Six Reasons I (Tracy) Love Speed Work

Cheetah with black spots running so fast the background is a blur of green.
Cheetah with black spots running so fast the background is a blur of green.

I’ve been working with a running coach for just about two months now and I am really enjoying it. One unexpected source of satisfaction I’m experiencing comes from doing speed work. This is not something I ever thought I’d love. But lately I’ve welcomed it.

It’s not as if it’s all speed work all the time. Yesterday, for example, it was 45 minutes easy followed by 6x100m strides with 100m slow jog in between. That’s just a tiny bit of speed work in the scheme of the overall run. But it added something purposeful.

What is speed work? The idea is to maintain a certain pace for a certain interval of time or over a particular distance. The strides are on the short side. Sometimes the assignment is to push the pace for longer, like a kilometer or, in the case of a tempo run, for the duration of a shorter run (like 20-30 minutes). The goal: to get faster.

My coach Linda talked about the perils of the “one pace wonders” — the many people who just go out and run at the same pace all the time. No wonder they make little progress.

Here are six reasons why I love incorporating speed work into my training:

  1. It adds variety to my training, not just in distance but also in approach. Each workout is a bit different and that helps avoid monotony.
  2. It lets me experiment with different paces. I learned this in the pool, where we would aim for different paces (slow, medium, fast) to learn what our body could do and also to get faster. But I’d never done it in a structured way in my running. Now I have a good sense of pacing for different types of runs.
  3. It gives each run a clear training purpose. For example, I could have gone out yesterday morning and just done my 45 minutes easy and called it a day. But what exactly would the purpose of that run have been in the context of my overall training? Sundays are for the long slow runs. So a mid-week 45 minute run wouldn’t really achieve the goal of logging the mileage. But going for 45 minutes and then doing some strides that really push me beyond comfortable, even for short bursts, and then doing a short recovery before doing the same again helps condition my body to push harder even after I’ve got some distance under my belt.
  4. It’s over more quickly. A lot of the scheduled speed work is short and sweet. That’s perfect for mid-week runs when I don’t always have an hour or even 45 minutes. I can do some interval repeats where I really push, followed by short recovery periods between them, and have a tough workout behind me in under 30 minutes sometimes.
  5. I always manage to surprise myself with how fast I can actually go. Maybe I can’t (yet) sustain those fast paces for 10K or even 5K, but it’s gratifying to know that I can do a 5:00/km pace at all, even for only a short distance. Sometimes I can do even better than that. This amazes me.
  6. It works! Go figure. If you do regular speed work you actually start to run faster.

So those are six reasons why I love speed work and will keep doing it.

How about you? Do you mix up your training and try different things? Do you incorporate speed work? Tell us about it.