Speedwork for Beginners

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Adding speedwork to your training routine can be challenging, but totally worthwhile and rewarding. Speedwork will not only make you faster and more fit, it can help improve your confidence, burn more calories, improve your range of motion, and help you run longer and harder.

If you're brand-new to speed training, first check out these 8 rules of speed training before you get started. Then, try adding some of these introductory workouts to your regimen.

And don't forget to always begin with 5-10 minutes of easy running or some warm-up exercises before picking up the pace.

Beginner Speed Workouts

1. Fartleks:  Fartlek drills are informal speed workouts that are a great way for beginner runners to get introduced to speed work.  To do a simple beginner level fartlek workout, add some quick bursts of speed to one of your shorter runs.

To increase your speed, start pumping your arms higher (swinging them back and forth at the shoulder, not the elbow). Your breathing shouldn't be totally out of control, but don't be afraid if it gets heavier. Run briskly like this for a short period of time, such as 20 seconds, or to a nearby landmark, such as a stop sign. Then slow to recovery pace. Once you're fully recovered and your breathing has returned to normal, return to running at your comfortable pace, and repeat the same pattern of fast segment, short recovery, comfortable pace until you've completed four to six fast segments.

Each fast interval can be as little as 10 seconds to as much as two minutes. As your fitness improves, you can increase the interval time/distance.

2. Strides:  Strides are short, fast interval runs between 50 and 200 meters. They should be run at a "comfortable sprint" pace, which means that you're basically running as fast as you can without losing your proper running form.

When running strides, you should focus on turning over your legs quickly, relaxing your shoulders, and maintaining good posture. Recover in between each interval and make sure you're not out of breath when you start your next interval.

Beginners can start with a low number of reps for a short distance, such as 4 x 50m. If that goes well, you can add more reps for a longer distance next time. You can aim to do a session of strides at least once a week, preferably after an easy or medium intensity run. For example, you might want to run 8 x 100m following a 30-minute easy run. 

3. Downhill pick-ups: When you're doing a longer run, take advantage of gravity and allow it to power you down hills. Just try to glide down the hill at an intensity of about 80 percent. Because it's a downhill, you should be able to pick up the pace without expending too much extra energy. Just be careful that you're using good downhill running form and not overstriding. Your feet should still be landing beneath your hips.

4. Short tempo run: Tempo runs are an excellent way for runners to work on building speed. They are runs that are done at a steady effort level, usually just a little slower than your 10K race pace. To get started with tempo runs, start your run with 10 minutes of easy running to warm up, then continue with 15 minutes of running at about 10 seconds slower than your 10K pace. 

If you're not sure what your 10K pace is or you can't track your pace, run at a pace that feels "comfortably hard." You can also use your breathing as your guide. For easy-paced runs, most runners take three foot strikes while breathing in and two footstrikes while breathing out. For tempo runs, you should be at two foot strikes while breathing in and one foot strike while breathing out. If you're breathing faster than that, your pace is too fast. As you become more fit, you can increase the length of your tempo run. Make sure you end it with a 5-10 minute cooldown.

Start With One Session a Week

When you're first getting started, don't get too enthusiastic and do two sessions of speedwork a week. A little speed training goes a long way -- even just adding one session of speedwork can make a big difference in your running. Once you improve your fitness and confidence, you can add another session. Just make sure that you're not doing speedwork or another hard workout (such as a long run) two days in a row. Your body needs time to rest and recover.

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