Coach Mike Mead

September 2014

Doing the right kind of speed

With summer transforming into fall this month, many long distance runners will be transitioning from base training into speed training. For those training for cross country or a marathon this fall and early winter, doing the proper speed training is essential.

Before we get too far, just a reminder that I have never trained or ran a marathon myself. I have coached athletes who may have run a half or full marathon, but I have never written workouts specifically for distances greater than a 15K. But the following should be helpful for any distance race.

Besides long distance, cross country racing is popular in the high school and college ranks from now until early December. Typical speed or interval sessions range from 400m to maybe three mile-repeats. The longer the racing distance the longer the intervals.

I’ve always trained many of my distance runners, whether they ran cross country or track, beginning with longer interval, or repeats, during the early part of the season and gradually shorten the interval distances and increase the pace as the season progresses. For at least the past 10 years, we have mixed up distances within the workout in trying to simulate racing conditions.

For example, we have run a workout where one begins with a timed mile on the track. After a two-minute rest, one runs for 15 minutes on nearby trails at about 80-percent of goal pace, then after another short rest, another mile on the track trying to hit a faster time than the first attempt.

Classic interval workouts may consist of 12 x 400, 6 x 800, or 3 x mile for those training for a 5K race. But this workout may not be of great benefit for a 10K racer and particularly a marathoner. It is more about strength as the race gets longer, so longer intervals will be more beneficial, but is not the only factor.

A marathoner running a lot 400 repeats is not preparing themselves for the grueling distance. Even mile repeats won’t do a whole lot compared to two-, or three-, or even four-mile repeats for those in marathon training-mode. With the exception of the elite runners, how many average runners do you see in full sprint at the end of a marathon? More like survival shuffle.

You will likely not see workouts like 26 x mile, 13 x 2-miles or 9 x 3-mile repeats in marathon training. Again, it is about strength and building up to a 15- to 20-mile run during training may prove more beneficial than running repeats.

Distance running comes down to the physical and psychological grind those LONG distance events require that the individual must overcome. There are no short-cuts in training for the long distances. One might get away with it training for a 5K, but avoiding the necessary training for a marathon will be unforgiving.

Speed training is more than running repeated distances at a set (goal) pace. Any competitive runner with a few races under their belt knows that the pace changes many times during a competition.

Proper speed training and a properly executed racing plan will prevail, provided the needed base work was done in leading up to the speed period in training. If not, results will be inconsistent and you might just get injured in the process, too.

So, depending on your racing distance, plan for the right speed work to prepare you for the racing ahead. Good luck!