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Speed Workout 101

Speed work is exactly that, adding speed to your weekly routine. This can be done as fartleks—mixing slow and fast running in a workout—or it can be more formal as in running intervals at the track. Whether fartleks or intervals the total distance usually isn't more than 3 or 4 miles. The purpose of these runs is adding the increased speed, not distance.


This posting is going to focus on running intervals. If you didn't run track in high school or college, you may be wondering what the heck is a 200m, 400m or 800m? Well, you're not alone. All I knew when I first started running intervals was that 4 laps around the track equaled a mile. To save you the frustration I went through, here's a little cheat sheet:
• 200m = 1/2 lap (~1/8 mile)
• 400m = 1 lap (~1/4 mile)

• 800m = 2 laps (~1/2 mile)

• 1000m = 2.5 laps (~5/8 mile)
• 1200m = 3 laps (~3/4 mile)
• 1600m = 4 laps (~1 mile)

Usually intervals are run at a 5K or 10K race pace. So, now you're probably wondering how in the heck do I figure out what my 5K race pace would be for a 400m? Well, you can calculate it out, or you can go to McMillan's Running Calculator and let it do the work for you. Once at the site, simply select 5K (or 10K) and enter your best time and then voila! you have every imaginable distance/time calculated out for you. It actually varies the times for middle-distance runners and long-distance runners. For example, for your speed workout (if your best 5K time is 22:00) you'd run a 400m at 1:34.7 to 1:38.8 (middle-distance runners) and at 1:36.6 to 1:42.2 (long-distance runners).

Keep in mind that it may take a few speed workouts before you're able to run the calculated speed. Also, keep in mind that you'll need to allow some time to warm up before doing your speed workout. Usually a lap or two is good. This will help prevent injury.

I think it's good to mix up the types of intervals you do each week. This keeps your body guessing. Listed below are some workouts for you to try. For the most part, the workouts increase in intensity. To begin with you might try doing workout#1 in week #1; workout #2 in week 2 and so on. Later you can mix it up however you want. Also for those who aren't savvy in track lingo, "4x800m" translates "run 800m 4 times."

Workout #1—5x1000m @5K race pace with 2-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout #2—6x800m @10K race pace with 90-second recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout #3—Three sets: 1x1200m @ 10K race pace with 1-minute recovery, 1x400m @5K race pace with a 3-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between each set
Workout#4—4x1600m @10K race pace with 3-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout#5—8x800m @10K race pace with 90-second recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout#6—400m @ 5K race pace (30sec recovery); 800 @ 10K race pace (90-sec recovery); 1200m @10K race pace (2-min recovery); 1600m @10K race pace (3-min recovery); 1200m @10K race pace (2-min recovery); 800 @ 10K race pace (90-sec recovery); 400m @ 5K race pace
Remember that it will take some time for your body to get use to speed work. So don't be discouraged if you aren't able to complete some of the workouts, especially early on. Just keep at it and you'll get there. Don't have a track nearby? I don't either. I found a large parking lot that makes a big loop. One loop equals 800m. Look around, maybe you can find a "makeshift" track near you too.