Well, there is a saying used by some that goes along the lines of: “If you want to run faster, then practice running faster!”
This short answer could be misunderstood as slightly flippant; however, the underlying message is pretty spot on. Obviously there is a bigger picture when it comes to running and there are all sorts of elements that contribute to the ability to run fast.
However, for someone who is conditioned to running – you may have been doing it for a while or have built up to getting around your local park run – things may have started to plateau; you just want to get some speed in your legs and make that extra jump towards your goal time or see off the familiar faces that always seem to be just out of reach.
Then doing some faster running practice may be just what you need. Often, it can be an area where we can make the biggest gains as well – so why doesn’t everyone do it? To be honest the main reason is probably because running faster than you are used to hurts and the harder you try, the more it hurts, and if you enjoy the pain and do it too much at some point your body will kick back and say “enough!”
When you do put the precious hard work in, you want to make sure that it is in the right areas, works you as hard as possible but also allows you to recover quickly and not feel like you took a beating 4 days later!
By practising running faster we mean anything that has you running faster than your usual race pace which can be in various forms, from interval, through to tempo, threshold, marathon pace, HIIT: there are lots of different sessions and each will work a slightly different system more than the other. For now though we are going to talk High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT.
“My best year of speed and possibly racing was after a winter of my running distance being limited due to an ankle operation, I could only do short high intensity sessions and they were a mix of cycling, swimming and treadmill work – for the next 6 months afterwards I carried great pace into my training and races, park run PB`s, winning my first fell race back, flying on Rosedale trail marathon setting a new course record and winning the Lakeland 50 for the first time – adding endurance on top of this afterwards was much easier than the other way around.”
Keeping it simple, HIIT works your inner engine really hard which helps increase its overall capacity to get blood into the muscles. It also helps to increase your running efficiency and also your minds ability to suffer. Doing these sorts of sessions early on in the training season is good as you are basically giving yourself a bigger engine to build on and then introduce efficiency and endurance to later on.
So here are a few of my favourite sessions where you can really loose yourself in that magical zone of pain. As far as effort on each rep is concerned then we are looking for 100% on all of the reps. As Muhamad Ali once said – “I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. That is when I start counting, because then it really counts. That’s what makes you a champion.”
One of my favourite sessions, from Australian sporting legend Steve Moneghetti his signature session is a more formal variation on Fartlek training, it gets your heart rate high for twenty minutes but you only feel like it is ten!
2 x 90secs with 90secs recovery (float, jog or walk depending on your fitness level)
4 x 60secs with 60secs recovery (float, jog or walk depending on your fitness level)
4 x 30secs with 30secs recovery (float, jog or walk depending on your fitness level)
4 x 15secs with 30secs recovery (float, jog or walk depending on your fitness level)
To make this more interesting try doing the hard efforts point to point, trying to equal or beat your distance each time.
What goes up must come back down, going up gives you chance to run at different speeds, then coming back down it is all out effort to try and maintain or improve your pace, again you will not fully recover in the rest periods so you spend much longer than you think at a high effort level.
Warm up 10-15 min: Running for time: 1×30 sec, 1×60 sec, 1×90 sec, 1x120sec, 1×90 sec, 1×60 sec, 1×30 sec. All with 30 sec recovery between. Rule of thumb being at 3-5k pace on the way up, focusing on good form and technique. All out effort for each rep on the way back down.
These obviously come in many forms, the benefits of these make it a really great session for maximising lots of benefits in one session, as well as working your VO2 system they also improve strength, being uphill put less impact and therefore stress through your joints, so don’t tend to take as much for your body to recover from.
A good session is 2-3 minutes of climbing fast and using the run back down for recovery, 5 to 10 repetitions will be hard but very rewarding.
If you really want to spice up your hill sessions the do either Moneghetti or the Pyramid session on hills – doing your hard reps on the climb and recovery time heading back down, though you may need a longer hill to do these on as you may not get back to the bottom each time!
This session is quite well known for marathon training, the idea being that if you can do 10 x 800m reps all at the same pace so for example 3 minutes, you are capable of a similar marathon time in hours – ie 3 hours – so 800m in 3min 30 sec would be a marathon time of 3 hours 30min. There is some speculation over any actual scientific reason for this, however it is still a great session to improve speed allowing for progression by vary the number of repetitions and can give you a good reference point to come back to and measure your fitness progress.
The format is fairly straight forwards, run for 800 metres, then rest for a similar amount of time or maximum 3 minutes – repeat 10 times, though I would recommend starting with 5 reps, then building up a rep each session as your fitness and endurance progress.
I personally like doing this on the treadmill, you just dial up the speed and keep your legs moving as fast as you can until you hit the distance, there is not slacking off or hiding!
Well known as the Swedish word for “speed play” this is a great session for just that – doing this in a group or with a partner can be great fun and is a fantastic session for working different speeds and intensities, also nice to do off-road on the trails.
In a group or in pairs take it in turns to call out a distance and effort level, then go! So you may say “to the next lamp post 90% effort” “Go!” It gets hard in a mixed ability group but with similar abilities it can get competitive and great fun!
There we have a few of my favorites, just make sure you approach them progressively and do them consistently, a period of doing these a couple of times a week for six weeks will certainly help you see some solid gains in performance, I would still recommend some easy runs between sessions as these will aid recovery and help maintain a level of endurance fitness.
What is your favourite session?
Let us know how you get on!