The ‘Old Boys’ of distance running will tell you that running your best time in the longer distance races is all about getting those long runs in and clocking up the big kms each week. In recent times, this philosophy has changed to include more speed work. The questions are, why, how much and what kind?
Personally I see a lot of value in including a range of speed work into your training, particularly if you intend on being competitive in your running. Some might argue the opposite and claim that it teaches your body to rely on a different energy system than what is ideal for endurance running. My reason for including it is based around 2 things:
- Muscle fatigue tolerance
- Your ability to cope mentally
Let me explain these a little further.
Anyone that has raced before (particularly on trails) will know that there are parts of a race where your effort / output increases or lifts due to the terrain or a strategic move you might be making in the race. Including speed work in your training will teach your body to switch up a gear when needed and improve its ability to utilize stored energy for that bout of effort. The problem that a lot of people will have though is that after that increased effort, they are left feeling flat and falling off the pace. This may actually mean that your increased effort ends up putting you behind the position you began in. The method I suggest for getting the most out of your speed work is to use interval training, hill repeats or some other high intensity method for a period that will leave you feeling cardiovascularly and muscularly fatigued and then to switch straight into a sustained moderate intensity run for 30+ minutes. What this does is teach your body to once again source the energy required for the hard effort and then to condition it to be able to switch back to a sustainable output at a reasonably hard intensity.
Other than the physiological benefits achieved by this method, it also builds another kind of toughness… Mental toughness.
You would no doubt know the feeling of pushing hard and then trying to follow it up with more only to discover that you feel like you are running in quickly setting cement. This feeling can be demoralizing in a race and can really get you down.
So why are some people are better with pain than others? If you have suffered, been through pain or become familiar with what it feels like to hurt, the next time you go there, it isn’t as much of a shock and you can think more clearly. Put simply, the more you hurt in training, the less you hurt when it matters.
To include some fatigue tolerance training into your program in a basic way, find a good hill; run hard up and down it until you feel like you can’t do another rep without walking, then without resting, switch to a 45-60 minute run at your fastest sustainable pace. You won’t like me after completing the session but when it comes time to race, the confidence you will feel when you need to push hard then back yourself to hold your pace will be a nice surprise.