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Summer is here, and that means one thing: the start of a new training season. If you haven’t already started incorporating speed training into your regimen, now is the time—it’s the best way to get faster at running. But even if you don’t have a race on your calendar, speed workouts can still offer you a surplus of benefits.
For one thing, speed sessions are usually more stimulating than those long, slow miles. Whereas you might zone out and listen to a podcast during an easy run, speed workouts demand focus and engagement, “which I find is a huge benefit in terms of getting jazzed about the season to come,” says Melanie Kann, running coach for New York Road Runners.
From a physiological perspective, run speed training teaches your body to use oxygen more efficiently so that over time, you become able to run farther and faster with less. The payoff: faster race times.
As Kann notes, speed sessions will also train your body to recruit your muscles quickly when it’s time to kick things into high gear. Basically, you need to run faster in order to run faster. “It sounds so basic, but it’s very true,” Kann says.
What’s more, speed workouts teach you how to physically and mentally grind through a workout or race when you’re tired. And as any runner can attest, the mental piece is just as important as the physical, if not more so.
Ready to go fast? Here are five great speed workouts to incorporate into your routine. If you took the winter off from speed training—or you’ve never tried speed training before—Kann recommends starting with strides. Do strides twice a week for two weeks before moving on to the other workouts.
After you’ve graduated to regular speed training, cap your sessions at two per week. Be sure to perform speed sessions on nonconsecutive days so your body has enough time to recover in between. Always start and end your speed workouts with an easy 10-minute jog.
Use strides to inject some speed into the middle of your next easy run. During a stride, you’ll gradually accelerate and decelerate for 20 seconds. Then go easy for a minute to bring your heart rate back down and perform another stride. Start with six or seven strides total, and add one per workout until you’ve reached nine or 10 strides total. You can keep adding strides to your runs after the two-week mark, or you can move on to the other workouts listed.
2. Track Repeats
Take advantage of your local track. Run one lap (400 meters) at an effort level no harder than an eight on a scale of one to 10. Rest 90 seconds, then run another lap. Aim to run a total of six laps at the same effort level.
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3. Tempo Runs
A 20-minute tempo run is one of the simplest speed workouts. After your warm-up, simply pick up the pace until you reach an effort level Kann refers to as “comfortably hard.” At this pace, you should be able to say a few words at a time but you’d rather not talk at all, she says. You’ll sustain this pace for the full 20 minutes.
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4. Hill Repeats
Find a hill that’s roughly 400 meters (a quarter mile) long. If you’re unsure of the length, aim for a hill that takes you between 90 and 120 seconds to get to the top. Bonus points if you can find a hill that levels off so you can practice sustaining your effort past the hill. Then run up the hill at a pace that’s equivalent to an effort level of a seven on a scale of one to 10. Walk or jog back down and repeat. Beginners should start with four total repeats while more advanced runners can start with as many as eight.
5. Treadmill Progression Run
Start with 15 minutes at a moderately easy pace (effort level of six), then bump up the pace for 10 minutes (effort level of seven). Finally, increase intensity for five minutes (effort level of eight). Alternately, you could increase the incline by one percent every quarter-mile, starting at a 4 percent incline. Bring the incline back down to zero for a quarter mile in between each increase to give yourself a little breather.