From Absolutely Positively Hating Speed Work To Not

I’ve been running pretty consistently for the last 3 years. (3 years?! How did the time go by so fast?) In all my running, I’ve always wanted to get faster. And yet and yet and yet. I’ve only started to do speed work last month.

The fact of the matter is that if you are new to running, you can usually gain speed just by running consistently and training smart. (And being “new” can last more than a year.) That’s how I got faster. I followed training plans developed by experts (Holla at ya, Hal Higdon!), modified them to work for me, and ran. Simple as that.

Self portrait taken during my full in April. Do I look fast? I sure felt fast!

Self portrait taken during my full in April. Do I look fast? I sure felt fast!

And for 3 years, I was able to improve my speed. I PR-ed in every distance that I raced (5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon) last year, all without speed work, which is a good thing because me no likey speed work. At least, I didn’t used to like it.

I had a few ideas about speed work. I knew about tempo runs (jog a warm-up, run a few miles as fast as you can, jog a cool down), intervals (alternate jogging and running as fast as you can), farklets (alternate jogging and running as fast as you can). I would occasionally dip my toe into the pool of speed work, but it never stuck. My aversion was mostly due to that “run as fast as you can” part. Running full throttle doesn’t typically feel good. It’s not fun. And it didn’t make me eager to repeat it.

It was only recently that light bulb! I realized that the speed part of speed work didn’t have to be as fast as I could run.

I’m currently following the Run Less, Run Faster training plan. It has you do an interval run, a tempo run, and a long run each week. The key is that the speed you should run at is specifically outlined in a great detail and based off of a current PR.

Interval run, run less run faster

One of my RLRF interval runs. I wrote out the distance in meters, how much time it should take, and what kind of mile average that equates to.

Just like that, I find myself doing an interval run each week. Instead of dreading it, I look forward to it! The key being that the speed of my fast portion is not “as fast as you can, full speed ahead, short of breath, legs about to fall off.” It’s specific, based on my abilities and the distance of the interval.

Speed work does not have to suck if you do it right!

  • You can get use Run Less, Run Faster like me. (RLRF also has training plans for shorter distances, not just marathons, that follow the same training principles.)

The idea is to run 800 meters (half a mile) in your goal marathon time. For instance, if you want to run a 4:15 marathon, try running half a mile in 4 minutes and 15 seconds. Then jog it out and repeat. You might do that 4 times in one run the first time, and add from there over time until you can do 10. If you can do that, supposedly, you can run your desired marathon time.

  • You could hit up Runner’s World. This website has a loooong list of different runs and the speed you should do them at as well as expert advice.
  • You could hop on Daily Mile and see what other people are doing. (Keep in mind that what is right for someone else is not necessarily right for you, ya heard?)
  • You could play with the McMillan Calculator. I first heard about this from Amy at Running Army Wife. You put in a current PR, your goal race distance and pace, and it spits out all kind of info, including training paces. So cool!

One of my fears when I started to incorporate speed work is that it would take away the calming, leisurely runs that I had grown to love. That I’d be so focused on run this fast and this far that I wouldn’t be able to relax. While my most of my runs are no longer leisurely, I still find them calming, I can still relax, I still use them as a time to think about everything going on in my life, and I still love running. If anything, the addition of speed work has added a new dimension to my running that has helped me to enjoy it more. (I didn’t even know that was possible!)

The short version of all this:

  • You don’t have to hate speed work!
  • Don’t run full throttle; use the resources that are available to run at the right pace.
  • You might not even need speed work right now, just consistent running
  • You won’t lose the joy of running during your speed runs.
  • I’ve only been doing this for a month so you shouldn’t even be taking advice from me.

Are you a fan of speed work? Any other speed work advice or workouts that you particularly love?*

24 thoughts on “From Absolutely Positively Hating Speed Work To Not

  1. I’ve never done speedwork. It’s not recommended coming back from an injury and I’m always coming back from a freaking injury (my feet hurt today, so I’m feeling sort of frustrated). I’d love to get to the point of trying it though!

    • Coming back from injury is tricky business. You really have to take it slow and listen to your body (and the doctors!), as you well know. I think you are wise to stay away from the speed work for now.*

  2. I’ve just started on speed work, not really my cup of tea, but needs must! Oh, I’m also an Army wife🙂

  3. What the crap is a calming, leisurely, relaxing run?! I did not know those existed. Me want!😉

    • They do exist! Running = stress reducer, free therapy, communing with nature (does that one make me sound crazy?). Not every run of mine is like that, but the majority are.*

  4. I love interval speed work. It makes the time pass quickly and it’s easier to get mentally fired up when you know you only have to run real hard for a few minutes before you get a break. I’ll have to try this yasso thing. Even though I don’t have a marathon lined up to run, I do have a goal time in the event I do actually sign up for something. I’m glad you’re liking the speedwork thing a little more. I’m not big on mantras and stuff, but when I’m pushing it and am feeling uncomfortable, I tell myself, ‘you have to run faster to run faster.’ Kind of a ‘duh’ thing to say, but it’s the truth.

    • I like ‘you have to run faster to run faster.’ Pretty much spot on. When I’m really gutting it out, I find myself saying, “Kill it! Kill it!” It seems to get the job done, but it bit me in the butt when I found myself saying, ‘It’s killing me!” on that crappy 13.1 last weekend. Haha!

      Yes, definitely try the Yasso’s! And then come back and tell me how they were. When I do 800 meter intervals, I do them in 4:05. But I’m not doing very many and I have zero intention of touching that 4:05 in the marathon right now. But it’s comforting to think that maybe I could.*

  5. Aren’t aha speedwork moments fun? We had that at one point too!! And then it changed things! Glad you were able to find your peace with it!

  6. I did that exact same speed workout last night and it’s seriously one of my favorites!! I had forgotten where I found it but you reminded me that it was RLRF. And like you, I just hit a point where I am no longer getting faster just by consistently running so I must do speed work if I want to improve. But it’s so awesome to see where you can improve! I would have never dreamed of running anything in the 8 min range until last night! Good luck and enjoy that speed work!

    • I found that running consistently was able to carry me pretty far. For 2.5 years I got faster just by doing what I’d always been doing. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case for me any more. And with my big goals, I feel like speed work is now a must. Good thing I’ve learned to enjoy it! It really is a fun way to run.

      Sounds like speed work is really working for you! I know that you have some big running goals too, and I bet there will be a lot of running achievements for you in 2013! *

  7. I’ve done it inconsistently- the time I PR’ed I was probably doing it once a week. It’s hard but it makes workouts go so much faster!

    • I agree about workouts going faster. The time flies by when I’m running intervals. I also think that speed workouts are more efficient; you’re getting more bang for your running buck.*

  8. I need to learn to love it. That plan sounds do-able. Once I’ve built up my base a bit, I’ll give it a shot!

    • I vote yes! You were so close to PRing in a race that wasn’t even your goal race, so I know that a little speed work would probably go a long way for you.*

  9. I LOVE speed work. Mile repeats are my favorite because they are fast, but not tooooo fast. I’ve never tried Yasso 800s because they scare me, but I have always wanted to!

    • Oh, girl! If you can handle mile repeat, you can fo’ sho’ take on Yasso’s! I’m following my training plan as closely as possible, so I’m not doing Yasso’s either, but I kind of wish I was. There’s something about the magic behind them that I find so appealing.*

  10. I absolutely love the RLRF plan! I used it for my second marathon and BQed. I’m glad you’re finding it helpful.🙂

    • That’s encouraging! I’m aiming for an eventual BQ, but I’m definitely not there yet. I’m hoping this plan will help me make a good dent in my current marathon PR.*

  11. A Marathon coach one told me that long slow runs will enable you to get round a marathon and speed training will determine how quickly you get round. Knowing it is going to make faster really motivates me to do it.

    • I’ve never heard that saying before! I’m a big fan of slow long runs, and I’m now also a fan of speed work. I’m hoping that they do the trick!*

  12. I was waiting for you to post this!!! Thanks for sharing all the information on speedtraining, it is EXTREMELY helpful. I couldn’t agree with you more about my initial understanding of speedwork leading to the fear of always having to run as fast as you can. I don’t enjoy pushing myself to the point of nausea! So it’s so great to know that speedwork doesn’t have to be that harsh to be effective. It’s so inspiring to see how much progress you’ve already made with your speedwork training. Can’t wait to see how you continue to improve in the coming weeks and months!!!

    • My biggest takeaway at this point is that it’s all about the right pace. You don’t even need to start out doing that much, short tempos and only a few intervals at a time, and then build from there.*

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