Speed Training for Runners: Boost Your Performance with These Essential Workouts

speed training for runners
Looking to take your running game to the next level?

Then it's time to lace up your sneakers and dive into the exhilarating world of speed training.

Incorporating speed work into your training routine can make a significant difference in your overall performance. On this page, I'll break down some key speed training essentials that can help you sprint, stride, and surge your way to success.

Speed Training for Runners Essentials #1 - Start with a Solid Warm-Up

Before you even think about pushing your speed limits, make sure you give your body the warm-up it deserves. A proper warm-up gets your muscles and joints ready for the intensity ahead.

Begin with a light jog for about 10-15 minutes to increase blood flow and elevate your heart rate. Follow that up with dynamic stretches like leg swings, high knees, and butt kicks. This combination of cardio and stretching will prepare your body for the bursts of effort you're about to undertake.

Speed Training for Runners Essentials #2 - The Power of 8-10 Second Hill Sprints

Imagine this: a hill, your legs pumping, and the exhilaration of conquering that incline. Hill sprints, lasting around 8-10 seconds, are a fantastic way to develop explosive power and improve your running economy.

speed training for runners
Find a hill with a moderate gradient and sprint all-out for the designated time. The incline adds resistance, engaging your muscles in a unique way and boosting your overall leg strength. Not to mention, hill sprints also help refine your running form and enhance your stride efficiency.

A hill sprint may only last 8-10 seconds, but there are a few rules to doing them properly:

  • Rule 1: - build up steadily. Start with 2 at the end of the workout. Build up to 6 to 8 over a number of weeks.
  • Rule 2: - take enough time to recover, i.e. at least 1 minute, preferrably longer. This is hard for us long-distance runners. We just like to go, go, go and we are not good with rest. At least, if you are anything like me. But to get the most out of a hill sprint, you want to be able to do it at full pelt. And that requires appropriate recovery between each hill sprint.

  • Speed Training for Runners Essentials #3 - Strides: Effortless Grace in Every Step

    speed training for runners
    Strides are like mini-gifts you give your muscles – they enhance your running form and polish your biomechanics. To do strides, find a flat stretch of about 80-100 meters. Start with an easy jog, then gradually accelerate to about 95% of your maximum effort for the middle part of the distance. You hit that “close-to-top-speed" for a couple of seconds, then you slow down to a stop or jog.

    Strides are perfect for promoting turnover, increasing stride length, and tuning your nervous system to handle faster paces. Like with hill sprints, you do these best at the end of a run. Get some more information about running strides via the link.

    Speed Training for Runners Essentials #4 - Unleash the Speed Demon: All-Out Sprints

    You might wonder, as a long-distance runner, do all-out sprints have a place in your training regimen? The answer is yes!

    speed training for runners
    While long-distance runners don't solely rely on sprint training, occasional all-out sprints can stimulate muscle fibers that aren't frequently engaged during steady-state running. This can lead to improved overall muscle recruitment, and increased power making your long-distance runs feel smoother and more efficient.

    You can do these at the start of a run. Measure out a length of about 50m or so. Sprint at an all out effort. Then take a long recovery, 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Preferrably standing still or walking. Then you go again.

    I'll just repeat, like with the hill sprints and the strides, taking a break and doing nothing is hard for us long-distance runners! We don't like to stand about and wait. But for this type of workout to work, you need to go all-out for the short sprint and you need the time to recover!

    Speed Training for Runners Essentials #5 - Fartlek Training: Playful and Productive

    Fartlek, which means "speed play" in Swedish, is a training method that adds an element of fun to your routine. It involves alternating between different paces during a run. For example, you might alternate between a comfortable pace and a fast sprint whenever you feel like it. This type of training keeps things interesting. It challenges your body in various ways and can be particularly useful when you are wanting to add some speed to your training without doing a structured interval workout.

    See the Fartlek Workout page for further information.

    Speed Training for Runners Essentials #6 - Repetitions for Leg Speed

    speed training for runners
    Repetitions involve running a specific distance at a fast pace, followed by a recovery jog. You do them to develop leg speed. They are usually 200m in length. I quite often do them time-based. They are a good transition from mostly easy running in the base building phase of training towards more quality based training.

    I might do an easy 8-10 mile run and in it, I have 8 repetitions of 20 seconds length, with quite a long easy running pause in between (e.g. 3-4 minutes). The next week the 20 seconds becomes 30 seconds. The week after it becomes 45 seconds. Then the week after, I might transition to intervals, the topic of the next paragraph.

    Speed Training for Runners Essentials #7 - Intervals: Building Endurance and Speed

    Intervals are the bread and butter of speed training. Intervals generally have a structured work-to-rest ratio. You can make intervals easier or harder by playing with this ratio. E.g. doing 10 x 1 minute hard, 2 minutes easy with a work:rest ratio of 1:2 feels very different to a 10 x 1 min hard, 1 min easy workout with a work:rest ratio of 1:1!

    These workouts challenge your cardiovascular system, improve your anaerobic capacity, and enhance your ability to maintain higher speeds for longer durations. They're like intervals of magic that transform your running prowess.

    Check out the Interval Running page for more information about intervals.

    Speed Training for Runners Essentials #8 - When to do speed training

    speed training for runners
    I'd like to see all long-distance runners do strides or hill sprints at least once a week at the end of a training session, more is better. Quite an accepted approach is to do more hill sprints and strides in the base building phase (e.g. 2-3 x per week) and then bring it back a little during the later phases of training. You then more or less put your hill sprints or strides in maintenance mode by doing them once a week, in favour of other speed based workouts like fartleks or intervals.

    In a nutshell, speed training is like adding a turbo boost to your running journey. By incorporating these workouts into your routine, you'll develop more leg speed, more power and more strength.

    And that should translate in faster race times. Simple as that. Remember, consistency is key and a little goes a long way!

    From what I witness in the training of people I have coached, of friends and countless other long distance runners, is that speed training is very undervalued. Sure, almost everybody does the occassional interval workout. But that pure speed training, like hill sprints, strides, all-out sprints or repetitions? Doesn't get done that often.

    So, make this your secret weapon! Gradually integrate these speed sessions into your weekly plan and watch yourself transform into a faster, stronger, and more agile runner. Happy speed training!

    Some More Recommended Pages

    running strides
    interval running
    strength training for runners
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