This is a great question and one that a lot of runners have! There are many ways to add “speed work” into your training plan. You might have heard some of the following terms if you hang out with runners or read Runner’s World: speed work, track work, tempo runs, steady state runs, intervals, fartleks, etc. All of these are great parts of a training plan but need to be used at the right time.
I almost always introduce fast running into plans with what I call “bursts” or mini-fartleks. A fartlek is basically a small bout of faster running before returning to a normal or slower pace. Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning “speed play”, and that is exactly what it is. I usually start people with very short fartleks or “bursts” of 20-30 secs and build up from there. Another way of completing fartleks is to just pick out a landmark up ahead of you and run a little harder until you reach that landmark. If you sprinkle in 2-5 of these “bursts” into one of your weekly runs, you will start to notice a difference in your pace and leg turn-over very quickly!
After that, the possibilities are virtually endless. If you have a good base of running at least 3 times/week and at least 15 miles/week for 2 months or so, you can probably consider adding in some longer and/or harder speed sessions such as track intervals or tempo runs. Start out with just one “speed” run per week and you can mix and match from there. Remember that speed work does not mean you have to sprint. In fact, it is a very real possibility that you could run too hard and too fast during speed work, so start out “slow” with your speed work before building up to all-out efforts after a few months of less intense bouts.
If you are really trying to nail a PR, you might want to consider hiring a coach (like me!) – often coaches can really lock down your fitness level and speed capabilities and help you push to your limits.
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