A little background to begin. My copy of Jim Collins’s book Good to Great is marked up – in three different colors of ink – and is easily one of the 10 most influential books in my life. One of the small gems in the book is the idea of a “Stop Doing List.” Obviously he’s flipping the concept of a “To Do List” on it’s head, but more importantly, he’s doing the life design equivalent of what Michelangelo did with his David sculpture. Legend has it that when an admirer asked Michelangelo how he made such a magnificent sculpture, he replied, “David was always there in the marble. I just took away everything that was not David.”
Here are the things I believe you, a serious runner, need to stop doing. Stop doing them, and I believe you will have a better understanding of training AND you will race faster.
Speed Work may be my least favorite running term because what the runner is really doing is race pace running. Most runners use the term incorrectly because they use it to describe running that, while faster than their normal easy day pace, is not the fastest they can run. Speed Work should refer to a workout, or a part of a track session, where the focus is to fully develop speed. Running 10 x 400m with 60 seconds recovery does not develop speed. It develops your anaerobic metabolism, and neuromuscularly it gets most athletes running faster than 5k pace, but that’s not speed. Speed is running as fast as you can, so that means running a distance of less than 100m.
Let me put it another way: How fast could you run if you had to race across a busy street to save a loved one? The sprinting you’d do to save the loved one is Speed Work – running that is at or near maximal. Obviously you couldn’t sustain that pace for 400m so you shouldn’t call you your 10 x 400m workout a Speed Workout. 10 x 400m may relate to what you can run for 5,000m, 3,000m, or for some highly trained athletes, the mile. But in none of those cases does the term Speed Work apply. If you want to read more about developing speed, please read this article I wrote for Running Times; you can watch this video to see what a speed development workout looks like.
…and I hate the term so much I’m going to stop capitalizing it. Thanks for understanding.
I would love to see you stop using the term “speed work” and instead use the term “race pace work.” Two reasons, the first being the accuracy of the term – most running you do on a track has you running in the vicinity of the pace you will run for a given distance. So when you do 6 x 1000m with short rest, that’s probably close to the pace you can run for 5k. Or you might do 6 x 800m at your 5k pace, take some rest, then do three hard 200m repetitions.
…do you mind me geeking out for a second? Thanks. I encourage you to use the term “interval” correctly. The interval is the rest/recovery period between the repetitions. In the case of 10 x 400m with 60 seconds recovery, the interval is the 60 seconds, not the 400m (the 400m is the repetition). If your recovery between repetitions is a 60 second walk, then saying that you’re going to the track “to run some hard intervals” is incorrect. Not a huge pet peeve of mine, but now you know…and as GI Joe said at the end of the cartoons in the 1980’s, “Knowing is half the battle.” Back to race pace work…
The second reason I like “race pace work” to describe the work you do on the track is that it reminds you to run race pace. In simple terms, you want to groove the pace you’re going to run in the race. If you are going to run a 5k in 25 minutes, then you want to groove 8:00 pace, or 2:00 per 400m rep. Technically what you’re doing when you groove a pace is giving your legs a specific neuromuscular stimulus – 8:00 pace is different from 6:00 pace and 9:30-10:00 pace (which is probably the pace of your easy runs). Plus, there is a slight difference biomechanically when you run race pace – you take a slightly longer stride, and this change will often cause some muscular soreness 24 and 48 hours after the workout (coupled with the fact that you’re putting more force into the ground with each footstrike, which is also going to lead to soreness).
Use the term race pace work because it accurately describes what you’ll be doing in the workout, and it reminds you that the point of the workout is to groove a pace that you hope to run in your next race. And if you just love the term speed then use it to describe speed development workouts.