Plus, why picking up the pace is so important to improving your performance.
Here’s the thing about running: if you don’t ever run fast, you’re never going to get faster. So if you’re trying to improve your running performance – even if it’s just to get those KMs over with more quickly – then you need to incorporate sprint workouts into your routine.
“Any running that’s faster than your current easy or conversational pace can be classified as speedwork,” says John Honerkamp, running coach and former head coach at New York Road Runners. “Running at goal race pace, track repeats, tempo runs, striders, fartleks – they all fit into the ‘speed’ category of training,” says running coach Elizabeth Corkum.
However you do it, sprint workouts are important because they help improve your form and efficiency at all paces. “They help recruit and develop fast-twitch muscle fibre, builds muscle, elevates heart rate, and increases calorie burn,” Corkum says. And those sprint workouts hold the ticket to getting more fit if you hit a plateau. “Flirting with faster paces during interval training and other speed workouts will get you to faster results over time and help you break through,” Honerkamp says.
Speedwork also works because it makes you uncomfortable, forcing you to change your breath, stride, and effort. “Steady-state runs help more with aerobic strength, whereas speedwork is more anaerobic,” Honerkamp says. “Speed training helps your body get better at supplying oxygen to your muscles in a more efficient way,” which will make a runner improve at any distance.
Adding in just one to two days a week of speed can yield huge benefits – especially if you’re new to speedwork. (Just give your body enough time to recover before your next high-stress workout.) Try one of these four sprint workouts – two for beginner and two for advanced runners – and watch how quickly you pick up the pace.
BEGINNER SPRINT WORKOUTS
Workout 1: “I usually start runners new to speedwork with striders,” or short bursts of speed, Corkum says. “Speedwork is high stress, and so striders are a short taste of that stress. Like anything new to the body, diving into the deep end increases injury risk.”
- Run 45 minutes at an easy pace that feels like a 4 or 5 out of 10 on your personal scale of perceived exertion.
- Finish with 4-6 x 20-second striders on a track or flat road or field at max effort, with 30-45-second recovery jogs
Workout 2: “I use 400 repeats to ease a runner into intervals,” Honerkamp says. If you don’t know your 5K or 10K paces, go off effort and build up once you become comfortable.
- Start with an easy 2-3km warmup
- Do 5-10 minutes of dynamic drills
- Run 8 x 400 metres with 2 minutes rest in between each interval
- Finish with a 1-2 mile cooldown
ADVANCED SPRINT WORKOUTS
Workout 1: “This workout is pretty intense, and those short recoveries should not be underestimated,” Corkum says. “The workout ends with quick and faster paces than the bulk of the workout, teaching the runner to find that next gear while tired.”
- Start with a 1600m warmup
- Run 8 x 600 metres (1.5 laps of a track) at 5K goal pace, with 200 metre recovery jogs between each interval
- Run 4 x 200 metres at mile [1600m] pace (or slightly faster than 5K pace), with 200 metre recovery jogs between each interval
- Finish with a 1600m cooldown
Workout 2: “Use the first one to two intervals as part of your warmup,” says Honerkamp. “And pretend your have two more intervals on the last one. You don’t need to go out too fast or all out at the end. Stay relaxed.”
- Start with a 2-3km warmup
- Do 5-10 minutes of dynamic drills
- Run 5 x 1000 metres (2.5 laps of a track) at 5K pace, with 2:30 rest between each interval
- Finish with a 2-3km cooldown