Coach Mike Mead

February 2011

Notching up the Speed

Gee, I’m sure glad January is behind us! The cold temperatures, along with the snow and ice sure got old quick. But the final few days of the month sure felt like spring and gets me thinking about racing!

But hold the phone, Skippy! I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but winter isn’t over yet. Hopefully we will not get another stretch of snow and ice that made running outdoors a challenge for four or five days in January.

But when spring does finally arrive, just like the flowers, many of us runners will be springing forth to do some racing. Whether it is on the road, track or trails, if one wants to have some success, now is the time to begin gradually adding a little speed training to the training routine.

During the cold months, many runners go out and put in mileage and that’s about it. On the truly cold days, who wants to be out doing speed training? The attitude is, “Go out, get it done and get back inside to a warm home.”

But at some point if you are planning to set some serious personal-best efforts this year, February is a good time to begin sneaking in a little speed work. I’m not talking intensive stuff. Just a little here and a little there until the weather warms up enough so that no muscles are at risk of being pulled and one can feel good about doing speed training.

Where to begin? The easiest way to begin is finish a run with four to six sprints of about 100m in length on an even grass surface like a football field or soccer field. I say sprints, rather than strides, to emphasize speed. You want to run significantly faster than the pace you were carrying in your jaunt. It may have been several weeks or maybe a few months since you attempted any speed.

The idea is to begin working on turnover speed. Starting with four, 100m sprints and working up to 8-10 over the course of four or five weeks will help you in getting faster without killing yourself. You will want to work this routine in about two or three runs per week for about three weeks.

Remember -- be sure to really focus on your running form and mechanics. Pretend you are a sprinter running the 100m dash. Pump your arms and get those knees up. Minimize heel contact with the ground.

Another workout to incorporate in your comeback approach to speed training is running hill repeats. Unless you live on the beach, most runners can find a hill worthy of doing a few repetitions on. Many runners avoid doing hill training, but doing so helps you with your form and increases your speed without beating up your body. Running uphill is a great equalizer. The trick is being careful when running downhill. If you are not careful, you might hurt yourself.

If you are apprehensive, start out running a few times on a hilly course and run the up-hills strong, but take the down-hills easy. Heck, walk down them if it helps! Just like the 100m sprints, be sure you are focused on running form – arms pumping and knees lifting.

When you are finally ready to run hill repeats, find a hill – preferably on grass or dirt – that is at least 100m long, but no longer than 300m. Start out running four times up and walking back down as recovery. As soon as you get to your starting point, repeat.

I recommend doing hill repeats every 7-10 days for four to six weeks. After week two, add one hill repeat until you can do eight. If it becomes too easy, work up running 10-12 per session. Just like the 100m sprints, be sure your effort is considerable more than your steady-state running. You do not have to go as hard on the hill as you might on the flat grass doing the repeat sprints.

Ideally, mix the two workouts. Do the hill repeat session and two – say 8 x 100m sprints on grass – each week and over the course of six weeks you should be ready to run more traditional repeat or interval speed sessions.

Hopefully in six weeks, spring will have arrived and you’ll be ready for that first race of the season. Good luck!