How Do I Begin Speed Training?

How Do I Begin Speed Training?

When I began running, I certainly had no idea what “speed training” meant. I certainly didn’t plan on doing it, whatever it was. I thought you just ran as fast as you could run and called it a day (hmmm maybe this is why I got hurt so many times…?).

When I became an RRCA certified running coach and gained more experience as a runner, I learned a lot more about how runners can safely decrease their pace. It takes time and persistence, but eventually, running speed intervals, incorporating strides, and doing some key speed drills will help you get faster.

Still, there’s much to be learned. A lot of new runners — especially ones who assign themselves the title of “back of the pack” — may wonder where to begin. Good news — coach is in to help you out!

First, let’s talk about interval training. Intervals are best completed on a track, but a flat stretch of pavement as well as a treadmill (no incline) will also work. Typically, intervals include a warm up anywhere from 1 mile to 3k at your easy pace. After that, you’ll complete each interval followed by a brief cool down period. Once your sets of intervals + cool down are complete, you’ll run a cool down mile at or a bit slower than your easy run pace (walking is also acceptable).

The head-scratcher is trying to figure out what those interval paces look like. Not all intervals are created equal — you will run a different pace for a 200m interval vs. and 800m interval. For context: 200m is half of one full lap around a track; 800m is half of a mile. And, yes…not all intervals fit all distances. It depends on what you are training for. If you’re trying to increase speed in the 5k distance, 800s won’t hurt, but you’re better off running 200s. If you’re trying to increase speed in the marathon distance, don’t bother with 200s and stick to 800s.

So, the paces — what should they be? It’s all very individual. If you have results from a recent race or time trial, you’re easily on your way to figuring it out using the VDOT calculator. If you don’t have any data to work with, running a mile at a comfortable pace (conversational, HR below 150) is a good place to start. You can then plug your mile time into the VDOT calculator as your easy run pace and go from there.

If this seems a little too data-driven and intense, you can always incorporate the almighty fartlek (Swedish for “speed play”) into your training. These are intervals but with less restriction. An example of my favorite fartlek drill is putting on my favorite songs, running the verses at my conversational pace, and running the chorus at my desired race pace.


Aside from intervals and fartlek drills, strides also place a role in becoming faster. Strides are 10-30 second intervals, usually performed at the end of your easy runs, and should be done at about 85% effort (FYI – these are not the same as sprints). As a distance runner, your main focus is to build aerobic endurance (so, easy running). Performing strides helps your body know how to fire on race day. Performing 3-5 minutes of strides with some light recovery in between each one is typical.


Finally, there are ways to increase your speed by doing some well-known drills:

  • High knees: hopping a long lifting your knee pretty darn high with each step — pretend your a solider!
  • Hill repeats: Running up and down hills not only prepare you for a race with a lot of elevation change, but it helps you build strength in your legs and learn how to manage said elevation changes in races.
  • Strength training: Body weight exercises and lifting weights (fully body) will help you build endurance.
  • Cross training: Low impact workouts that mimic running (let me say it again for the people in back: the exercises must mimic running; yoga is not cross training for runners) will help you work your muscles without putting 80x your body weight into the ground with every step. A personal favorite of mine is the arc trainer because not only does it mimic running, but you can adjust how high the steps go, therefore performing high knees AND cross training at the same time.


All the above will help you begin decreasing your pace. Keep in mind that how often and how long you perform one or all of these activities is individual and depends on you, your abilities, and what you are training for. If you’d like individualized assistance, I am taking up to 5 athletes on to train for spring races and meet their goals. If you’re ready to get started, send me a message here!

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