Half-Marathon Training Series #1: Speed Work

23 Aug

I’ve reached the point in my beach countdown where it is (sort of) appropriate to convert the time to hours (specifically, I leave in 69 hours exactly.) The closer vacation gets, the less sleep I’ll get, I’m sure. Today, I woke up at 4:00 AM – wide awake!


I’m starting a new series today about Half-Marathon Training. I’ve only run one half-marathon in my racing career, and my time was 2:13:45. Since then, I’ve improved quite a bit, so my goal this year is to run a sub-2 hour half. Since I didn’t really train for my first half (I increased my mileage weekly, but that’s about the extent of it), I knew the key to my success was a solid training plan.

Clearly the most popular training plan (at least in my experience) is good old Hal Higdon. Other bloggers trust him, and he has carried my friends (Hi Sarah!) through marathons, so he’s good enough for me. Since I’m trying to PR, the speed work portion (highlighted) of my training is particularly important:

So, today let’s talk about race training and why speed work is important. According to Runner’s World, Speed work makes you faster, fitter, and ultimately makes you more comfortable at any pace. Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World magazine says, “Speed work can increase efficiency, flexibility, range of movement in your joints, and strength, all of which increase your endurance and speed.” 

If you’re not worried about increasing your speed, it’s not terribly important, but increasing your strength and flexibility goes a long way for preventing repetitive stress injuries (most common among runners.)

The Hal Higdon training plan above has two types of speed work. Tempo and 400 repeats. 

Today was a 400 repeat day. I was supposed to do 6 400 repeats at my 5k pace (about 8:40/mile). Here’s what I did (and what I looked like afterward):

As you can see, I’m running 400 repeats at near my 5k pace (~8:34/mile = 7.0 mph on the treadmill), with jogging (and some walking) in between. Ultimately, this will boost my endurance and speed. This is an intense workout. The first couple of repeats seem easy, but as you get more and more you’ll start to really feel it. By the end of my training program, I will (apparently) be doing 10 x 400 repeats! Hopefully I’ll be running the sprints at a faster pace.

As for tempo runs, well, they used to be my nemesis. One of my favorite blog posts of all time is “How to do a Tempo Run” by Tina at Carrots n Cake (find it here.) Basically, your goal is to maintain a ‘comfortably hard’ pace for a certain amount of time. I used to be overwhelmed by tempo runs because (as you can see on the training plan above),  sometimes my training will call for a 40 or 45 minute tempo run. A comfortably hard pace becomes actually hard after a certain amount of time! But let’s backtrack for a minute. Why are tempo runs important? According to this site,  tempo runs increase your lactate threshold, which will help you run faster for a longer period of time. Important when you’re planning to run a distance race and you want to PR!

But then we’re back to the daunting Tempo Run and how to make them manageable. Again, I defer you to Tina’s post, but if you’re still with me, the good thing is that Hal Higdon recommends building your pace gradually throughout your run. The way I do it is I start with a very easy 10-15 minute jog and then I begin to increase my pace ever so slowly until it feels sort of hard, or I can only speak in short sentences. Then I hold that pace until there is 10-15 minutes left in my session and return to the slow jog for a cool down. This has made the idea of a tempo run much less daunting.

That said, I still don’t love them!

Since I don’t have a Garmin watch (ahem, Santa?) and I’m terrible at guessing my pace outdoors, I do about 90% of my speedwork on the treadmill. I like it because it’s very easy to control your pace. However, it’s important to always set somewhat of an incline (I usually go for 1.0) to mimic the wind resistance of running outdoors (unless you are planning on running your race on the treadmill!)

The last type of speed work I’d like to talk about isn’t on my training schedule, but it’s fun and a great trade-out if you just feel like doing something different is a Fartlek run. Yes, this sounds…gross. Fartlek is a Swedish term which means ‘speed play’, and in my opinion, this is the most fun type of speed training because there aren’t any rules!

In a Fartlek run, you basically just pick a distance and sprint when you feel like it. That’s all! I actually really love doing these types of runs outdoors because you can pick landmarks to run to, or sprint only on the chorus of “Dog Days are Over” by Florence + the machine (seriously, you should try that, it’s the only time I get goosebumps while running).

In closing, while doing speed workouts isn’t always the most fun, it’s very important if you want to get stronger and work on your endurance.

Question of the Day:
Do you do speed work? What is your favorite speed workout? 


8 Responses to “Half-Marathon Training Series #1: Speed Work”

  1. Sarah August 23, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    Hi Kristy!! I feel so busted in a good way. Great info on speed work. I’m off to do 100’s, mostly to see if I can get a co-worker to ice bath.

    • kristyshealthrevolution August 23, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      I think I might need to finally try an ice bath. My legs are sore from this training regime like never before.

  2. Alex @ Brain, Body, Because August 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    I love fartleks. I like the spontaneity and looseness of it – run really fast to that mailbox! to that stoplight! to that guy waiting for the bus! Plus, “fartlek” is really fun to say 🙂

    • kristyshealthrevolution August 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      I saw somewhere someone was doing them like, “I’ll sprint until I see 3 silver cars” — which is awesome, because then you have no idea how long you’ll have to sprint! I think I’m going to have to try that one out.

  3. loseitbig August 23, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    I just read about fartleks. I plan to do these depending on the song is on. Maybe the whole song or to a certain part. I like the idea of a number of cars though.

  4. ashcanrun August 23, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    I’ve actually just recently started looking into speedwork. I’m not planning on starting to try out the different varieties until after my first half marathon…

    thank you for all the explanations on the different types! makes it easier to understand!

    • kristyshealthrevolution August 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

      I’m so glad that this helped! I wouldn’t suggest doing much speedwork before running your first half marathon. Just work on your endurance and upping your mileage. Then you can work on getting speedy for your second!

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