Move running

Building speed as a runner

By Fiona Bugler • 8th June 2020

Started running in Lockdown and found you’ve got the running bug? Now’s the time to add in some speed to help make you a fitter, faster runner.

Running takes us out of our comfort zone. As a beginner, it feels uncomfortable, unfamiliar and five minutes is a chore. But over time the mind switches off and the body adapts and 30 minute to hour runs become the norm.

But don’t settle into plodding, to really improve, you need to get uncomfortable again, and the key ingredients are speed — and planning.

Whatever level of runner you are, it’s important to periodise your training. An elite athlete’s training will be planned into cycles with blocks of time emphasising a particular running goal, for example, marathon runners will build an aerobic base for around six to 12 weeks, then add speed work into their training as the race gets closer.

When you introduce speed training will depend on your goals, but as a rough guide, aim to do it consistently for six to eight weeks before a race. And don’t do more than two speed sessions a week. Ease yourself into the sessions — build up slowly.

So, how do you do it?

Look online or in a running book and you’ll find lots of ideas. Based on a 400m track, sessions typically will read something like this: 6 x 800m [5k] (90’) which means 6 x 800m or half-mile reps at 5k pace with 90 seconds recovery. If you don’t know your 5k pace, don’t have a sat nav device or track — it can all seem too technical. But it doesn’t have to be complicated.

The simplest method is to employ speed play or ‘Fartlek’ training. Running fast between lamp-posts or trees, or running for 30 second to one-minute bursts is a great way to start, try 10 reps, with an equal amount of recovery.

If you’re short on time and want to incorporate some resistance work into your weekly schedule, try a circuit run mixed with intervals. For example, do some exercises, press-ups, tri dips, step-ups, squats, and lunges in between two-minute loops of a park. This is a great session to do with a socially-distanced friend.

Hill sessions are often slotted into a club’s weekly speed sessions, and are a great way to boost strength, power, and improve stride length and frequency — all of which will help you run faster. Again, keep it simple, find a hill and run up and down it for six to 10 reps (building up over the weeks).

Tempo or threshold running is also important, and most running schedules will include the three key ingredients, a tempo run, a long run, and a speed or interval session. A tempo run is where you run the middle bit harder, comfortably hard, on a scale of one to 10, aim to run at around seven out of 10. To start you might only manage 10 minutes, but aim to build up to at least 20, with a five to 10-minute warm-up and cool down either side.

Building ‘stamina’

Stamina is the ability to keep at it, and it needs to be built before you can really benefit from speed work. It’s like the foundation of a house — you need to be fit enough to cope with ‘quality’ sessions

  • Plan to run ‘easy’ / conversational pace for at least six weeks. This means at below 65 per cent of max heart rate.
  • Run to time, not mileage, and build up by around 10% a week, with an ease back week every fourth week.
  • Run off-road to build strength.
  • Now’s the time to work on core strength and to build strength with heavier weights, fewer reps — and plyometric work (ie strides, sprinter’s drills, etc). Focus on endurance resistance work when you’re running emphasises speed.

It hurts… should I stop?

It’s normal to experience sore calves, hamstrings, glutes, etc. You can expect delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) for at least 48 hours when you up the intensity in any form of exercise.

If something still hurts after three days and there’s no trend for recovery, it’s time to think about resting or visiting a physio.

It’s usually in the first 50m when the runner lengthens the stride that muscle tears can occur, a common injury related to running faster than usual. When we run faster there is less control by the nervous system on muscle function, it needs to adapt to different speeds — so you must pace yourself and allow time to recover.

Fiona Bugler

This article was written by our team of in-house writers. We're always interested to hear from wellbeing professionals and business leaders. If you'd like to write for the zone, follow this link.

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