Speed Work in Running:

8 Reasons your Running Slow

Speed workouts are a staple in many training plans – and for a good reason. 

Whether you are training for a fast 5K or want to complete a marathon, speed work is essential for becoming a faster and stronger runner. 

Let’s delve into the benefits of speedwork for runners and how to do speedwork.

Speed work

What exactly does the term mean? Although some coaches and runners use it to describe a run done at a faster than an easy pace, speed work refers to a type of running workout in which you are running for certain intervals near, at, or even faster than your VO2 max pace. 

Your VO2 max is a measure of how much oxygen your body can use; most runners will hit their VO2 max pace around their 5K to 3K (2-mile) pace, although you do get benefits doing it slightly slower.

The benefits of speed work for runners

Both science and practice support the clear benefits of speedwork for runners. 

A study in Physiological Reports trained male and female runners to complete ten sessions of speed training over six weeks. 

By the end, their average 10K time improved by 3.2% – which would equate to a 50-minute 10K runner bringing their time down to 48:25.

How exactly do speed intervals make you faster? 

Let’s look at the physiology behind it first. During speed workouts, you maximally activate your slow-twitch muscles and intermediate muscle fibres, which increases your aerobic capacity.

Speed workouts also increase your production of myoglobin, which is a protein found in your muscles. 

Myoglobin transports oxygen to the mitochondria in your muscles, which in turn produce ATP to give your muscles energy.

 So, as you increase your myoglobin, you improve your body’s ability to quickly transport oxygen to the muscles for energy, making you able to run faster. 

Speed work is uniquely beneficial in this aspect, as research indicates that high-intensity running is the best way to develop myoglobin.

While you may not significantly increase your VO2 max (genetics can limit it), you will see clear benefits of speedwork. 

Your body will become more efficient at recruiting your fast-twitch muscles. 

Your running economy will improve so that you expend less energy and can run faster at the same effort level, whether you are running a 5K or 50K.

Finally, there is the skill aspect. If you want to run faster, you have to practice running faster. 

Speed workouts train you how to output more effort, maintain a higher cadence, and mentally cope with some physical discomfort while running. 

If you practice this skill once or twice per week consistently, you won’t just become faster -you will run faster with less effort.

Myths about speed workouts

Myth #1: You need to be fast to do speed work.

There is no pace requirement for doing a speed workout. Every runner can benefit from speed work.  

Once you have been running for a few months, you are ready to introduce it to your training. Even if running faster is not one of your goals, speed work should still be a part of a well-rounded training program.

Your paces for speed workouts are relative to your current fitness. Your body knows effort—and does not care what someone else is running.

Myth #2: You must do speed work on a track.

When runners think of how to do speedwork, many think of the track. 

The track can be a great place to do speed work: the distances are measured, you don’t have to stop for traffic, and the surface is smooth and flat. 

However, it is not the only option: you can do speedwork on the roads, treadmills, or even trails.

Doing your speed work on the roads or a smooth trail offers numerous benefits. The varying terrain mimics what you will encounter on race day, especially if you are prepping for a trail race or hilly road race. 

Your body will learn to adapt to running fast over changing terrain, rather than the controlled surface of the track. 

Some runners experience IT band issues from running circles around the track, so speed work on the roads may also decrease your risk of injury.

Myth #3: Speed workouts should be exhausting to be effective. 

Many runners treat intervals like mini-races – but that can actually hinder the effectiveness of your speed workout. 

Faster workouts are not better workouts; going too hard on every speed workout impairs your body’s ability to recover. 

The biggest benefits of speedwork for running come when you pace yourself appropriately. 

When you are doing a speed workout, you want to aim for an effort of 8-9 out of 10. You should feel as if you could keep going for a bit more in each rep – and finish the workout feeling as if you could complete one to two more reps.

If you are straining so much that your form falls apart, you could increase your risk of injury. 

If you do ever notice that your form is becoming sloppy or that you are putting in every last ounce of effort, it is time to stop the workout. 10 x 400m fast with good form is more effective than 12 x 400m of struggling.

8 Reasons Why You’re Running Slow

 

  • You do all your training runs at the same pace.

Never forget the 80/20 principle, you should do 80% of your training at a low intensity and 20% or less at a high intensity. 

The smaller the gap between your easy run intensity and your hard run intensity the more likely you are to plateau. 

 

  • You run your easy runs too fast or too hard.

The reason why we suggest running your easy runs EASY is that by running too hard your eccentric loading on your muscles is causing a lot of damage. 

That damage takes a lot longer to recover, which means you would need to extend your recovery time which will affect the quality of your running session the next day. 

By running nice and easy you will still be giving your body the same physiological benefits but ensuring you recover quicker for the next run.

Pro Tip: Slowing your easy runs down improves aerobic capacity.

An improved aerobic capacity means that you will be able to recover faster, and it improves your running economy by allowing you to metabolize fuel better.

 

  • Your training is inconsistent.

This is normally regarded as the most important aspect of your training. This is because if you don’t have a consistent training plan then your training will fall apart. 

Lack of consistency impacts improvements over time. 

A great way to think of consistency is as if it were a financial investment.

The small little bits over time lead to big amounts and that’s the same thing as fitness. 

you should aim to stick to your training plan as well as possible. 

Remember that rest is considered a session.

 

  • How much you are training. 

The more frequently you run, the better your aerobic base becomes. The better your aerobic base, the more your running pace increases. 

There is a fine line between training enough and training too much. 

 

  • You’re training too much. 

A lot of people fall into the trap of doing too much volume. What will happen is that you’ll find yourself feeling tired ALL the time. 

This is something we should get away from.

We do not improve fitness in every training session. During recovery is where adaptation occurs. 

The only training session you’ll get the most benefit from is the one you recover properly from. 

 

  • Your nutrition intake is all wrong.

It’s crucial to understand that if you don’t put enough fuel into your body or if you’re putting the wrong fuel into your body then you will compromise your recovery and the amount of energy that is available for you to do the training that you want to do. 

You need to eat enough good quality food (fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins) and they need to be eaten at the correct TIME for exercise. 

  • You don’t have the physical strength to sustain running. 

Strength training is absolutely vital.

When you are doing any exercise, running in particular, you are recruiting muscle fibres that need to contract. If you can’t do that enough, then you won’t get any faster. 

It has been proven that strength training can improve your running performance by up to 5%. 

If strength training is what you’re after, grab a free-running strength plan here.

 

  • You aren’t getting enough good quality sleep.

You need to prioritize getting as much sleep as you can, as consistently as possible. 

Life is chaotic and busy. We get that. 

Avoid inconsistency by getting one night of 8 hours of sleep a week; the rest is all over the place. 

For the rest of the week, you should try to get 30-60 min per night more than you normally do and try to get as much as possible as consistently as possible. 

A good night’s sleep will help build and repair muscles, balance your hormones and improve your overall athletic performance. 

4 Steps To Running Faster 

1. Recovery

Most people think you only get the benefits of what you’re doing while doing the exercise.  This is false.

You don’t get fitter and faster while you are running, it all happens during the time that you recover. 

It’s not about doing more all the time, it’s all about how you recover.

By neglecting your recovery time, you will arrive at your next run feeling tired, not fresh, and have a higher chance of getting injured. 

How do you know if you’ve recovered enough?

We like to use 3 simple processes:

  • Ask yourself if you’re feeling stiff or if you’re feeling pain anywhere?

Muscle soreness is an indication that you haven’t recovered properly.

  • Take your resting heart rate every morning after you have emptied your bladder.

That number should stay consistent over time. When it starts to go up then you are not recovered properly.

  • Modern wearables.

With modern wearables now, you can use something very useful called heart rate variability. 

If you are tracking your heart rate variability, particularly while sleeping, over time that allows you to compare if you are recovering well

2. Pacing

Why is it important to run our training at the correct pace?

To improve endurance we need to run in the correct “zone”. This refers to the intensity we run at. That’s where the body becomes more efficient. 

This range is very wide though. You can run on the faster end of the range = with lots more eccentric stress and load on the body or you can run on the slower end = with much less stress on the body. 

Training at the correct pace is so important because when we are running in the correct zone, that essentially is when we are getting all the physiological adaptations that we need. 

3. Strength Training

You may be sick of hearing this from us but this is going to change your running.

Strength training helps keep you injury-free.

As we discussed earlier, running is a compounding sport, it places that eccentric strain on your muscles.

Strength training helps build the structures around the joints and helps make the joints stronger, allowing your body to sustain the load from running so much better. 

Strength training has massive effects on your running performance.

You will improve your running performance by not even running at all.

Strength training doesn’t yield instant improvements, in fact, in the short term, it makes you a little sore and takes you right out of your comfort zone.  – This is why so few people do strength training. 

When we say strength training, we mean resistance training – pushing your body against any form of resistance.

Any form of resistance training could be bodyweight, weight training, or even resistance bands. 

Ideally, you should be doing resistance training once or twice a week, as this is when you will reap the most benefits in your running. 

4. Consistency

We’re not talking about consistency in the way that you might think.

You will notice if you look back at your running career that every time you have had a successful race it has come off the back of your most consistent training block. 

The consistency we are talking about comes from doing the right stuff day after day, week after week, and month after month. 

To achieve this type of consistency, you need to get the first 3 steps correct. 

This will allow you to achieve successful training block after successful training block to build on your past successes and improve for the future.

 

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