How To Use Speed Workouts to Run Faster

Is running fast something you’re after? Is setting a PR your goal when you line up for a race? Does your training plan include speed work? If so, this post is for you.

When we start a block of training – when we’re just getting in shape or if we’re training for a big race, we start with easy mileage. We build a base so that we can add speed work on top of the base we’ve created. The bigger the base (foundation) you can safely build, the more speed work your body can withstand.

Run faster after implementing speed work into your weekly running routine
Use speed work to improve your running economy and efficiency

Think of it this way: a building with a very wide base – the size of a city block – or the base of a building a fraction of the size. The building with the wider base has every opportunity to be built higher and taller because it has a much better foundation to support the weight, height, and infrastructure of the entire building.

Distance running is much the same.

Now that we’ve talked about building a strong foundation for speed work, we need to get into the actual speed work! Speed work is very individualized. What works for one runner may not work for anyone else!

We’ll look at a few different tips to help decide how often you should be doing speed work, what different paces are typically called/used, what pace you could/should run at, and I’ll give you sample workouts at each common pace.


How Often?

How often you run fast really depends on how much running you’re doing. If you are running less than 20 miles a week, I’m assuming that you’re probably running somewhere between 3 and 5 days a week. By adding one speed session a week, you can see tremendous gains in your running performance.

A sample week might look like this below:

MonTuesWedsThursFriSatSun
off dayXT/runSpeed DayOffeasy runcross trainLR
Sample week of training with 1 speed session

If your mileage is higher – 30 or more – you’d still see really big gains from one workout a week, but you might actually see even more if you added a second workout to your weekly routine.

With two workouts in a single week, your week might look like this:

MonTuesWedsThursFriSatSun
easy runSpeed Dayoff/easy runeasy runSpeed DayXT/easy runLR
Sample week of training with 2 speed sessions

Keep in mind, more is not always better. Just because you can run 2 workouts in a week doesn’t mean you need to.


Speed training can help you set new PRs
Run faster with speed training. Tips to add speedwork.

What Paces?

Keep in mind that speed workouts don’t have to be all-out fast. Anything that is faster than your regular run pace will increase your ability to run faster. As you’ll see below, there are any number of general paces that any runner can add to their weekly running.

  • Tempo
  • Threshold
  • Interval
  • Critical Velocity
  • Anaerobic Capacity
  • Speed

If you’re unsure about pacing you can use a Jack Daniels VDOT chart or a pacing calculator from Tinman Elite.

All of the above paces can be used to create a full “recipe” for a runner’s weekly mileage. Just know that the amount (volume) of each pace above is not spread out equally. Speed work is taxing and should be used as only a small portion of your overall running volume.


Use speed work to improve your running economy and efficiency
Speed work will improve your running performances over every race distances

How Fast?

The speed (pace) you actually run is dependent on so many factors, including your current fitness level, the goals you have, the mileage you run.

Want to run a tempo run? Tempo pace is generally 85-90% of your maximum heart rate, or 25-30 seconds slower than your 5k pace. We typically run a tempo run as an extended block of time – say 15 or 20 minutes. The effort isn’t overly taxing, so recovery from a tempo workout is usually quicker than any other workout.

Looking to try a threshold workout, like repeat 800’s? Threshold pace is generally 85-90% of your current easy run pace, or 25-30 seconds slower than your 5k pace. Threshold and tempo paces are almost identical – where they differ is the recovery. For example, someone might run a tempo run at 8 minute pace and threshold at 7:45 pace. They might both run at their workout pace for 20 minutes, but the threshold workout might look like 4 x 5 minutes with 1 minute jog.

Interval paced workouts, like 8-10 times 400 meters would be done at your 5k pace. These workouts are TOUGH in nature because they are grinding workouts. The pace is never so fast that you can’t keep up, but the recoveries are equal to the time spent running, so you’re never fully recovering.

Need something a bit quicker because you are racing shorter distances? Try adding striders to the end of your runs. And if you need more volume, you can run repeats of short distances with lots of recovery.

Not sure what to do for your next workout? Marc can help! Message him and chat – he can point you in the right direction!

Speed training can help you set new PRs
Adding speed work to your weekly running routine can improve running performances

Sample Workouts

You’ll want to find your exact pace based on your current fitness level. You should check out a calculator or use a coach to predict/guide your training paces.

These workouts are only examples and should be done with a warm up and cool down run. Click each example for an entire blog post about each topic.



Did you find this article helpful? Let me know by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Need a running coach for your next race?

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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!

10 thoughts on “How To Use Speed Workouts to Run Faster

  1. Great tips! I am definitely going to need to revisit these when I start running again.

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  2. I miss doing speed work. I focused almost entirely on distance in 2019 because of my 50k. In 2020 I’ll add speed back in. It’s so much fun!

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  3. Face it, no more PRs for me but that doesn’t mean I don’t do some speed work. I love tempo workouts the most, and I’ve been doing them a little slower, between 15k and half marathon pace because of my marathon training.

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  4. That makes a lot of sense. I love the feeling of completing a good tempo run. Good luck with marathon training!

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  5. Yes! You rocked your 50k and I’m excited to see your progress this year.

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  6. Yay! Good luck with your comeback – remember to add speed in slowly.

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