We all want to get faster and stronger, so that our race or time trial times will come down. And the way to do that is by building speed work into our training programmes. To improve your pace, try these eight drills/workouts. Some of these speed strategies are easy drills, while others are full-blown workouts. All are simple – and all are effective.
1 Fast Feet
Jog to warm up for ten minutes, then pretend that you’re running over hot coals for 50 metres. To keep from searing your soles, you must lift each foot as fast as you can. This forces you onto your forefeet, the way sprinters run – which greatly reduces your time on the ground (i.e. you don’t go through your normal heel-to-toe transition). This drill is derived from studies that show you need to do two things to become faster: increase the force you apply to the ground, and decrease the time your feet are on the ground. Do four to six reps, walking to recover after each.
2 Two-Speed Tap
After 3km of relaxed running, run ten footfalls faster than your normal pace (count each time your right foot hits the ground), then do ten very slow steps followed by 20-20, 30-30, and so on up to 60-60, then reverse it back down to ten-ten – or just go straight through to 100-100. Depending on your fitness level, you can adjust the speed of the fast and slow portions, or both.
3 Fatigued Speed
A good way to increase your strength and speed is to do a workout that makes you run faster when you’re already somewhat fatigued, so run 12km at your normal pace until you have about 3km left. Then kick the pace up until you’re moving faster and breathing harder (think pleasantly uncomfortable) for one minute followed by one minute (more if you need it) of slow jogging. Alternate like this the rest of the way.
4 Hidden Speed Work
Hill training increases the concentration of aerobic enzymes in the quads, leading to heightened power and knee lift while accelerating each leg forward more quickly, which improves your speed. So, between a 3km warm-up and 3km cool-down, find a moderate incline of 50 to 75 metres and, working your arms vigorously, run forcefully (but not sprinting) up it six to eight times, then jog (or walk) slowly down.
5 Block Party
In your city, neighbourhood or office park, use blocks as your ‘track’. You can go around the block or do an out-and-back. Start at a slow pace for up to 20 steps, then gradually increase the pace for 20 to 50 steps, then run at race pace (but not flat-out) for one full block. Start with two or three speed segments and build up to six. Walk for one or two minutes between each faster section.
6 Pole to Pole
You can use regularly spaced lamp poles (or telephone poles) to create varying lengths of speed segments. On each segment, for example a three-pole section of about 100 metres, gradually pick up the pace until you’re running fast but not flat-out. For the last 20 steps, hold the pace, but focus on relaxing your body and allowing momentum to take over. Walk or jog for half the distance of your repeat, then spot your next landmark and take off again. Continue for a total of ten to 15 minutes, before running an easy five to ten minutes to cool down.
7 Slog Breakers
Many runners get into the habit of running the same pace every day for months on end. Here’s how to overcome this tendency: Run five to ten kays and after a few kays, take off at faster-than-5km pace for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat every two minutes for the rest of your run. This workout improves speed and running efficiency, yet you end the session feeling no more tired than if you had done the whole run at a single, easy pace.
8 Going Downhill
This one’s short and sweet, and it’s called ’overspeed‘ training. After warming up, find a gently sloping 100-metre downhill, ideally on grass or gravel. Jog to the top, then run down it. Fast. Repeat four to six times, jogging back up between repeats, then cool down afterwards. This will do wonders for your leg turnover.
When doing speed workouts or drills, focus on keeping your upper body relaxed. Be sure to stride smoothly and keep your hips, hands, arms, shoulders and jaw loose and relaxed. Many runners think that running faster means running ‘harder’ and unconsciously develop tension in their bodies, but relaxed is faster because you’re not fighting yourself.