Speed Week — When To Move

HPW ELITE middle distance women (left to right)  Anna Connor ,  Eleanor Fulton , and  McKayla Fricker  own 800m bests of 2:06, 2:05, and 2:00, respectively. Speedwork is an essential element in each of their training programs. 

HPW ELITE middle distance women (left to right) Anna Connor, Eleanor Fulton, and McKayla Fricker own 800m bests of 2:06, 2:05, and 2:00, respectively. Speedwork is an essential element in each of their training programs. 

Timing is everything. 

This is an important truth to understand when running fast: WHEN you move matters most. And your best bet is to move fast when fresh. Never when tired. To do so risks doing "junk" speedwork.

Training to elevate the aerobic capacity of a distance runner involves lots and lots of running while negotiating increasing levels of fatigue. Marathon training is an extreme example. Often, coaches joke that when an athlete is training for the marathon they are tired all the time. The goal is time on their feet, which in turn promises to increase a runner's aerobic efficiency. So come race day, they can run a desired pace at prolonged durations with minimal fatigue for the majority of the race. It is a tried and true method of training and for enhancing the aerobic metabolism. It works. And works well. 

But not so for training aimed at improving an athlete's speed. 

Here the rule of fresh must be followed: To teach the body how to run faster, the athlete must be as fresh as possible. 

To improve speed through running workouts, I look at it through a binary lens: micro-freshness and macro-freshness.

Quick note: Remember, as I detailed in the previous post in this mini-series (Speed Week - What You Move), I think speed is better understood as a relative expression of power. But for ease of discourse today, I will talk about speed and speedwork in the traditional sense of running at very fast velocities.   

Here I have to thank the world-class minds at Altis for dialogue and education. They significantly evolved my thinking about when to employ speedwork in the training program for distance runners, and how to best design individual sessions to afford the conditions for positive adaptation of the athlete. If you have not been to a session of their Apprentice Coach Program I encourage you to go soon. I went last year. It made me better.

Macro-Freshness (session to session, or global training freshness): Speedwork, regarding running at near max velocities (which I define for the distance runner as any pace faster than 800m pace) is best performed when the athlete is at their overall freshest. This means, for example, they are not still fatigued after a long hard run, series of grueling workouts, tough training block, etc. 

I've found it is wise to perform speedwork at least 2 - 3 days after the last difficult athletic effort and then give a 2 - 3 day restoration period after the speedwork session. For the fit and veteran athlete, this can be accelerated to 2 days before/1-2 days after, as a clear signal of fitness in the ability to bounce back quickly from work-bouts. 

Micro-Freshness (rep to rep within a session): There is only one option regarding the recovery duration from rep to rep within a speedwork session: full recovery. Anything less and the nature of the workout has been drastically altered.

Speed is a high intensity, high coordination, high frequency, high movement quality activity. When doing speed work, the athlete is asked to move their body as quick as possible and this is very taxing (mostly on the neurological system but too on nearly all biological systems that constitute the human organism.) As a coach, we should respect this demand. Generous time is needed for these systems to reboot after every rep of all out running. 

For the world-class athletes seasoned to speedwork, this can be 3 to 4 minutes of rest (walk or very light jog mixture) but for younger athletes, this should be more towards 5 - 8 minutes of rest. Don't rush the rest. The only element you want fast is the speed of the rep. Afford the time necessary to ensure this.

Tomorrow, in the final installment of this mini-series Speed Week overview, I'll discuss sprinting Xs and Os for distance runners in detail as well as specific examples of sprint workouts I use for the 800m to 10,000m competitors to improve their speed. 


Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm 

Jonathan Marcus