A running confession

So I have a running confession to share. I have run two full marathons and four half marathons, plus a bunch of trail races and never have I ever done speedwork. No 400s, 800s or 1600s. I’ve done tempo runs but never intervals. They always sound hard. But now I am starting my half marathon training plan next week and it calls for some speedwork. And the weird thing is that I am actually kinda looking forward to trying it out.

So I am looking for your help. I get the principal behind everything and I have a pretty good idea about what paces to start with but I have some newbie questions.

Do you do your speedwork on a treadmill or a track?

How much of a gap do you leave between intervals? A certain amount of time or a distance?

Do you walk or just run super slow between intervals?

Do you program it into a watch? Can you even do this? How do you get your run done without checking your GPS every two minutes?

How do you think speedwork has helped your running?

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19 thoughts on “A running confession

  1. speedwork is crazy hard, but makes you such a better runner. It stresses different muscles you use for running & wakes up your fast twitch muscles that fire up during a harder effort. if you don’t exercise your fast twitch muscles they aren’t there..and imagine how many more muscle fibers will be there to help you during a race if you exercise them? 🙂 When i first started intervals i used to walk about a quarter of a mile between all intervals, now i just jog very slowly. You will learn what is truly hard effort & easy running from speedwork. I do speed on both track or treadmill, whichever is convenient–and it takes a lot of the work out from messing with your watch to know your splits. I haven’t mastered that quite yet. Speedwork & hill sprints have taken my half pr from 1:52 to a 1:36 over the last 3 years. That’s the only big change i’ve made! enjoy the fast running!

  2. charissarunning says:

    That’s so interesting that you’ve never done formal interval speedwork before! This is gonna be long!!
    Firstly, there’s no one way to do speedwork and it’s really easy to vary it up. Generally, I prefer doing intervals on the treadmill because it helps me keep a consistent pace; on the track, I tend to go out too fast and fade – plus as funny as it may sound I prefer to run in place I guess than run around a track more than two times (800s are my max!). That said, the track is more of a challenge because you get outside factors like wind resistance. To combat this, I generally just run treadmill intervals a bit faster than I would on the track or bump the incline a little.
    Gap between intervals: generally, I do half the distance of the interval. So for 800m intervals, I would do 400m of recovery. HOWEVER, you can change the time or distance depending on how you want the workout to be. For instance, if you want to focus on a little more tough endurance, I’d make the recovery time or distance shorter (ex.1600m repeats with 400m recoveries: you might have to slow down your 1600’s just a bit, but the shorter recovery will provide a great endurance aspect). The great thing about intervals is you can design them pretty much how you want!
    Recoveries: I typically jog for recoveries because I find it’s a little better for building my endurance also. But walking is perfectly acceptable too and I know some really fast people who do walking recoveries because they are more focused on the individual intervals as opposed to the endurance building aspect that they probably get with other runs during the week anyway. It’s all about preference.
    Programming: If you know the workout you want to do ahead of time, you can definitely program it into your watch so that it beeps each time your interval or recovery phase starts/ends. You can also program it to time or distance so it gives you lots of variety! When you don’t program it ahead of time and you’re on the track, just do your interval and then hit the lap button to record your time for that interval. This is why distance intervals and recoveries are often nicer because you don’t need to constantly be looking at your watch or worry about programming it perfectly.
    How speedwork has helped me: I don’t know if I’ve ever really NOT done speedwork so it’s hard to say exactly. But I feel that running faster speeds than your goal race pace helps race pace to not seem so hard. It’s not something that you see overnight of course, but over time, I feel like it makes other paces seem easier.

    • Thanks for posting this Charissa. It was super helpful. I know that you need to practice running fast in order to, well, run fast. Speedwork always seemed so intimidating to me before but I finally feel like I’m ready to try it out. I guess the best thing is to try a couple of different ways and see what works best, but with our snow/ice it’ll probably start on the treadmill.

  3. Hanna @ TheMillennialNextDoor says:

    Good luck! Like Charissa said, speed work style is really about preference and there is no one right way to do it, although there are advantages and disadvantages all around. You mention a plan that calls for speed work – does the plan also give you recommendations for the recovery intervals?

    Personally, I always jog my recoveries, because I find it helpful to keep my legs moving between intervals and like Charissa said, it helps build endurance. I don’t do the type of speed work where I’m trying to hit my all out max in sprints, so it’s less important for me to be fully recovered for each interval. Also, I don’t like to completely rest between intervals because I feel like the abrupt stopping and starting of fast paces is too jarring for my body.

    I do mine on the treadmill and the track, but mostly the track. I think the treadmill is a good place for beginning speedwork – it’s where I did my first ever speed work, and I still use it for shorter/faster intervals because I’m not as good at pacing those. With the treadmill I can make sure I’m hitting the splits I want AND not going out too fast. When I’m on the track, which I use for anything 800m and longer, I use my watch but I don’t use the GPS. I just let the timer run and hit the lap button after every interval. Pretty old school, but easier in my opinion than programming a workout or fussing with GPS. Of course, it does mean you have to be keeping track of your laps as you go along, but that’s usually not too hard 🙂

    Speed work has helped me immensely as a runner. When I first started doing it way back in the day, my overall paces seemed to get faster overnight. Well, not really, but it improves my running in a lot of ways other than just “getting faster”: it helps my efficiency, it trains me to tolerate discomfort, it helps me polish up my form, it boosts my general running fitness and oh, yeah – it makes me faster 🙂

    By the way, you are insanely speedy for someone who has never done speed work! You must have lots of natural talent 🙂 GOOD LUCK!! Looking forward to hearing how it goes

    • Thanks for this Hanna. I love being part of the running-blogging community and getting such great advice. The plan has the number and length of intervals and I’m guessing they assume that people have done speedwork before and know what the intervals should be. I’ll be starting with the treadmill but thanks for your tip about the lap times. We have a high school track just over a mile from our house so hopefully I can get on that once the thaw begins!

  4. I think you’re going to love it. Speed work is my favorite!
    I don’t have access to a track (usually) so I do it mostly on a treadmill and I vary my interval distance, but my recovery is 400m regardless of which distance I’m doing during which I run slowly. I’m excited to hear what you think of them!

  5. I was the same way. I never did one speed workout until I’d run several marathons and half marathons. I have come to LOVE speed work. I don’t want to miss a question soooo…

    Do you do your speedwork on a treadmill or a track?
    Both – I prefer a track because you really can run your hardest effort (whether its a good thing or bad thing), but a treadmill is a great tool for days where you want to push harder or have bad weather (snow covered tracks are not good for speed!)

    How much of a gap do you leave between intervals? A certain amount of time or a distance?
    Usually a 400 (about .25 of a mile!)

    Do you walk or just run super slow between intervals?
    Both. For me, I want the emphasis to be all about the interval. I do what I need to do to recover. I usually start by walking and then start jogging less than halfway through the recovery.

    Do you program it into a watch? Can you even do this? How do you get your run done without checking your GPS every two minutes? You know I am between watches, so with my 310 I used to change it so I could see time, distance, pace, and lap time. This way, I could hit lap in between each one and I could also gauge where I am during each interval.

    How do you think speedwork has helped your running? Speed work makes you much more confident to go out and run fast paces in a race. It has been a huge help!

    Get it, sister! You will love it!

  6. Oh man, I LOVE intervals, particularly 400 repeats. I’ve done them lots of different ways. Treadmill is great because you can easily make sure you’re hitting your goal paces, but tracks or even just a straight stretch of road can work. If my interval paces aren’t too hard, I’ll generally jog 400m for recovery, but if the intervals are at a truly difficult pace, I’ll walk for the same amount of time that it took to run the interval (my 400m interval took 2 minutes, I recover by walking 2 minutes etc). Basically, do what works for you. Any time you’re running faster helps to build your stamina and helps you run faster.

    My Garmin FR220 has the ability to program intervals, so it’ll beep every time you need to change pace, and it will record those as your laps, and you can also include warm up and cool down, in either time or distance. I do it on the Garmin Connect site, which sends it to the app on my phone, which can transfer the workout to my watch via Bluetooth. Good luck!

  7. Good luck! I just started speed work last summer and don’t do it unless I’m training for a race, but it’s a mixture of exciting/painful/rewarding. I use RunKeeper on my phone and there’s an option to set intervals for your workout – I’m currently doing run/walk intervals as I come back from my injury, but I know you can set them for any reason and any amount of time/miles. In my training group last summer we did a mix of track/street stuff, but the track was really nice for showing progress over time which was a big motivator for me. Have fun!

  8. I have mixed feelings on speed work. My half PR was set on zero speed work. 2 years later it still stands and I have introduced speed work since then. Now it may be that I am doing it wrong because I never do speed work consistently- it’s more like once a month. I’m really torn between running easy and speed work right now. I am trying to work out a training plan but just can’t decide what to do. But when I do speed work I usually head to my lake path- it’s flat and a little over a mile around. Good luck!

  9. I do intervals on trails as I only run outside with my adventure dog. Plus I mostly race on trails so I feel I should train on them. I either do distance intervals or time so I use the garmin or my timex. You’ll know how slow to walk or jog between, your lungs will dictate this. I dislike over complicating things so that’s how I do it. And mainly because my running is centred around Kobi.

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