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Frequently Asked Questions:
Speedwork - Risks and Benefits

There is no mention of speedwork (speed training) included as part of your overall marathon training program. What are the benefits and risks of adding faster paced runs to my marathon training? Describe some of the different types of speed workouts.

Numerous books have been written on the subject of improving one's speed. It is beyond the scope of this web site to provide a comprehensive discussion of the many types of speed workouts from which to choose/implement within your training. In short, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to speedwork. Rather, it must be designed to meet the individual runner's present ability level, goals, and needs. Implementing a speedwork program into your routine without the guidance of an experienced coach oftentimes can lead to injury. See Personal Training for more information about the individualized coaching services we offer here at State of the Art Marathon Training.

The Risks

Despite the benefits highlighted in the next paragraph, it is important to note that faster paced training runs exponentially increase your risk of injury. You really need to think about whether you are willing (after weeks and/or months of training) to risk injury that may prevent you from completing those all-important long runs (the cornerstone of marathon training). Incurring injury in the weeks prior to the big event also puts in jeopardy your chances of participating in the marathon for which you are training. Keeping this in mind, I recommend that the first-time marathoner complete at an easy, aerobic pace the mileage indicated on the training schedules contained within this site. On the other hand, if you're an experienced runner who has completed one or more marathons and wish to include some faster-paced workouts in your training, read on!

The Benefits

Your arm drive, stride, speed, and stamina will all improve as a result of infusing carefully designed speed workouts into your training. Together, these will enable you to run faster with less effort during your daily training runs. Additionally, the experience you'll gained from these fast-paced training sessions will enable you to plan and implement a smart race day strategy by running the appropriate pace for your current ability level. You'll also learn to tolerate both the physical and mental discomforts while racing. In short, the benefits you reap from speedwork should translate into improved race performances over time. How soon along with the amount of improvement you can expect to achieve will depend on a number of factors, some of which include genetics, your age, years of running experience, the ability to stay injury-free, along with your choice of the specific types of speed workouts you integrate into your training.

Guidelines
  • If you've never included speedwork as part of your training, consult a coach for guidance in designing a program to meet your individual goals and needs. Doing speed workouts without the consultation of a coach can be hazardous to your health! Speedwork is an advanced training technique for the experienced runner, NOT for the true beginner. Thus, you should be consistently running a minimum of 20-25 miles per week over the course of the previous year before considering adding speedwork to your routine. It is particularly important when incorporating speed workouts into your training to follow all of the injury prevention strategies outlined in that section of the web site. Be sure to follow the hard-easy concept of training if you intend to integrate fast-paced training into your program. For example, do not schedule a speedwork session the day after a long run or the day following a road race. Most experienced runners do their speed training during the middle of the week on a day following an easy run or rest day (oftentimes a Tuesday or Wednesday). If you choose to participate in speedwork with a group, be sure to run at a pace that is appropriate for your ability level. Trying to perform a workout designed for someone else almost always leads to injury. A proper warm-up and cool-down are essential components of speedwork and races. These include light jogging and stretching both before, and after the workout and/or race. See the section on stretching for specific information. No more than 15-20 percent of your total weekly mileage should be fast paced running. This percentage refers to both speed workouts and races. The volume of your fast-paced running should not be increased by more than 800 meters per week. You should scale back the distance and intensity of your speed workouts and weekly mileage every fourth week as a rest/recovery measure. During the summer months, schedule your speed workouts for the early morning or evening to avoid the most hot/humid times of the day. Pushing the pace in these conditions increases your chances succumbing to various degrees of heat illness.
  • Be careful of what you eat and how soon you time your meals and snacks before fast-paced running. Experimenting with a variety of foods and drinks is the best way to determine what your system can tolerate. Don't eat a big lunch if you're planning on doing a fast run later in the afternoon. Instead, have small snacks throughout the day.
Types of Workouts

As mentioned previously, it is beyond the scope of this web site to describe in detail the full range of speed workouts available from which to choose. The following is a very brief overview of the most common speed workouts geared specifically to the marathon.

Pacing Runs - The duration of these can vary, ranging in time from six minutes to upwards of an hour of fast-paced running. This is not a race or all-out effort. Instead, the fast segment(s) of these should be run at your (realistic) goal pace for the marathon. Pacing workouts can be designed to include more than one fast segment. For example, you could run at goal pace for 12 minutes followed by six minutes of jogging and then pick up the pace for an additional 12 minutes. Always warm-up by running 10 or more minutes at an easy pace prior to cruising into your fast-paced segment(s).

Mile Repeats - These are run about 10-15 seconds faster than your (realistic) goal marathon pace. The recovery distance (where you jog easily) between repeats is usually 800 meters.

Repeat Intervals - The most common of these specific to marathon training are 800 and 1200-meter repeats. The recovery distance for the 800-repeats is generally 400 meters while the recovery distance for 1200-repeats is usually 600 meters. The fast segments should be run approximately 10-15 seconds faster you're your current 10K race pace per mile.



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