As a distance runner, it is common knowledge that to get fitter, you need to run more and more miles. And this is completely true, how are you supposed to run a Half Marathon if you don’t run more than 13.1 miles a week? You would struggle. Now, where the majority of runners go wrong is depending on the miles, perhaps too much. You get caught in an endless pursue of more weekly miles and longer runs, getting fitter and fitter, yet you reach a point where you struggle to improve.
There’s a reason for this – say you want to run 5:00 per mile for a 10km race, which is pretty quick! But how do you expect to do that when your personal best for the Mile is only 4:40? It’s a feat that can be ridiculed upon when speculated. However, if you had a personal best of 4:15 for the Mile, then running at 5:00 per mile in a race doesn’t seem so hard. How do you run a 4:15 personal best for the Mile to make the 5:00 miles feel easy? Speed work!
‘Speed work’ is a rather broad term, but in essence it means training your fast-twitch muscle fibers – teaching your body how to switch on that ‘extra gear’- and can generally be associated with short bursts of anaerobic activity. For example, Wilson Kipsang (2:03 Marathon runner) was once interviewed by Sweat Elite, where he revealed that he did speed work at least once a week. He stated that he would include some 200m efforts on the track, aiming to run them fast with longer recoveries in-between. Even for Marathon runners it is important, Kipsang couldn’t run 4:40 per mile for 26.2 miles if he didn’t have the speed in his legs to run a 4:40 mile in the first place.
The amount of speed work you should incorporate into your week is entirely dependent on you. The key to improving as a runner is training you weaknesses; if you have good leg speed yet struggle with the longer miles, then run longer miles. On the contrary, if you find the long miles easy, yet struggle with your leg speed, do speed work! Additionally, the amount of speed work you include also depends on the distance you choose to compete at. For example, an 800m runner will include far more speed work in their training than a 5,000m runner.
Whatever your case may be, I hope it is now clear that speed work should never be neglected. If you are new to it, start off by introducing some short strides on a soft surface (track or grass), with some dynamic drills targeted to be speed specific (easily found on YouTube).
Better your raw speed and watch your personal bests tumble.