Speed Work for Beginners

As trail and ultra running becomes increasingly popular, and participants look beyond the goal of simply completing an event and instead want to see just how fast they can go, more people are keen to implement speed work into their weekly routine. For first timers, it can be fraught with risk. If you’ve spent your running life, however long or short it’s been, just ticking over the miles with the occasional tempo effort, then if not introduced in the correct manner, the quick stuff will greatly increase your risk of injury.

Use Drills & Strides

The first thing to do is introduce some light drills and strides into your weekly schedule. Do them a couple of times a week as a standalone workout, or prior to doing a tempo effort (If that’s something you do). There’s a bit about drills and strides in this article (http://www.thelongrun.com.au/5-key-sessions-to-improve-your-speed/). It includes some links to instructional videos. We suggest you do this for a couple weeks prior to starting speed sessions.

Start Slow

Don’t immediately smash out reps as fast as you can. For the first month of doing speed work, focus on form. Practice good running technique with reps that are no faster than about 80% max speed for the given distance. You should feel in control and able to maintain the pace and form for the entirety of the reps. A good guide is that if you were doing 8 x 2 minute efforts, you should run them at a pace that you could maintain for double the duration.

Build Into Reps

There’s no need to explosively tear off from the start line of each rep. Start your intervals at a controlled pace and increase your speed over the first 50m or so. You should then settle into a rhythm that you maintain throughout the duration of each interval. Always focus on perfect technique.

Decrease Interval Length

In the first month of doing speed work, start with intervals that are 3 to 5 minutes in duration. This will force you to move a tad slower. Have rests between intervals that allow you to not quite fully recover, but get your breath and heart rate down to a point where you will be able to maintain the same pace throughout every subsequent rep. In the second month, do reps of 2 to 4 minutes, and then in the third month we get into the fast stuff, with 60sec to 2 minute intervals.

Warm Up

Make sure you do a thorough warm up prior to the interval sessions. This means a slow jog of 15 to 25 minutes. Followed by a few drills and strides (As per above). If you intend on wearing different shoes for your speed work, change into them for the strides so you get a chance to settle in. On the shoe front, see a podiatrist for advice, as poor shoe selection for speed work will lead to injury.

Expect Some Soreness

As with the introduction of any new form of training, you can expect to feel a few aches and pains when you initially start doing speed work. The key is knowing the difference between an injury and something you should rest, and what’s just normal discomfort caused by hard work. Should you ever be unsure, consult a physio or masseuse for advice in this regard. In the first few weeks, it’s also a good idea to get a massage a couple days after speed sessions. It will help you to recover and mitigates against injury.