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Speed training is vital for distance runners

By Rebecca Winn – TOSH Running Program Coordinator


Over the last few decades we have seen changes in the sport of running.

A few of those changes include the profile of a typical runner, training philosophies and race results. All three of these dimensions play a role in where we are today with the growing popularity in this sport, and the faster times we see being recorded.tosh2 instoryad 012616

Since most runners have a goal of
improving their race times, I want to
focus on what it takes to become a faster runner. It is not uncommon for individuals
to think that distance training speed work is
an oxymoron. However, simply put, runners of any distance need to incorporate “speed” work into their routine in order to get faster.

First, let’s define what distance training speed work is. The terms speed work and interval are very loosely-used terms. Because of the looseness in how these words are used many distance runners believe they do not need to add these types of workouts into their training regimen.

Speed work is a very general term referencing shorter, intense running bouts. One very important thing for a distance runner to remember when speed training is that speed work is not all-out running.

The simple statement, “Speed kills!” proves to be true when a distance runner goes all out and as fast as she can. At that point she is doing more harm than good. So, how should a runner incorporate these sessions effectively and safely? It’s through threshold/tempo, interval and repetition workouts.

I will break down each of these types of training sessions below:

  1. Threshold and Tempo Workouts

The best description I have for a threshold workout is “comfortable hard” running. The paces during these training days will be challenging, but doable for a sustained period of time.

Experience has taught me that many endurance athletes tend to train at threshold paces almost daily. The idea that running has to be hard every day to be worth the effort is a myth.toshtipsforrunners1 092116LR

In structured training for improvement in performance, a tempo day will be faster than a recovery and maintenance day. It is important not to go too fast during this type of workout as well. It is NOT the time to accumulate lactic acid in the muscles.

  1. Interval Workouts

The purpose of an interval training session is to stress your aerobic system. That means you are working hard, but not running all out. For those who train based on heart rate, I recommend going at 95 to 98 percent of your max heart rate.

For those who do not train with a monitor, I recommend you pay close attention to how you feel. Again, 95 to 98 percent of effort should be exerted, not 100 percent effort.

Since these running bouts are faster than tempo-running bouts, the recovery will be longer. Generally, it is most effective to work at a 1:2 or 1:3 work-to-rest ratio. (If you run for 1 minute you get 2 to 3 minutes of recovery.)

  1. Repetition workouts

The most important benefit to performing repetition workouts is the focus on running mechanics. These tend to be fun for a lot of runners because they are short and fast.

During a repetition-training session you should be thinking about your form and technique with each repeat. Paces for speed work at this time should be faster than your anticipated race pace.

Because we want each repetition run with ideal running mechanics we stress full recovery between bouts. That means you do not run the next repetition until you can do so in the allotted time for that repetition with proper form.

If you cannot hit your goal pace or run smoothly you should discontinue the “speed” work and begin your cool down.


As a side note, I want to stress the importance of recovery or easy days
of running. There are physiological benefits, as well as mental benefits, to recovery days. On these days your cells improve their ability to spare glycogen stores and rely on fat as a fuel source.

A rest day will also make your tempo, interval and repetition workouts higher quality days than they would be if you were to run hard every day.

If you truly want to run faster, I recommend you implement these types of training sessions into your weekly routine. Along with improved race day times, speed work will increase fitness, build strength, improve running mechanics and recruit fast twitch muscle fibers.

The combination of these benefits makes the sport of running more enjoyable and allows each of us to individually improve and reach those goals we have.

Let us know if we can help you with your running training. Our number is 801-314-2296 and our email address is: You can also find more information on our training services on the TOSH website at:


About the writer:

Rebecca Winn is a graduate of Weber State University, where she earned her degree in human performance management, with an emphasis in fitness and nutrition and a minor in health promotion. While at Weber State she participated on the cross country and track teams earning All-Conference, All-Region, and All-American honors. Rebecca has received additional professional certifications through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and has a deep passion to help others reach their health, fitness and performance goals.


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