What was the secret? They wanted to know, in a thousand different ways they wanted to know THE SECRET. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottom of his running shoes. - John L. Parker

Friday, January 10, 2014

Building a Speed Base

Speed training is an often neglected part of training for distance runners.  A lot of people think of speed training as running 400's, 800’s, 1000's, mile repeats, etc., and while those are great workouts which will improve your race performance, they won’t improve your actual speed.  When I say “speed” in this instance I am referring to top end speed – the maximum speed that you can achieve while running.

Of course, you are probably wondering why this is important.  After all, as distance runners we spend little or no time in a race going all out.  But improving your speed will make you stronger and more efficient in racing. I like to think of it as gears on a bike.  By improving your speed you’re adding those higher gears that allow you too go faster.  Imagine two guys riding side by side but one is in a high gear and the other is in first gear. The one stuck in first is spending a lot more energy to keep up!  That’s difference between having speed and not.
You don't need to be an olympic sprinter to benefit from some speed training!
Below is one of my favorite posts on Letsrun.  It describes a situation that I feel is very applicable to myself (and probably many others as well) that I am looking to remedy this training cycle.  Here is the full post:

Improving basic speed is fairly simple. The scenario I've seen many times is this. Let me introduce you to runner "Joe."
Joe is 27 years old, was decent but no better in H.S., tried to make the cross-country/track team at the local university but was unsuccessful. Joe ran 10:00 in the 3200 in H.S., and now runs local road races with an average 5k of 17:30. Joe runs about 40 miles a week and does intervals in the form of 800m and mile repeats in fartlek form with the local club. 
Joe can no longer come close to a 10:00 3200. He can't do this because 5:00 for the mile is all he can muster. An 800m in 2:20 is a race for him. 
Joe has 2 big problems that are equally important to address 1)Lack of mileage, 2)No speed. Joe, however has decided he wants some more success and is willing to work for it. 
I look at his recent mileage and plot out a course for raising it. We go to the track and warm-up etc. and I put him through a small true speed workout. I have him run what I call an "accela 200." He starts out at mile race pace and builds speed over 200 meters until the last 20-30 are full out. This is always the final component of the warm-up and the beginning of the workout on a true speed day. 
Because he has not done any true speed work since high school he will run 1 or 2 200s. I give him 5 minutes recovery and explain that he will run this next 200 as fast as possible while staying relaxed. He jogs into into it with a raised hand which is dropped when the 200 start is reached. As the hand drops I click my watch and observe. The effort to relax is apparent but he is not relaxed and isn't generating a lot of power. The time is 29.3. He walks a bit, jogs a 600 back to the start where I meet him and ask how he is feeling etc (rest was about 8 min). We decide to do another one. Same procedure, 29.7. 
I let him know that he will be sore etc. but that his speed will improve. This workout is repeated once a week with the number of 200s increased to 5 after the accela 200. The recovery is whatever is necessary (within reason) to be ready to go again. Usually starts at about 8 minutes and drops to 5 minutes after a couple months. It is never reduced to less then 5. 
Joe's progression. 
Week 1: 29.3, 29.7
Week 2: 28.8, 28.5, 29.1
Week 3: 28.5, 28.4, 28.6, 28.8
Week 4: 28.1, 28.0, 28.3, 28.3, 29.2
Week 5: 28.2, 28.5, 28.4, 28.5, 28.4
Week 6: 27.7, 27.6, 28.0, 28.1, 27.3
(Finally gets around to buying a pair of spikes to use instead of road flats. The last 200 of week 6 was run in spikes. Joe put them on for strides 2 times during the week. He has not be sore so the last 3 will be run in spikes on week 7. Week 8 will be completely in spikes.)
Week 7: 27.5, 27.6, 27.0, 26.8, 26.6
Week 8: 26.9, 26.5, 26.4, 26.7, 26.2
Week 9: 26.3, 26.1, 26.0, 26.6, 25.9
Week 10:25.9, 26.3, 26.1, 25.9, 25.8 
(During this time mileage was raised from 40-70) 
This Joe levels off about here, two Joes I have coached progressed to the mid 24's, another is currently at about week 6. All joes increased there mileage and threshold running and dropped up there 5k times substantially--and didn't get outkicked at the end. In less than a year Joe is now running 15:30 for 5k and 4:28 for a mile.
Pure speed training fits very well in the the base phase.  As you can see above, paying some attention to speed pays big dividends down the road and doesn't require a huge investment in terms of training time.   Running short sprint intervals at max intensity with long rest is a great way to improve speed.  The Summer of Malmo plan that I am using includes this type of workout every other week.

However, running 200s at full sprint is probably not feasible during the Cleveland winter unless you have access to an indoor track so here are three alternatives that you can use to help work on your basic speed:

1. Hill sprints - Plan your run so that you end at or near a decent hill.  At the end of the run do 4-10x 10sec hill repeats.  Just sprint up the hill as fast as you can for 10 seconds (or 40m - 60m) then walk back down. Take a minute or two to rest at the bottom and then repeat.  Start with 4 and try to work your way up to 10. Remember you want full recovery between each one.   These are great for developing raw power in your legs.

2. Strides - Find a clear stretch of pavement about 40m - 60m long. At the end of a run, do some short sprints on this section. You should feel relaxed on each one. Start at about 90% of your max speed and work your way up to 99%. You should feel like you are going as fast as you can while staying relaxed and not straining or "reaching" to go faster. Doing these after easy runs is a great way to improve your mechanics and build speed.

3. Lifting - Lots of exercises to choose from: lunges, squats, split squats, pistol squats, deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, calf raises, burpees, glute bridges, plyos, etc.  Pick a few exercises and create a routine. Try to hit as many muscle groups as you can.  Glutes are especially useful for sprinting and often neglected by distance runners.  A lot of these can be done with just bodyweight but if you have access to some free weights, even better.  High weight, low reps is the best weigh to increase strength. You don't have to do them all to failure.  The easiest thing to do is to pick a few exercises and do 5 - 10 reps of each with as much weight as you can muster (provided you stop 1 or 2 reps shy of failure). Keep it short and sweet.

One of the keys to all of these is that they can be done on easy days and should not interfere with your other workouts.   Remember that none of these should be done to failure.  Try to make them part of your routine.  You are much more likely to stick to a simple routine done frequently than a complex one done infrequently so keep it simple and do it often.  This is one of those are areas where an investment of just a few minutes after every run can shave minutes off your race time.

Stay warm out there and remember to work on that speed!

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