Keep on working – the faster times will come! How much is enough or how much is adequate? Those are questions that coaches ask all the time, so that is a good thing to think about. In short, even a little is worthwhile. Oftentimes, we use speed work early on in training to help solicit form improvements, neuromuscular (brain-body connection) improvements, and fuller muscle recruitment. Of course, none of those reasons are necessarily the one you are looking for – speed! But it is important to note that any form of speed work – however large or small – can be of benefit. Here is a prior article I posted about introducing some speed work into your program, but it sounds like you are probably ready for the next step …
To improve your pace in shorter workouts – especially in a 1 mile run – you really do have to work on raw speed. The good news is that working on raw speed early on in a training program has a lot of benefits. It does all of the above and also starts to tap into more and more of your “anaerobic” energy system, which is minimally addressed by just “going out and running”. I’ll give you examples of two different phases of speed work that I would recommend working your way through:
Phase I – This is the earliest form of speed work. These bouts should be shorter in duration and allow you to have full or near-full recovery between repetitions. This is “Speed work 101” so to speak – make sure not to get injured but know that it is probably not going to be the most comfortable thing in the world. I would recommend doing these types of workouts at least for 4 weeks and up to 8 weeks before considering moving into other ones (again this is generally speaking). 1-2 times/week will suffice initially, and reps will vary person-to-person.
* “Bursts” (see prior post) or surges – In the middle of a regular/base run, add in 15-45 secs “pick-ups” before settling back into regular pace; generally, these are not all-out but can begin to recruit more of the muscles/systems needed for speed work
* Uphill sprints – Yuck!!! I hate to say it, but uphill sprints are great initial workouts for speed. It is difficult to over stride (often a problem with fast running) and can be beneficial for form. It also helps you recruit a lot of muscles including the oft neglected glutes. 10-30 secs should suffice and grade of hill can vary – start with 80-90% effort and work your way up. I DO NOT recommend running down them initially – walk as a break before doing it again.
* Strides – After a regular/base run, add in 2-8 stride-outs where you ease into about 100 meters or yards of near maximal effort before slowing back down. Fully recover and then repeat. These are also great to use to practice “race pace” later in training.
Phase II – This is the first phase of “real speed work” where you think of track workouts. Again, you should be injury free during this and want to be fully warmed up. I always recommend at least 1 mile of warming up followed by some dynamic warm up activities (you can search online for this … or wait for an upcoming post to show some examples). I also recommend at least 1 mile for a cool down. Again 1-2 times/week is plenty for these type of workouts – it really depends on how much other additional “workouts” you are doing in your training. If you aren’t doing anything else you could add in another day worth of Phase I stuff. I would recommend completing these type of workouts for 3-4 weeks before considering longer intervals.
* 100-400m sprints – These are what they sound like … 90-100% sprints for those distances with full or near full recovery between. For pure speed work, you want to fully recover with rest/walking between reps. Sometimes, it is okay to have a very light “active recovery” where you jog until feeling recovered between bouts, but the goal is to be able to complete a high intensity rep every time, so you should not tire out at all during your recovery. I would recommend starting with 3/4 to 1 mile worth of speed work before progressing up to more like 2-3 total miles of speed work (again would depend on you as an individual runner).
* 600-800m hard efforts – During this type of phase, I would usually not have people go “all-out” for efforts approaching a 1/2 mile. 80-90% effort will work you pretty hard and have a lot of benefits. Again, you want full or near-full recovery between bouts. And again, you can work your way up to 3 miles or so worth of speed work with your stated goal.
From here, the possibilities are endless. You can tweak things by grouping efforts into sets or by mixing distances or by adding a middle part of another 1 mile base run. It can go on and on and on. There are circumstances where I would scrap this approach and work from a different angle, but this is a good set up that should work for most runners.
Hopefully that helps give you some ideas for some speed work that could help you increase your 1-3 mile speed. Make sure you are also working on endurance runs (long, regular, base) to keep your overall mileage decent. Although 1-3 miles is “short”, you have to have a lot of endurance to run fast during those distances. Good luck!
For daily wellness, marathons and every mile in between...