If you want to get faster as a runner, speed work has to be an essential part of training. Speed work consists of fartleks, intervals, and tempo runs. Each one of these workouts has a specific purpose in enabling you to become a more stronger, faster runner.
The hardest part of speed training is knowing how fast each of the different workouts should be run. If you don't run fast enough or you run too fast, you can miss the benefits of the workout. Figuring out specific times or pace for each workout can be done; however, it depends on current fitness and goals. In addition, the time and pace of each workout will change as your fitness improves and goals change.
Here is a simple way to know how fast to run each workout so you can reap the most benefit. Instead of trying to figure out a specific pace or time to hit, you are going to use percentage of effort exerted. For instance, 100% effort is a full sprint - you shouldn’t be able to really speak while running at this effort. 80% effort is quick but not all out - you shouldn’t be able to speak in full sentences while running at this effort. 70% effort is a pace requiring some effort to sustain, yet should feel like you can sustain it for 20-30 minutes. You should be able to speak some words and little sentences at this pace; but, you should not be able to carry on a conversation. 50% is not fast and should feel easy. You should be able to carry on a conversation at this pace without getting winded.
Intervals are intended to be done at a fast pace. Distances of each interval will vary and so will the intensity. As a simple rule of thumb, any distance from 100m to 200m run at 100%. Distances from 400m to 800m run between 90-95%. From 1200m to 1600m run at 85 to 90%. The rest in between each interval should be long enough so you can perform the next interval at the same level of intensity. Figure at least a 200m rest (jog) for 100-200m intervals; 400m rest (jog) for 400-800m intervals; 400-600m rest (jog) for 1200-1600m intervals.
Fartleks, or speed play, will vary in distance and effort as you decide on your run. For these, figure any thing that will take you under 2 minutes run, do at 90% effort. From 3-5 minutes run them at 80-85% effort. Anything over 5 minutes, run at 75-80%. It may be a little difficult to figure out how long it’s going to take you to run to the next stop sign or light etc. so, just gauge the best you can. If it looks like a short distance do it at the height percentage of effort. If it looks like the next object your going to is far away, use the 80-85% effort.
Tempo runs are not sprints or all out efforts. These runs cover more distance than intervals and Fartleks (20-30 minutes up to an hour or more). Do your tempo runs at a 70-75% effort. This effort should feel “comfortably hard”; meaning, it takes some effort to keep the pace but you feel you can sustain it for at least 20-30 minutes. Remember, you shouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation at the 70-75% effort; so, if you can, you need to pick it up a bit. But, if you can’t even say a full sentence, back it down a smidge.
It will probably take a few workouts before you get use to what each percentage of effort feels like for you. However, once you get the feel for them, speed work will be much easier to do and you will be able to gain the most from each workout. To learn more about when you should incorporate each of the different speed workouts into your running, visit my Training Cycle for Runners blog.