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Speedwork for long distance runners and Speedwork in the framework of zone training Speedwork basics

by Coach Carey Nelson - November 2011

Long ago people ran interval workouts which was essentially the same training as what we call speedwork today. The term “interval training” was derived from the rest interval between repeats. Eventually we just called it speedwork. There are different types of speed work depending on the type of runner you are. A 100m sprinter thinks of  30m sprints as speedwork and a 400m  jog as long distance training. A middle distance 1500m runner thinks of speedwork as 8 repeats of 200m. Speedwork, can then mean, running faster than you normally do. It’s all relevant to the event you race.

What is speedwork to a marathon and half marathon runner? There is even different means amongst long distance runners. Some will tell you its 20 repeats x 400m while others will tell you its 4 repeats x 2000m.  A 5km tempo or fast 10mile run may be considered speedwork by some runners but our training program separates tempo running into a different category.

Speed workouts start out with an easy 2 to 3km warm-up jog followed by some stretches and running drills. After a good warm-up you are ready to run fast for 1 to 5 minutes (depending on the workout) followed by a rest interval of 1 to 3 minutes. I believe that a longer rest is more valuable as it allows you to run in a faster pace zone and improve your overall running speed. The rest interval is usually a walk or light jog.

The main purpose is to bring down your heart rate and clear some of the lactic acid from your legs so that you can run fast again. After the rest interval you are ready to run another fast repeat!

Like your long easy runs, speedwork should be controlled. If each of your repeats s getting slower then you started too fast. You should finish at the same pace you started or even running a little faster. If you are racing other people or consistently week after week racing your speed work you can burn out. There must be a level of self control to avoid developing excess long-term fatigue in your muscles. In this running clinic I recommend that you run at 5km race pace for most speedwork.

There are clear benefits of speedwork ie running much faster than normal:

1) To run faster you should practice running faster by training the mind and muscles to feel and sensation of speed;

2) The human body responds and there are physiological changes that occur to improve your speed;

3) When you improve your speed running at slower speeds becomes easier. ie it is easier to run at half marathon and full marathon pace.

Speedwork in the framework of zone training

Over the past twenty years running research blossomed and speed training became more technical. It was discovered that there was a high correlation between V02 Max and  race times. Studies focused on how to improve the V02 Max during speedwork. I read one study showing that 5 x 5 minutes with a 5 minute jog rest was the best workout to improve V02 Max. As training science evolved training paces were divided into5 zones. The fastest zone, Zone 5 was closest to V02 Max and training in Zone 5 was shown to strongly improve race times. Zone 4 another speedwork zone was categorized as an event specific zone similar to 5km and 10km race paces. Zone 5 training is more effective form of speedwork than Zone 4. Zone 5 speed workouts are the 1 to 5 minute repeats with a longer rest of 2 to 5 minutes that you will find in the clinic training plan:

8 x 1 minute fast 2 minute rest

5 x 2 minute fast 2 minute rest

5 x 3 minute fast 3 minute rest

5 x 4 minute fast 4 minute rest

5 x 5 minute rest 5 minute rest

 Zone 4 workouts are longer in duration 6 to 10 minute repeats that do not challenge the V02 Max as much but do help you with your pacing and concentration. I haven’t included them in the training plan because Zone 5 leads to better results. Also the weekly Zone 3 tempo runs will help you improve effectively as Zone 4 repeats.

Follow the 1, 3, 5 approach and you will improve week over week. Zone 1 easy runs, Zone 3 tempo runs and Zone 5 speed workouts will lead to the best results.