Why speed training improves distance running performance.

It is well known that if you want to improve distance running you need to develop your aerobic capacity. As the distances community will always say, you want to get the km’s in the legs.

What is less well known is that the faster you can run (your top speed over short distances, 100-400m) benefits your distance running enormously. For evidence on this head to our last blog. This may seem surprising but there are two main reasons this is the case. The first is speed reserve, the second is running economy.

Speed reserve is the difference between your maximum speed and your race speed. The bigger the difference, the lower the percentage of effort required to run at your desired race pace. To put it in basic terms if you want to run 4 min/km for your 10km race, the faster you can run for a 1km effort, the easier it will be for you to achieve the pace. As an example if you can run 2.45 for a 1km effort, 4 min km’s feel easy. If you can only run 3.45 for a 1 km effort, it does not matter how aerobically conditioned you are, it will be very difficult for you to hold that for 10km. You are just working too close to your maximum.

The second factor is running economy. Running economy is often measured by the oxygen consumption you attain at a set speed. Again the faster you are the less energy required, the less oxygen consumed at set speeds. However there are a couple of reasons that running economy improves as you train more and do more speed sessions. The main ones are increases in limb stiffness (ability to bounce off the ground, using stored elastic energy rather than muscle contraction), improvements in technique (forces directed in a way that does not waste energy) and improvements in energy substrate efficiency.

So what type of sessions should you include to improve speed?

Sessions that address speed work well under your race pace, and can include the following.

Example sessions

2 x 12-16 x 100m with easy jog recovery, target 100m in 14-17 sec with 3-5 minutes between sets.

2 x 8 x 200m with 200m off 1-2 min or slow jog recovery targeting 30-35 seconds

6-8 x 400m in 65-75 seconds off 1-3 minutes or lap jog recovery

Mona Fartlek session (2×90 seconds, 4×60 seconds, 4×30 seconds, 4×15 seconds. All efforts are done with a recovery that is the equivalent time of the effort completed (90 seconds on, 90 seconds off and so on)

4-5 x 1 km off 2-3 min recovery (a minimum of 10 seconds faster than your 10km, km rate pace)