Why every runner needs speed training

A man in a sprinting formation

Eluid Kipchoge. Everyone know who that man is, especially after his feats of 2019. 1:59:40 for a marathon is without a doubt one of the greatest accomplishments of an athlete, and how do you think he did this? If you ask most people, they would simply say that he has superior endurance over any other athlete, and they’d be right. However, if you want to run a 4:34mile (2:50km), 26.2 times in a row, you need some speed in your legs.

Most people only know Kipchoge as a marathon runner, however he started off on the track as most professional athletes tend to do. In 2004 Eluid ran a 3:50mile, which is nothing but world class. How did he manage to develop such speed, which ultimately lead to him being able to run a sub-2hour marathon 15 years later? You guessed it, Kipchoge uses frequent speed sessions in a training block, as well as the big mileage. Even in his run up to Vienna, you could find Eluid doing 400m and 200m repeats on his local dirt track, all in order to make 4:34miles feel as comfortable as possible.

What is speed training?

Many athletes, and coaches, would happily give you their definitions of speed training, and you’d be surprised at how that definition varies from person to person. In short, speed training is a workout specifically designed in order to increase your maximum base speed (e.g. how fast you can run a 100m). This can be anything from sprint repetitions to weight training in the gym designed to develop your explosiveness as a runner.

A few examples of speed sessions are:

5x80m sprints off a slow 200m jog recovery (Mo Farah added this onto the end of big sessions in his run up to the 2012 Olympics)

6x100m progressively faster, focusing on running form, with 3 minutes light jog in-between

8x30second hill sprints, off 2 minutes walk recover (hill sprinting teaches you correct running form with a higher knee lift and forefoot strike)


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Why does sprint training help long distance runners?

There are many reasons for why training to develop your speed specifically is so beneficial for every runner, even those targeting the longer distances.

First off, lets say that you are trying to run a sub-3 hour marathon. In order to do this comfortably, you need to be averaging 6:50/mile for the entire distance. According to VDOT analysis, if you can run 6:50/mile for a marathon, then you should also be able to run a 5:30 mile whilst running flat out, and visa versa. This is because if you can run a 5:30 mile flat out, then running a 6:50 mile will feel remarkably comfortable in comparison. How do you decrease your mile time in order to make a steady pace feel more comfortable and sustainable? Speed training!

Another reason speed training is beneficial for everyone is that it helps improve your overall running economy. Picture what you look like when you’re sprinting: head up, knees coming up high, arms pumping and striking the ground with the balls of your feet. Do this enough and this starts to feel very natural, and you start to translate that form into slower paced running.

This running form is far more economical than what most runners exhibit, which makes running at higher speeds more efficient and more comfortable, even over the marathon distance. Sprint training also helps you develop muscle, which can have great affects on your weight whilst running.

How to add speed training to your weekly schedule

For middle distance runners (800m-5000m), full training sessions targeting your speed are more beneficial (e.g. 10x200m off 3 minutes rest), however for those runners targeting longer distances and more miles, you can incorporate speed training in many different ways.

For example, let’s say that you’re training for a half marathon, and you have to do a 5mile run at tempo pace that day. One popular way to add some speed development into this workout is simply add on some strides or hill sprints after a brief recovery, making sure you add enough rest between each sprinting effort. Other examples of adding speed into your existing schedule are:

A 10mile run, followed by 6x100m sprints off 2 minutes walk recovery

A 5x1000m track session, followed by putting on your spikes and completing 4x80m sprints off a long recovery

An 8mile run, split into a 4mile easy run, followed by 10x30second hill sprints, followed by another 4mile easy run

As you can see, it is actually quite simple to add speed training to your training schedule. Give it a go, start developing your speed and reap the vast benefits, becoming a better runner tomorrow than you are today!

See another example of an optimised training week here, there are many ways to help boost your overall fitness.


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