’t even need to be “fast.” It just needs to be hard.

Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is the only way to force your body to adapt to the pressure and physically become stronger. You can poke along running at your easy pace forever. You can gain endurance, but you won’t get much faster. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a “real runner” you can benefit from a little speed work!

Why I believe in speed work.

I started running marathons in 2001 when I moved to San Diego as a way to make friends. Little did I know how life changing it would be for me. I was not an athletic kid or teenager, and in fact, I almost didn’t graduate from high school on time because I was lacking PE credits — those who know me today can see the ridiculous irony of this. I documented my entire love affair with running in a long post I wrote just after the Boston Marathon 2014, called Addicted to Running.

Addicted to Running

I sure am, and have been since 2001…

Long story short, I went from running 4:45 marathon and seeing the Boston Marathon as a fairy tale to crossing that iconic finish line, not once but two times and holding a marathon PR of 3:29. There were only two things I did differently; I lost 20 pounds and I started doing speed work which was incorporated into my schedule by my coach. I’m not sure if speed work is the chicken or the egg to weight loss, but needless to say, I got faster. The end result was a marathon pace of 11:00 min per mile to 8:00 – yahoo!

Can you benefit from speed work?

Yes. I don’t even need to know you to tell you that you can benefit from speed work. Even if you’re a super-beginner-runner and you feel like track workouts are for the pros. Let me tell you, they are for everybody and anybody can benefit. I hate the old saying “no pain – no gain” because it sounds so outdated and there is a fine line between the pain of progress and pain of destruction.

But the spirit and science of speed work does stem from this concept. If you feel like you want to throw up after an interval, you’re doing it right. Your body is an amazing machine and it’s oh-so-smart. If you’re consistently pushing it harder, to the point of discomfort, it will respond by improving in strength and efficiency.

Boston Marathon 2014

Boston Marathon 2014 Finish Line!

How to start doing speed work

If you run several days a week, devote one day to “speed work.” There are hundreds of types of workouts you can do, but the simplest will include repeats of the most common distances, 1 mile, 800m (1/2 mile) and 400m (1/4 mile). You’ll do 1-3 miles of “work” in your entire run of 3-5 miles between warm up and recovery times. You can vary your workout each week with different distances and progress the total distance over time. It could look something like this:

  • Week 1: 1 mile warm up/4×400/1 mile cool down: 3 miles*
  • Week 2: 1 mile warm up/2×800/1 mile cool down: 3 miles*
  • Week 3: 1 mile warm up/1×1600/1 mile cool down: 3 miles*
  • Week 4: 1 mile warm up/8×400/1 mile cool down: 4 miles*
  • Week 5: 1 mile warm up/4×800/1 mile cool down: 4 miles*
  • Week 6: 1 mile warm up/2×1600/1 mile cool down: 4 miles*
  • Week 7: 1 mile warm up/12×400/1 mile cool down: 5 miles*
  • Week 8: 1 mile warm up/6×800/1 mile cool down: 5 miles*
  • Week 9: 1 mile warm up/3×1600/1 mile cool down: 5 miles*
  • Week 10: 1 mile warm up/4×400/2×800/1×1600/1 mile cool down 5 miles*

*plus recovery. Recover 2-3 min between each interval so you can hit the next one strong! 

After week 10, pick your favorite workouts to repeat or try new ones. Every 4 weeks, do the week 10 workout again to measure your progress. So long as you truly run as hard as you can in the intervals, you will get faster. It’s one of my most favorite things about running. Your output (progress) is 100% directly correlated to your input (effort).

Runner Collage #6.jpg

The easiest and smartest way to get speed work into your training schedule

If you’re training for a full or half marathon for at least your second time, the best idea is to by an advanced marathon training schedule, which is why I partnered with Sheri Matthews last year to create these comprehensive guides for Gals Who Run. Not everybody has hundreds of dollars to spend on a coach, so we took the best of what we had learned from all our coaches, education, clients and personal experiences and put it all into one resource.  

Each guide has two training schedules one for beginners focused on getting to the finish line for the first time and another for those looking to get there even faster! The speed work is intricately incorporated into the schedule with long slow runs, tempo runs, hill running, cross training and recovery runs to ensure you tax your body to get stronger and faster, but not damaged. 

marathon training guide

Whether you just start running faster for intervals on your own or you invest in a strategic marathon or half marathon training schedule, incorporating speed work into your plan will benefit your body and your race times! Both of those results make running so much more fun!

How do you feel about sped work and/or what is your favorite speed workout? 

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