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Getting Faster: Understanding the puzzle of speed work

Running miles over and over gets you better at what?  The answer: it gets you better at running miles over and over.

And so it goes that running faster gets you better at, you guessed it, running faster.

Puzzle pieces But what is speed work?  What are repeats?  Aren’t they the same as intervals? And how are they different than tempo runs.  And where do Fartlek and hill training fit in?  Finally, when do we run different types of speed work in our training schedule?  Why? And how do we do speed work right?

This week at Runners’ Lounge we’re focusing on getting faster, which happens less as a result of running our friends’ workouts or old high school coach’s workouts.  Instead, getting faster happens by understanding and applying the right types of training.

For years I confused and threw around common terms of speed work interchangeably.  It wasn’t until I read Jack Daniel’s Running Formula that I more fully understood the different types of training and how to put them together in my own training plan.  So this is the first in a series of posts about how the whole puzzle of speed work comes together.

Part I: Repeats

Repeats are not intervals.  When we do intervals, the term ‘interval” actually refers to the time spent recovering.  More on intervals later.

Repeats are generally shorter distances, e.g., 200s, 400s, 600s that we run at faster speeds that we can repeat several times in a workout.  Repeats improve the speed, efficiency and fluidness of our leg turnover.  Repeats don’t improve our ability to run sustained speed; those improvements come with interval and threshold training. We run repeats to become familiar and comfortable with a higher intensity of running. 

The key to repeats is being able to “repeat” the distance with the same quality at the end as at the beginning of the workout.  For example, if you’re running repeat 8 x 400s, the goal should be to hit the same finish time pace for each 400.  However, if you’re trying to run each repeat a little faster each time and get a scorching PR on that last 400 to brag about, then you’re not doing repeats and you’re missing the maximum benefit of the workout.  

To do a repeat workout well means managing the recovery time. Rather than limit your recovery to a specific amount of time for recovery (that’s running intervals), you manage a repeat workout subjectively giving yourself enough recovery to hit your time goal without hitting the fatigue that slows you down. 

A general guideline when running repeats is to take two to four times the duration of your repeat to recover.  Between the first several repeat 400s you might need around three minutes to adequately recover.  But between the last several repeat 400s, you might need closer to four minutes. That’s okay because the goal is to run each 400 at a comparable stress level, not faster.

Simply, we should take enough recovery time to be ready to run each distance with the same quality as the first—so you can repeat the intensity and quality of the running!  We should step up to the line feeling confident we’re able to perform the next run as well as the ones before it.  That’s what makes it a repeat!

The downside to running repeat speed workouts is we can become a little tight and stiff while recovering. Plus the overall time for our running workout takes longer to perform.

The great thing about repeat workouts is you can create lots of different combinations.  I like 200s, 300s and 600s, but I don’t care for 400s—flashbacks of my high school track workouts.  A favorite workout of mine is 3 x 200 + 1 x 300, and do a couple sets of these. You can also do longer repeats such as 800s, 1000s and 1200s, when they fit into the race distance for which you’re training.  

A rule of thumb is to limit repeat training to about 5% of total weekly mileage.  Any more than 5%, plus any other quality speed training, leads to diminishing the quality of running the rest of the week, to overtraining, and to the likeliness of injury.

Daniels Run Formula Repeat training is often included more in training for 5k – 10k races.  In terms of placement in the training program, repeats generally come before interval training in order to help the body adapt to running faster with full recovery before adapting to limited recovery.

For the past few decades I’ve read everything about running I could get my hands on.  Overwhelmingly, some of the best technical information, explained in practical terms, is found in Jack Daniel’s Running Formula.  In the book, he provides a great deal of useful information about all forms of training, including tables and charts of what paces and intensities to run speed workouts, and tips for when to include speed work into your training schedules.  He also provides sample training schedules for popular racing distances for all levels of runners from beginner to elite.

Next in the series: Interval Training

Puzzle on Googe Images by Lydia's Old Disks

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Comments

joanne

Great information. I have been guilty of mixing up repeats and intervals. Whoops! Thanks for clearing it up.

Jess

I mix up repeats and intervals all the time too! Thanks for clearing up the distance!

KelsNotChels

So useful! Thank you for really taking the time to explain this!! I'll catch up some day!

Elisabeth

Thank you so much for this! I know I need to do speed work in order to get better/faster, but I've been really intimidated (and confused) by all of the terms that I come across on running blogs. This definitely helped!

michelle Jacobs

This is great info! I really need to incorporate speed work into my routine. I cannot wait to get faster!!!!

kara

I'm up to 7x800s - following Galloways training for the half. I notice my last couple of intervals are quite a bit faster than my first. Is this normal?

Cyndi

Very helpful info...as a 'new' (8 months) runner, I have been hesitant about adding any real formal speedwork due to all the cautioning I've read about waiting at least a year before doing speedwork, to allow the body to adapt to the stresses of running and avoid injury.

Any thoughts on speed work for a new runner? So far I just insert some faster running when I feel that 'mojo', but I really would like to do something once a week more concrete.

Tina

Thanks for the informative article. Really helpful!

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