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How to Run Faster: Speedwork for Every Runner


How to get faster is probably one of the most common questions I get asked as a running coach! Whether it’s someone who is working their way through a walk/run program or someone who is hoping for a marathon PR, speed is the thing that gets in many runner’s heads.


And with good reason! Speedwork is hard. It’s hard physically but it’s also hard mentally. See, your brain is designed to keep you safe – that’s evolution for you! Convincing yourself that you can run the hard paces in a speed workout lights up those signals in your brain that set off the alarms that say, “this is not safe!”.


Training and continuing to do the hard workouts is what teaches our brain over time that it is safe, that we won’t actually die, that we can do the pace and the hard thing. Will it ever get easier? Not if you’re doing it right–because the paces and effort will keep increasing as you get fitter – that’s the goal, isn’t it? But you will get fitter and faster!


How to Start Speedwork

When you first decide you’re going to add speedwork into your running, start with once


every week or once every two weeks. You don’t need to do speed runs more often than that, and you don’t really want to either–it can lead to burnout and injury. I recommend picking a day and keeping that day dedicated for speed, whether you can head to a track or not. It helps train your mind and build that habit (see point above on why we want to train our brain).


In terms of the actual workout, start slow. Get in a nice and easy mile or two to warm-up. Do your running warm-up with some drills and muscle engagement exercises, and get your mind in a good headspace. My favorite way to get my mind ready to run fast is a speed specific playlist. You can check out mine on Spotify here. Even once the workout starts, keep it slower than you think for the first rep or first ⅓ of the total reps (ie if you’re running 6 reps, keep the first 2 doable. If you’re running 10 reps, keep the first 3 doable). You don’t want it to feel easy, but it should be something you absolutely know you can sustain for the distance.


My last tip for starting with speed work is to take advantage of the recovery section. If you’re feeling gassed, it’s OK to walk the recovery. The goal of the recovery section in most workouts is to let your heart rate come down so you can crush it on the next rep. So keep that in mind and don’t struggle through a recovery only to bonk out on the next rep.


How to Finish Speedwork Strong

When you’re finishing the last few reps of a speed workout, I always equate it to the end of a race. You’re tired, you’re so ready to be done, and you’re so close! Finishing a speed workout strong is like finishing a race. So use it to practice strong running on tired legs.


After you finish the reps and recovery blocks, you should have a cool down period. I recommend anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 miles depending on the athlete, their mileage, and the goal. Don’t skip the cool down mile! It helps add to that time on feet or total easy mileage, which you want to be about 80% of total weekly miles. A good cool down also helps bring your heart rate back down and calm down the nervous system after we set it off doing hard work! If you really pushed it, feel free to run very easy and then walk at the end of your cool down as needed to keep the effort feeling easy at this point.


Give yourself an extra 5-10 minutes post workout for a nice stretch!


Speed Sessions That Will Make You Faster

These are some of my favorite speed workouts that are guaranteed to help you become a faster runner. They use a scale of 1-10 for Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) for pace. If you’re someone who would rather have an actual pace for that number instead of an effort range, use this calculator!




Fartlek: Speed Play

Run 3-4 miles easy. Over the course of those miles, throw in 10-15 sprints that last 20-30 seconds. This is the most 'free' and is a great way to prevent boredom!


400’s

Warm-up 1-2 miles. Run 400m at a 8 out of 10. Recover for 2 minutes. Repeat x 4.

Cool down 1 mile


800’s

Warm-up 1-2 miles. Run 800m at a 7 out of 10. Recover 4 minutes. Repeat x 3. Cool down 1 mile


Ladder

Warmup 1 mile. 200m at an 8-9 out of 10. recover 1 minute. 400m at an 8 out of 10. Recover 2 minutes. 800m at 7 out of 10. recover 4 minutes. Repeat x 2. Cool down 1 mile.


10 x 1

Warm-up for 1 mile. Run 1 minute hard. Recover 1 minute easy. Repeat 10 times. Cool down 1 mile.


400’s & 200’s

Warm-up 1 mile. Run 400m RPE 7. Recover 1 minute. Repeat 3 times (4 reps total). Run 200m RPE 8; Recover 1 minute. Repeat 3 times (4 reps total). Cool down 1 mile.


800’s & 400’s

Warm-up 1 mile. Run 800m RPE 7. Recover 4 minutes. Repeat (2 reps total). Run 400m RPE 8; Recover 2 minutes. Repeat x 4 (4 reps total). Cool down 1 mile.


Mile Repeats

Warm-up 1 mile. Run 1 mile at goal race pace. Recover 3 minutes. Repeat x 3 (3 reps total). Cool down 1 mile


Still have questions on speed work or how to get faster? Consider one of these ways to work together for more information!


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