When and how should you add in SPEED training?

27 Feb When and how should you add in SPEED training?

It’s on the tip of so many runner’s lips. Speed.


Some have it, some want it and others really aren’t bothered.

Today I’m aiming this at those who want it (speed that is…)

Those that want to see improvement in that number that pops up on their watches when they run.


You could be easily fooled into thinking that just adding in speed will make you run faster. But there’s a bit more to it than that. And to fully explain I’m going to take you to the start of a hypothetical runner’s journey.

I’m going to call this runner Evie for no reason other than someone has just called out that name in the coffee shop I am currently sat in.


Evie, started out running late. She avoided Cross Country at School, running laps were a punishment for the naughty kids and as a result, running became something you didn’t want to do.

It took a while in her adult life to realise that running could actually be more than a punishment.

Shock and horror, maybe… Just maybe she could enjoy it.

Heck, she wanted to lose a bit of weight, so why not try running.

So she did, running 3 times per week, between 20 and 30 minutes each time. But each run was still a chore. Thinking that at some point she might start enjoying it, she kept on going.

But the plateau came, her 5k time dropped to 30 minutes and she wanted to go quicker.

Now, Evie is a traditional beginner, she has built up her distance, and quickly found that she can’t find MORE time for running, so her improvements will ultimately plateau.

There are only so many hours she can devote to running each week, and when those hours are filled, she can’t add on more without neglecting work, family and so on.

The only other aspect in her training she can play with is something called intensity. Which is often overlooked by many runners, as the quest to run more mileage each week becomes the priority.

Intensity basically means adding in faster periods of training. From my perspective, once Evie has ticked off around 6 weeks of steady running, she is ready to substitute one of her runs to interval (or speed) training. And I would start with adding in something like one minute intervals. These would be ran at a pace quicker than her normal running pace, nothing more complex than that.

On week two, it would be a two minute interval, and week three a three minute interval.

Week four… nope not a four minute interval, but a normal week, where all of her runs are at the same and normal running pace. (This would be her recovery week).

And then we repeat the same pattern again. This overly simplified pattern will work for anyone, the tweak I’d make as Evie progresses is the number of times she repeats the intervals and also how much recovery time she gets (as she gets fitter, she gets less recovery time).


So in this example, she can run the same amount on TIME each week but she can increase her training STRESS. But stress in this example isn’t a bad thing, training stress is what naturally happens to the body when we run, it’s this stress that over time builds our muscles to be stronger and for us to get faster.

However too much stress will be a bad thing, leading to over training, under recovery, injury and all sorts of other bad stuff we want to avoid.


As a quick summary then, here are my RULES of adding in SPEED training:


– Include a “fitness building” period of 4-6 weeks before adding speed.

This is for beginners or those returning back to running after a period out. For me, this is my favourite part, as the future is full of hope, the fitness will come as will the speed, but you get to head out for nice, easy and relaxing runs and just enjoy it.

– “Trickle feed” your intervals back into your routine.

Start with one session per week with short intervals and gradually build up week by week. Don’t run before you can walk and certainly don’t sprint before you can run.

– Start with equal recovery periods.

For example, run for 2 minutes, rest for 2 minutes. Then as you get fitter, you can either run faster, or take away your amount of recovery time. Keep it super simple.

– Play around with your number of repetitions

Start small (less stress) and add more depending on your fitness (higher stress). If you are that worried about adding in any speed training, maybe just add in some short bursts at the end of your run, something like 4 sets of 30s running hard, with 60s jog between is great to finish a run with as you get a chance to think about your running form, plus that little increase in pace does wonders for making you feel great as that wind rushes past your ears, and if you want an extra tip, do these efforts on a slight downhill for added smile effect!

– Don’t overcomplicate.

Simply just “running faster” is a great way to start, too many runners worry about running an exact pace. One simple method is to just have THREE paces, an EASY pace, a MODERATE pace or a MAXIMUM pace (or easy, tempo, sprint pace). I switched from panicking about my watch all the time to just using these three paces, it meant I switched off from staring at my watch and was left to my own thoughts and actually enjoyed my runs more.

– Make a note of the number of minutes you are running “hard” for.

This is the amount of stress you are putting through the body, as an example, running 5 sets of 60s with 60s jog recovery totals 5 minutes of hard running. However, running 5 sets of 2:00 with 2:00 jog recovery is 10 minutes of hard running. You can bet this second session will be harder as you are running at a faster pace for much longer.

– If in doubt… Fartlek.

Intervals don’t need to be set intervals, they can be a lot more dynamic if you want them to be. As one example, changing your running pace every time a red car drives past is an interesting type of session… Interesting in that you’ve no idea how long the interval will be, so chances are you might be running hard for seconds, or potentially minutes, but you can bet your bottom dollar your session will fly by much quicker than if you just went out for a run.

– Play the man, not the odds.

If you’ve ever played poker (or watched a lot of Suits like I have – it’s on Netflix and well worth watching!), you might have heard this term, and it’s one I use a lot when coaching runners. Many coaches focus primarily on training plans, they’ll do their qualifications which are based around “perfect” scenarios, building fitness, periodisation, seasons of training and so on. But me. I threw a lot of that out of the window, because with so many runners, you need to play the person and not the coaching plan. What works for one runner, doesn’t work for another. So what works for me, I love tempo runs and long enduring sessions, probably won’t be what you like, enjoy or benefit from. So with all plans, you need to play the man (or woman) and find what works best for them.


If you’d like more help with speed training, why not check out the RunFast ebook I wrote, available below for free and contains 50 training sessions too so you’ll never be stuck for ideas on what to do on your run again.



Coach Ant

P.S. We have just a handful of places left for our Strength Workshop, it’s on Saturday 10th March in Southampton and has been designed around giving runners the knowledge to be able to create a home based strength workout that they can do in minutes to make them stronger and faster too.

Check out those details here: https://runcamp.co.uk/home/runstrong-workshop/


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