ASK THE GOAT: Speed training

Feb. 07, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Goat: “I know that last week you said strength training is important, but I don’t think distance runners really need speed work, do they? I can see the benefits of strength but I do not see speed in the same light. I am along for the journey and log in long miles at a leisurely pace. How can speed-work benefit me?” Signed “Slow Stu”

Dear Stu: Speed-work is a very misunderstood concept. The benefits are vast. Not everyone who engages in speed drills does it to increase speed. Speed is actually just one byproduct of speed training.

The first misconception is that all speed-work is done to increase actual “speed,” defined in physics as distance travelled per unit time. What most distance runners get from speed training is power and endurance. Power, in terms of physics, is simply the time rate at which work is done or energy is transferred. In runner terms, this is how efficiently we can maintain a desired power output. Power’s corresponding partner, endurance, is the time limit of a person’s ability to maintain the power involving muscular contractions. So, where is the speed benefit in speed-work?

The speed increase comes from refining one’s power and endurance. When you start off running too fast, your cardio-endurance quickly fails and you cramp up. You have not conditioned the body to adequately intake and process oxygen at that rate of speed. Meaning: You put forth too much power without having enough endurance.

By doing speed-work, you buttress the body’s ability to exert more demands for longer. What this does is create a faster overall time for completion of a task. The side benefit of this is being able to go farther as well from the new efficiency gains on the system. Speed-work also builds larger muscles with more mitochondria in each muscle cell. This enables the runners to produce and use more energy over a desired time. So speed-work is a win-win for short and long distances.

So how does one train for speed? Below, I have listed and defined some common speed drills for runners:

Speed Repeats: Short circular or out-and-back circuits at an elevated rate of speed. Maintain velocity for the entire set. Each successive set should match or exceed the speed of the last.

Hill Sprints: Usually a point-to-point course that forces runners up a steep incline at an elevated speed, then a slower return downhill to the start. Repeat multiple times at a similar or elevated speed each set.

Fartleks: Adding periodic bursts of speed randomly into a slower run set. The bursts must remain random and periodic to shock the body and buttress gains from the powerful bursts.

There are many types, forms and variations of speed drills. These are but a few of the common ones which can be done easily at Kiwanis or Hermitage Hill in Westlake. Remember, speed-work develops more than speed. It develops a complete runner of all distances.