Anatomy of a Speed Workout

I have a need for speed.

Sounds simple, but to get faster, you need to train faster. This is also the point where I point out, that I am not a coach, and always defer to professionals. I give most of the credit to my current coach, but have picked up tips and tricks along the way with books and articles I've read on how to get faster. I can't argue with my own results. I started very late in life with this running thing, but have now been a "runner" for fifteen years (the second half getting into distance.) Surprisingly, my 5K PR happened a mere two months ago finally breaking twenty minutes and set a half mary PR of 1:29:18 also in the last year. Given all that, something is working.

There are a few things I've learned that I'd like to share and "break down" the speed session I had yesterday as I begin to train for my next half marathon in June.

A Few Things About Speed

1) Don't always run fast. I used to think that if I wanted to run fast, I needed to push every run. I made the mistake of running even my recovery runs too fast. At this point, my formula is to only "push" myself two days a week. Depending on what I'm training for, the rest of the days are either time, miles, or shorter distances at a comfortable pace. In fact, with my new coach, she dialed me down to a nine minute pace on many of those runs. My current "easy" pace is dialed in at 8:40ish.
Drills and strides in the gym before Yassos

2) I like progressives. Many of my speed workouts and even marathon training runs progress in speed throughout. This obviously builds confidence as you try to race consistently or seek that elusive "negative split." More on this below.

3) Slow before and after. All of my speed workouts start with a warm-up (typically two miles,) and a cooldown. I can't explain the science part of it, but I know this works for me; on both ends of the workout.

4) Speed comes in all forms. There are a variety of speed workouts; tempo runs, intervals, fartleks, and Yassos. I posted online that I did a tempo run last week and someone asked me how I define that. A good question. Again, this depends on what you're training for, but I define it in the context of marathon or half-marathon training. Not a slow run, not a (race) goal pace run, but probably closer to a 10K pace. For me, if you're running a 5K pace, that's getting closer to speed work.

Intervals come in many forms, but my coach will often give me mile intervals. These are often near goal pace or slightly faster.

This brings me to my favorite, the Yasso named after the infamous (explained here) Bart Yasso of Runner's World. It's simply repeats of 800 meters (half mile.) As you "ramp" up in miles training for a marathon, I tend to add more up to a total of ten with a recovery interval between each. Bart goes on to say that they are a "predictor" of marathon finish times. If you can run ten three minute Yasso's, you can run a three hour marathon. I haven't had this translate yet, but it's absolutely made me a faster runner.

My Workout Yesterday

With my next half marathon a month away, I am in the middle of my speed twice a week formula. With Boston only a month old, I took a short break off with no running, and slowly got back into my normal training routine. The good news is I obviously didn't lose the base I'd built. With my coach in the process of moving, my formal half marathon plan starts up in June so opted for one of my favorite workouts; fast and faster Yasso's.

While the snow is finally gone, and high schools are letting out this week (freeing up the high school tracks,) I took this one indoors to the treadmill. Don't be a treadmill hater. With complex intervals; especially short fast stuff, I like this option as I can dial in the speed and let 'er rip. I started this one with a two mile warm-up at an 8:41 pace. I set out on the workout in shorts, 2013 Boston Marathon singlet, Adidas Energy Boost shoes, and my "Ty 2013 Run List" on my iPod.

The best songs that fueled my workout? The Clash, "Lost in the Supermarket," and Silversun Pickups "Lazyeye."

My energy was strong in the warm-up which lead to confidence as I went into the tougher part. Before starting the half mile repeats (Yassos,) I did a set of drills; leg kicks, asskickers, and side-to-side strides followed by four speed strides to get my fast-twitch muscles and lungs going.

I fueled my workout with Generation UCAN (worked for Meb, and has been part of my race and tough workout routine for the last year,) and PowerGel Gel Blasts. I typically ingest fluids every mile and a gel every two miles.

Now to the fun part. Based on previous workouts, I planned on six half mile intervals with a two minute recovery between each (rest one minute, one minute jogging.) I used sort of a faster and fast alternating pattern with (min/mile) paces at;

5:52, 6:03, 5:56, 5:49, 5:52, 5:36

Quite honestly, I could have probably run more of these, or even run faster. As all runners know, some days you have insane energy, and others you don't. Apparently, today I had the energy. There was a time when I thought that if I could run a Yasso at a six minute per mile pace that was fast (and it is,) but I never pushed myself beyond that. I've found that by slightly turning the dial up a bit over time, your body adjusts.
Pulled a "double" by adding a 3/4 mile swim that night

I finished with a 1.35 mile cooldown to get a total of seven miles in for the workout. With insanely nice weather in Denver, and the COMSA (Colorado Master's Swimming Association) open water swim open on Wednesday nights, I opted to add a 3/4 mile open water swim later that evening working for my alter ego--the triathlete. I had an equally rewarding swim as I worked on sighting and have become much more comfortable in the open water. Progress on all fronts, but the main priority is a fast half marathon coming up on June 28th. You have to run fast to get faster.

I guess if there's one "takeaway" from this is that regardless of your half mile repeat (Yasso) time, if you want to get faster, your body can typically handle running even three seconds faster per leg for half the invervals. Over time, you can increase the time and number you run faster. The results will show up on race day.

What is your favorite speed workout?


  1. Nice post - good luck on your half. My favorite session has always been 4 sets of 4 quarters, 100M jog between each quarter, and 4 minutes between sets. This was a staple "tough" workout when I was in high school. These days (I'm 61) the quarters are at 5K speed but in HS I think we ran them at mile race pace. Crazy kids. Like your blog - thanks.


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