Why & When to Speed Train
Last month I wrote about speed training and stated that 400-meter repeats were one of my favorite workouts. However, if you are new to running, or a runner who never has done speed training, you might be asking “When should I do speed training,” or “Do I need it?”
First, speed training is for runners who aspire to compete and have set goals to run a certain time for a certain distance. If you do not care to be “fast” and prefer to run for fitness, then perhaps you do not need to speed train. However, consider the benefits from speed training besides “getting faster.”
Many runners may not realize that speed training helps develop them in other ways. Those needing to improve their running mechanics will benefit from speed training. Those who “jog” may not be running as efficiently as they would if they are regularly running for speed. If you are jogging, or running slow, you carry your arms a particular way with conservative movement. When you are running fast or sprinting, you are carrying your arms much differently. Your arms are moving more powerfully and provide you with balance and coordination.
The same goes with your knee lift and foot strike. If you are jogging, the knees will not be very high and the foot strike may be more of a rolling action from heel-to-toe. In speed mode, the knees will be higher and your foot strike should be around mid-sole or the ball of the foot. In addition, the foot will have less (or quicker) contact with the ground, and your stride length will be longer than in jogging mode.
There is also a difference in one’s body position when running slow and running fast. The faster you run your body should be more erect with a slight forward lean.
Another way speed will develop a runner is in the capacity to take in oxygen. If you have ever sprinted all-out before, one will get out of breath quickly! Routine sessions of speed training will strengthen your lung capacity and delay fatigue.
So, back to the question, “When should I speed train?” Those new to running and planning his or her first competitive race should do speed training 8-12 weeks out before their scheduled event. If you have just taken up running last month and plan to race next month, you are not giving yourself enough time to have a positive experience.
To be successful at running, you must understand training cycles, develop a training plan, and then stick with it. For example, those planning to run in the July Fourth Peachtree Road Race should spend 8-12 weeks of base training. That is getting out just about every day each week and put in the mileage of slow to steady running. Then about mid-April, begin to incorporate speed training with one session the first two weeks and increase to two weekly speed sessions. The week before the PRR, cut back to one speed workout that is short and fast.
The key to successful speed training is having a schedule or plan. At the college and high school levels, runners have two or three distinct seasons cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter, and outdoor track in the spring. If you are beyond your high school or college years, I recommend creating your own comparative season of competition so that you can properly speed train and enjoy your running to the max.
It is all about preparation and speed training takes time (and patience) if you plan to be successful. Good luck!