You’ve spent the past several weeks building your aerobic base through running lots of easy-paced miles and now you are ready to begin training for your next race. It’s time to jump into your tried and true 400 meter repeats or long tempo runs, right?
Many runners experience running injuries during the first few weeks of race training, since they often increase both intensity (hard workouts) and volume (weekly mileage) simultaneously. Many certified running coaches, myself included, recommend increasing only your mileage or only your training intensity at once, never both at the same time. Still, lots of runners play a dangerous game with running-related injuries when they return to grueling speed workouts after months of easy running. Speed work is, by nature, harder on your body. If your body is adapted to the demands of speed work, then it may respond to the new stress by breaking down if you do too much too soon. Likewise, speed training will exacerbate any muscular imbalances and issues with running form, thus worsening any pre-existing risk of injury.
These concerns about resuming speed work and threshold training should not cause you to sacrifice your base building by training hard year-round. Additionally, too much speed work and threshold training done too soon in training can cause you to peak too early and burn out before your goal race.
You do not need to resign yourself to yearly running injuries, nor do you need to avoid any and all speed work and threshold training. Rather, early season running workouts such as these following examples will re-introduce your body to the stress of hard running workouts without pushing you to the point of injury. These early season running workouts also offer significant mental benefit, as we all know that training is as much a mental effort as it is physical.
The key to successfully adding intensity back into your training is to run by effort rather than pace. Each of these early season running workouts will provide the most benefits when you run according to your current fitness level, so that you do not push yourself too hard and incur dreaded injury. Your time away from speed work will make faster running feel harder for the first few sessions, so focusing on effort rather than pace will help you stay confident about your upcoming training cycle and goals.
5 Early Season Running Workouts to Safely Build Speed
Strides + Drills
Strides offer one of the safest and simplest ways to incorporate fast running back into your weekly training. After an easy run of any distance, run sprints at an hard but not all-out pace (roughly 85-90% effort) for 20 to 30 seconds. Begin with 4 strides once a week and progress to completing 6-8 strides two or three times per week.
Hill sprints are similar to strides, except you add the resistance of gravity to increase the workload. Hill sprints strengthen your running muscles (quads, core, glutes) and thus increase your power when you run. Since hill sprints require a quick cadence and proper running form, they also improve your efficiency, which means you use less energy to run at the same pace. Begin with 1 to 3 repetitions of 8 second sprints up a 6-8% hill, and progress until you are doing 10 hill sprints of 8-10 seconds on duration. And by sprint, I truly mean sprint: push yourself as hard as you can for those 8-10 seconds. Many distance runners aren’t used to running at maximal effort, so hill sprints are particularly useful for half marathoners and marathoners seeking a PR.
Tempo runs are incredibly effective in improving your speed by raising your lactate threshold. Tempo runs traditionally are 20-25 minutes (about 3 miles) at roughly your one-hour race pace (somewhere between 10K and 15K pace for most runners). Of course, you can do longer tempo runs at half marathon pace, but the physiological benefits are different, as is when you should use them in training. After coming off of a period of only easy running, 20 minute tempo runs can seem a bit intimidating, so begin with tempo intervals (also called threshold intervals). After a warm-up, run at a comfortably hard effort for 10 minutes. Recover for five minutes with an easy jog and then run for another 10 minutes at the same effort, or slightly harder, than you did for the first tempo interval. Finish with a couple cool down miles. You can do this workout once a week; as you adapt to the workload, shorten the recovery period in between the intervals until you are running a continuous 20 minute tempo run.
A progression run has you starting at an easy pace and gradually increasing your effort until you are running the last 10 to 20 minutes at a moderate to hard effort. Like tempo intervals, these runs will successfully reintroduce threshold training back into your running without overexerting your body or your mind. You can turn any distance of a run into a progression run, from a short 3 miler to marathon training long runs. Begin by adding 10 minutes of moderate running at the end of your normal easy run. As you progress, increase the length to 20 minutes at the end of a run or increase the intensity to hard (but don’t increase both at once!).
Fartlek runs are a fantastic and effective form of speed training for when you’re not ready to do formal speed work. Fartleks can be done on the trails, treadmill, or road and are always run by effort. One of my favorite early season fartlek workouts is 10-12 repeats of 1 minute at 5K effort (hard) and 1-2 minutes of easy running. Be sure to warm up and cool down with a couple miles each.
If you enjoy these workouts and are training for a race, consider contacting me about my coaching services! I would love to help you prevent injury, train smartly, and run your personal best.
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Have you done any of these workouts? Which one is your favorite?
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