How to reduce your 10k, half, or marathon race times. – Speedwork sessions
Chances are that if you have run a 10k, half marathon or marathon before you have caught the running bug. Merely completing one of the fore mentioned distances is not enough anymore and now you are looking to enter new races and smash those long standing personal best times that.
Whilst improving your basic fitness level is necessary to improve in any sport, after a while of running the same old routes and runs, you may begin to feel like your training is stagnating as your pace levels out and your times hover around the same point. If this happens then it is time to kick your body into fith gear and add some serious speed work into your weekly routine.
The following five workouts are examples of some of the most widely used training sessions used by runners of every level all over the world to improve on their race times,. When integrated within a balanced training schedule they can be used to great effect to improve both your fitness and your race times.
If you have never attempted any kind of speed work before, don’t have a good base fitness level or for any reason think that your body may react adversely to faster paced running then it is always a good idea to consult your doctor before approaching one of these sessions. As always, take it easy on your first few speed sessions until you have a measure of how your body reacts to higher impact training. This is because speed work can place high amounts of extra stress on the different systems of the body and so it is always a good idea to approach it with caution by starting off slowly.
This is one of the simplest and widely recognised speed work sessions used by runners of all distances from 1500m to Marathon. Essentially this is one lap of an athletics track but you can always mark out 400m on a flat unobstructed surface such as a towpath or field instead. Try to avoid hard surfaces such as roads if possible as this will place undue stress on your joints when you are running. The idea is that you run 400m reps at about 80% your maximum effort with a short break in-between to catch your breath. To begin with try 6x400m reps with 1minute rests or slow jogging for recovery in-between each rep. You can then build this up by adding one additional rep every session and decreasing the rest period. Some marathon runners work up to 20+ reps, but don’t feel like this is a target as most club runners work at under 15 reps.
Meaning ‘Speed Play’ in Swedish, this unstructured session comprises of a run with periods of increased speed to work both your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. This type of training also gets your body used to unanticipated challenges it may face in a run such as detouring round obstacles or recovering from a mid race competitive sprint as it trains your body to recover from high intensity running without resting.
You can conduct a Fartlek training session on your normal running route. Start of at just under your 10k pace and every three minutes or so pick a point in the distance of which you are going to run to at your 5k pace (about 70-80% maximum effort). Pick your points so it takes you 60-120 seconds to reach the as you want to push yourself but not exhaust yourself. Once you have reached your chosen point, slow down again to just below 10k pace for a few minutes then repeat 8-10 times.
The great thing about fartlek training is that it can be adapted for any situation as it is essentially just jogging with prolonged bursts of speed added. Try increasing the intensity or duration of the speed parts of the run and decreasing the rest times as you become faster and fitter.
Hill sessions are both cursed and feared by many runners as they can be very tiring sessions, but ultimately are very rewarding if incorporated into a balanced running schedule. Hill training works both your cardiovascular system and your leg muscles and can improve your leg strength, running economy, coordination and mental strength which ultimately all add to reducing your race times.
Hill sessions are essentially what they say on the tin. You find a hill, run up it, jog down it and then repeat. One session you might like to try consists of running up a 30% incline hill at about 80% your maximum effort to a point about one minute away before jogging slowly back down to recover. You should be aiming to repeat this 8+ times and will begin to feel the benefit after only a few weeks of doing this session once a week in the form of increased leg strength and cardiovascular capacity; Although be prepared for some aching muscles the next morning!
Another club coach favourite, this type of workout consists of running reps of increasing distances until a peak is reached, after which the rep’s distances decrease. Running in this way teaches your body to run at speed when it is tired and you can clock up a surprising about of distance doing this kind of speed work.
A favourite of mine consists of running around a quad or block of streets where you have four sided of an imaginary square or rectangle to run around. Start by sprinting along one edge of the square and then continue to jog around the other three sides as soon as you reach the corner of that first sprint length. When you get back to corner of the square where you began from, sprint around two consecutive edges of the square and jog the remaining two. Then once again when you get back to the beginning sprint three sides and jog one. When you reach four sides of sprinting, do this followed by one side of jogging and then three sides of sprinting. Again you will be back at your original point. Now do two sides of jogging and two of sprinting followed by three of jogging and one of sprinting before cooling down. I used to do this on a rectangular quad measuring 150x75m but another good adaptation is around a football or rugby pitch.
A tempo running session is a form of structured Fartlek run. Argued by many as the single most important session for increasing speed at long distance levels, tempo running teaches the body to metabolise oxygen more efficiently once it is in the blood stream and to increasing its lactate threshold. By doing this, the body is able to run at greater speeds for longer as the muscles take longer to become fatigued with hydrogen and lactate ions – the by-products of running.
A typical tempo session for a runner training for a 10k race might consist of 5x4minute tempo running with 60seconds easy jogging inbetween. The tempo sections of the run should feel like you are pushing yourself and might be just over your 10k race pace. Over time, build up both the amount of tempo reps and the speed of the rep to push your lactate threshold.