From the May 2012 issue of Runner’s World
How to pick up the pace after building your base
By Philip Latter
After logging base kilometres, you’re ready to challenge your energy systems with quicker workouts. No races on your calendar? Doesn’t matter – speedwork’s benefits go way beyond a starting line. “Speedwork helps you run faster, increases your lean body mass, increases joint mobility, and boosts your number of burned kilojoules,” says Nicole Hunt, a coach at speedendurance.net. Use this quick speedwork primer to get inspired – and on track.
To run faster, you have to spend time running fast. “You have to apply the rule of specificity,” says Jonathan Dugas, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and blogger for sportsscientists.com. Running short efforts at paces equal to or faster than your goal race pace teaches your body to more efficiently recruit muscles and use lactate as fuel. With time, you’ll be able to run faster for longer periods while maintaining the same perceived effort.
But it isn’t just racers who reap rewards. Recreational runners – especially those going for fitness or weight-loss – can also benefit from running fast. Running burns 50 per cent more kilojoules per kilometre than walking, according to a 2004 Syracuse University study. Increase the intensity and you burn even more, says Dugas. When you double your pace, you double the amount of kilojoules burned per minute. Plus, speedwork ramps up your metabolism long after exercise – researchers at Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory found that participants who cycled vigorously for 45 minutes boosted their metabolism for up to 14 hours, torching 37 per cent more kilojoules in that time period above what they typically burn at rest. “If you’re consistently exercising like that,” says Dugas, “it adds up.”
When to Crank
If you’ve been running at least three times a week for two months, you’re ready for speedwork, says marathon runner and coach Jenny Spangler. (Beginners and those returning from injury, however, may tack on an additional month.) This “aerobic base building” period is important because running fast places more demands on connective tissue in your body. “Make sure you have a strong musculoskeletal system” before ramping things up, says Hunt. But incorporating some speed during your base time like – six 30-second gradual pick-ups in an easy run – can be useful. “I find this starts getting runners used to running at a slightly faster pace without putting too much strain on the legs,” says Spangler.
Speed workouts for experienced runners should closely simulate the demands of their goal event. For example, to develop the stamina and speed required for 5Ks and 10Ks, you might run workouts that combine race-specific intervals to hone race pace and nearly all-out intervals to practice your finishing kick, says Spangler. Half-marathoners and marathoners might do a six-kilometre run at half-marathon pace followed by six fast 200s “to do some gear shifting,” says Spangler. “If runners solely train at half-marathon effort or slower, they lose some leg speed and start getting lazy with their form.”
For non-racers, some coaches like the idea of shorter workouts performed more often. “You can begin with short efforts just to make the workout go faster, to get a little more variety,” says Hunt. She recommends sessions such as 10 x 30 seconds hard with a two-minute jog recovery or 10 x 60 seconds with the same rest (gently increasing the pace every 15 seconds), as often as every third day. “Because you’re not doing that much, you can do it more frequently,” she says.
Run these sessions (or similar ones) once per week before your race
Beginner: Run 200m hard; walk 200. Repeat 6 times. Walk 400m. Repeat sequence.
Intermediate: 8 x 400 at 5K pace with 200m jog. Run efforts 3 and 6 faster.
1 x 800 at 5K pace; 400m jog
2 x 400 at sub-5K pace; 200m jog
4 x 200 at 1K pace; 200m jog
2 x 400 at sub-5K pace; 200m jog
Beginner: Run 800m moderately hard; jog 200. Repeat twice. Walk 400. Repeat sequence.
Intermediate: 4 x 800 at your 5K pace with a 400m jog.
Advanced: 3 x 1600 at 5K pace with a 400m jog.
Beginner: 3 x 1600 at 5K pace with a 400m jog.
Intermediate: 20-minute tempo. Jog 5 minutes. Run 5 x 100m at 10K pace with 200 jog.
Advanced:3 x 3 kilometres at 10K pace with a 400m jog.
Beginner: 4 to 5 x 1K at half-marathon pace with a 60- to 90-second jog between each.
Intermediate: 10-kilometre tempo. Jog 6 minutes. Run 6 x 400 at sub-5K pace with a 400m jog.
Advanced: 2 x 6 kilometres at half-marathon pace. Jog 5 minutes, then run 6 x 200 at 1K pace with a 200m jog.
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