Speed Training for Distance Runners

Speed work: your guide to running fast

Are speed workouts absolutely necessary? Well, that depends on what your running goals are. If you are aiming to run faster, then yes, speed work should be included in your overall running program. Just looking to get in shape and not worried about setting personal bests? Then, yes, you might want to focus on just covering distance.

Tips and drills for increasing speed
Speed training for distance runners

In this post, we’re assuming that you do in fact want to run faster. Since that is the case, we’ll be looking at what you can do to run a faster 5k, a faster mile, or even just train at a faster pace.

In late 2018, I dug deep into what “what pace you should run your intervals at and how long those repeats should last”. It was a well-received post and had in my opinion a really good breakdown of each of the common running paces: tempo, threshold, interval and speed. You’ll want to read it as it defined each pace, gave workout samples, and did a good job of explaining what you might want to know about creating interval workouts. The link is below.

Why Speed Training is Important

For a marathon runner to run a good marathon, it’s expected that they run some of their miles at threshold and tempo paces – the pace they are likely to run/sustain over the marathon distance. To become even more efficient at the marathon distance, speed training in the form of repeats might be a good addition to a marathon program. In the case of a marathon runner, speed work is anything just faster than marathon pace. This might be something “only” as fast as half marathon pace and might go as fast as 5k pace. The goal of running these slightly faster paces is to make marathon pace feel easier.

To effectively incorporate speed, a good base of training should be done first
Your guide to running fast

Not running a marathon? No problem! Speed work becomes even more important the shorter the race distance. Maybe a 5k is more your pace? Try running repeats at slightly slower than, at goal pace, and slightly faster than goal pace. The same principles apply as with the marathon runner: we want to get more comfortable running at paces just slower than, at goal pace, and slightly faster than goal pace.

In sports other than running, like football, baseball, or soccer, speed training is still an important component to the sport. The faster and more efficient these athletes are, the higher the likelihood they will outrun or outrace their opponent.

Besides obviously being faster because of speed work, speed training also helps burn more calories. A good interval workout, like repeat 400s or a ladder workout will burn so many more calories than an easy run for the same time.

Factors that will Improve Speed

Good Running Form

Good running form is the foundation for healthy, good running. Without it, injuries are more likely to crop up:

Bad running form can expose runners to poor mechanics, bad efficiency and overuse injuries. About 50 to 75% of all running injuries appear to be overuse injuries due to the constant repetition of the same movement. 

Here’s how you can improve your running form: practice good form with running drills, like A skip, high knees, glute kicks and fast feet.

What you can do to run faster during your next run
How to run fast as a runner

During a run, focus on having a strong core, which you can practice post-run, and think about being light on your feet.

Fitness Level

There is a saying that goes “the bigger the base, the higher the peak”. I think this is really true when it comes to speed work. The bigger the fitness base you have, the more quality work your body is capable of handling. Before starting speed work, I suggest you spend at least 1 month building a consistent base of running mixed with strength training and cross training.

Speed Workout Sessions

Local speed sessions coming up shortly:

Vineland HS in conjunction with Run Vineland (Second Running Capital) which is free – June 12th – details here

Speed sessions with TrainwithMarc

And a speed session I’m putting on over 6 weeks at Cherokee HS and Cherry Hill East HS; details here.

Interested in registering for speed sessions?

Speed sessions in Cherry Hill & Marlton. Details here.

Need a running coach for your next race?

A coach will create the training plan so you can focus on your running goals!

Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach
Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach

Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!


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13 thoughts on “Speed Training for Distance Runners

  1. deborahbrooks14 June 5, 2019 — 2:14 PM

    I know speed workout would help my times. Kind of afraid to try them again bc I got hurt previously doing them

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Speed doesn’t have to be FAST! It can be something as “easy” as run 5 hill repeats or 20 minutes at your goal marathon pace. It doesn’t have to be 400s at 5k race pace. Just know that something, anything, that’s even slightly faster than your marathon pace will work your system and make you faster.

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  3. Thanks for the tips. Every runner would like to run faster, right?
    I know I have to work on being lighter on my feet. When I think about it, I can be but it doesn’t come naturally.
    I don’t usually do speed drills as I am usually trying to get ready for a longer race but I do run 5ks and those for me become my speed drill.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m looking forward to getting back to speedwork as I start marathon training – I like the variety it adds to training!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Organic Runner Mom June 5, 2019 — 6:34 PM

    Speedwork is definitely the key to faster times. It definitely helped me to do tempo and threshold runs during my last half marathon training cycle!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kim at Running on the Fly June 5, 2019 — 6:43 PM

    I’m not a fan of speedwork, so I have to constantly be doing a different workout each time. UGH…I especially loathe the track LOL But I like intervals (on an open road) and hill repeats.

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  7. Yeah, you won’t find me on a track, but I don’t mind intervals. If you have a Garmin watch, you can program intervals into your watch and it’ll beep for you.

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  8. Great tips. I like to include speedwork at least once a week, usually something like a tempo run or race pace run. I think they help running form and actually help you run better even if your goal isn’t to run faster.

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  9. Right now I’m not running for PRs, but if I ever do, I will for sure add in speedwork. When I was doing spadework consistently a few years ago I was able to PR in the 5K and Half Marathon, it was great!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Totally agree. A little speed, like you said even a tempo run, definitely helps smooth out my form.

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  11. I like the variety that speedwork adds to marathon or half marathon training. Running faster than goal pace also makes me feel more comfortable and confident about goal pace, not to mention the actual physiological benefits!

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  12. Dominique Cheylise June 6, 2019 — 1:19 PM

    I love that you included the importance of having a strong core! It’s so critical, with running and other types of exercise/activity!

    Liked by 1 person

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