Whether you run to win races, conquer a PR, or simply to stay in shape, speed training is essential if you want to improve in any way. And if you’re like most runners – you probably dread those weekly speed workouts.
However, speed work can be game-changing for just about any runner. Dedicating time each week to complete various workouts, whether it’s interval training, hills, fartleks, tempo runs or anything in between, can have a drastic impact on your performance and overall fitness.
Running speed workouts are supposed to be hard.
Speed work looks different for each runner depending on your goals and fitness level, however, if you’re doing it right – it’s always difficult.
Luckily, implementing a few simple strategies can have a huge impact on your success with speed work each week. These 6 tips are surprisingly simple, but will help you conquer those running speed workouts to take your training to new levels each week.
6 Tips to Conquer Running Speed Workouts
Shorten your stride & increase cadence.
One of the mistakes most runners make when trying to increase their speed is to take much longer strides. Without even realizing it, when we try to pick up the pace, we usually lengthen our stride in an attempt to propel ourselves forward.
Rather than trying to move faster by taking longer strides, focus on keeping a short stride and increasing your cadence. When you’re ready to pick up the pace, try increasing the number of steps you take. If your stride stays the same, this will translate into a faster pace without creating extra stress on your body by changing your form.
Maintaining a healthy stride helps avoid heel striking and various imbalances that can result from overstriding. Since it feels unnatural to pick up the pace without lengthening our stride, make a point to intentionally focus on increasing the amount of steps you are taking instead.
Use your arms.
One of the biggest issues runners face when attempting speed workouts is fatigue. It goes without saying that pushing your body harder than it is used to will cause you to tire sooner than usual. However, this fatigue is what allows us to make improvements, increase endurance, and get stronger.
A simple way to push yourself just a little bit farther once you start getting tired is to use your arms. We often fail to take advantage of the added strength our arms can bring on the run. With a sport so focused on the strength of our lower body, it’s easy to forget about our upper body.
Speed work is a great opportunity to utilize the extra power you can gain with your arm swing. As your body starts to fatigue during a workout, try pumping your arms just a little bit harder. Focus on the movement, and you might be surprised how much extra power you can generate.
Run as fast as you can.
When you’re starting a speed workout, it can be tempting to want to hold back so you don’t tire yourself out too quickly. While this is definitely an idea to keep in mind, it’s important to find a healthy balance between knowing your limits but also pushing your body.
A simple way to ensure you are really giving each speed workout your all is to designate a certain amount of time in the beginning of the interval to run as fast as you can.
Things will always feel the most difficult when you first pickup the pace, before your body has had a chance to adjust. Start out each interval or speed workout by running as fast as you can, pushing yourself hard for a certain amount of time. After a few minutes, your body will begin to adjust to the speed and you might surprise yourself when you check your pace.
Push hard for at least 5 minutes.
In order to successfully “run as fast as you can” at the start of a speed workout, you’ll want to designate a specific amount of time for which you are going to do so. Tell yourself that you’ll push as hard as you can for the first 5 minutes and then re-evaluate.
Or, start the interval by running as fast as you can for the next 5 houses before changing your pace. Knowing that there is an end to the effort, or a point where you can slow down if need be, helps keep us mentally motivated to continue giving the effort.
When we tell ourselves that we are going to do something for a certain amount of time, more often than not, we’ll find that when the time is up, our body has adjusted and it no longer feels as challenging. This might help you stay motivated to continue pushing to a pace that you never would have attempted knowing you had an entire workout to go.
Don’t obsess over your watch.
Setting goals for each speed workout is a great way to set yourself up for success. Striving to achieve a certain pace, distance or split during a workout gives you something specific to work towards and helps you stay motivated when things get tough.
However, setting specific goals often causes us to obsess over paces and time throughout the workout. While checking in occasionally can give us the feedback we need to adjust in order to hit our goals, obsessively checking usually does more harm than good.
Try your best to avoid staring at your watch during a workout. It’s okay to check in as you’re getting settled and trying to get the feel for your goal pace, but once you’ve established your speed, look away. Successfully conquering speed workouts involves knowing what it feels like to be running your goal paces without having to constantly monitor your watch.
Aim for negative splits.
Even though you are starting out running as fast as you can or really pushing yourself, try your best to set a goal for negative splits during the workout. The goal for each speed workout is to adapt to paces that feel uncomfortable. The more often you practice something, the easier it becomes.
When you start running at a faster-than-usual pace, it’s going to feel more difficult – there’s no way around it. However, once your body settles and adapts to this pace, don’t be afraid to pick it up slightly. Try running even just one second faster per mile or interval.
Finishing a workout with negative splits gives you an extra boost of motivation, and helps improve your mentality for the long run. Pushing just a bit harder when you’re already fatigued takes guts – but it’s what makes us stronger.
Implementing these 6 simple tips will help you conquer those workouts, push your fitness to new levels and make progress towards your goals.
Remember that speed work is supposed to be both physically and mentally challenging – but it’s not supposed to be miserable. Remind yourself that the work you are doing now is going to pay off in the future. If you don’t ever give it your all, you’ll never know what you’re truly capable of.
Related: 10 Steps to Achieve Any Running Goal