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A Need for Speed

We are asked more often than not, “Do I really need to do a speed workout?”.  This question is often accompanied with a grimace on the face in anticipation of our answer.

If one wishes to improve not only their running times on a race, but also their overall health, speed workouts provide those results. So, when asked if speed is a need, we recommend it. Speed workouts help build endurance, exhaust new muscle groups and potentially enhance the glucose levels in the body to be healthier because when you do a speed workout, in whatever fashion you choose, your heart gets stronger and pushes more oxygen-rich blood through the body. All of these benefits help you as a runner become stronger, being able to, in the end, hold a steadier pace for longer distance. In essence, you can achieve better results. Your body can better sustain the physical demands that come from running long miles on race day if you have practiced speed workouts through your training weeks.

               So, what are various ways you can go about doing a speed workout?


               Anyone who has been a runner for a long time (or even a short amount of time) has likely heard or knows well what the term “fartlek” means. While it sounds very odd to say, it originates from the Swedish language, and it literally means “speed play”. Fartleks are a system of training for runners in which the terrain and pace are continually varied to eliminate boredom and enhance physiological aspects of conditioning.  Plain language: a fartlek means you run with short bursts of speed. In other words, this is one of the more popular versions of a speed workout.

When running a fartlek, a person can do this in various ways. You don’t have to be on a track. You can be anywhere. Start with an easy pace to warm up. About 5-10 minutes into it, do a speed burst. You choose the avenue of your speed burst. You can pick a sight ahead of you, such as a tree or a light pole, and run full out towards that destination. Or you can use a timer on your watch and run hard for so many seconds or even minutes until it beeps and then do a cool down and repeat this until you complete your run.

Hill Repeats

               We have addressed the topic of hills in a previous blog post. In a hill repeat, make sure your muscles are warmed up by running a slower pace for 5-10 minutes. Once your body is warmed up, you are ready to begin your hill repeats. Keeping good running form, escalate up the hill at a quickened pace, pushing yourself. When you reach the top, you will likely be “breathy” and your legs might be wobbly. Walk yourself down or lightly jog. Then repeat. In the beginning, a few sets will be a good starter, but as the weeks go along, add another set and another. These hill repeats accomplish the same aspect that Fartleks achieve, but also give you more confidence in conquering hills that you might encounter in upcoming races.

Track Work

               Much like fartleks and hill repeats, you will find variations of track workouts as well. You need to find what works for you – what will push you to the next level but not take you to a place of injury. Tracks are measured, which will provide precise speed workouts. Let’s give an example. If you are going to do 8 x 200’s, you will do 8 repeats of 200 meters with a rest in between (you insert your rest time, such as one minute).  On each 200 meters, you will run to push yourself past your typical speed. Some call it oxygen deprivation.  In essence, it’s tough, pushes your lungs and your core and your body to a new level. But after completing such a speed workout, the next long run will feel a little easier.

Now that we have provided a little background as to what a speed workout is and how to do one, we want to tell you a few reasons why these are good. When you incorporate speed into your normal routine, running at a harder pace burns fat and therefore, you may lose a little weight or inches. (That’s not a guarantee, but it happens for many runners.) High intensity training keeps your metabolism higher even after the workout finishes. Because your heart is working harder when you run faster, you are making your heart stronger, because it is working to deliver more oxygen to the muscles. In time, those harder runs help your long runs feel a little easier, allowing you to gain a better time, breathe easier, and run more freely. Doing speed workouts allows you to see a glimpse of the potential that lives within you.


As with any of these speed workouts, not only can each one vary runner to runner, but you, as the runner, know your body best. You know what will push you enough to make you better and what might push too hard. Take caution with speed workouts – while they are supremely good for your body and your running, if not done properly, they can cause injury.  Happy Running!