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The four types of speedwork that can benefit every runner

All four of these workouts should be in your training plan if you're looking to improve

When you first start running, simply going out for a steady-paced run a few times per week consistently is enough for you to see improvement — sometimes significant improvement. Gradually, however, that progress starts to slow, and eventually stop altogether. At this point, the only way to get faster is to introduce some speedwork into your training. There are four main types of speedwork, and if you’re looking for a new PB in your next race, you’d be wise to include all of them in your training plan.

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Fartleks

The term fartlek is Swedish for speed play, and as the name suggests, this type of workout is much less structured than the other workouts we’ll be looking at. For this reason, a fartlek is a great workout to use at the beginning of a training cycle when you’re not in peak shape yet, or near the end when you’re tapering for your race. Instead of using a regimented time or distance, this workout is done more by feel, and can be adjusted by the runner as the workout progresses.

To do a fartlek, simply choose landmarks (like driveways, streets, lamp posts, etc.) to indicate when you’re going to speed up and when you’re going to return to a slow recovery jog. Alternate between periods fast and slow running for a fun, challenging workout.

Hills

Hills are another great workout to include during the base phase of your training to build strength and power, as well as to work on your running form. The high-intensity nature of hills also allows you to get a great workout in a short amount of time, so they’re perfect when you’ve got a busy schedule.

Tempo runs

Tempo runs are absolutely necessary if you want to build your speed endurance. They also force you to work on your mental endurance, which is a key to success on race day. Many people are confused by tempo runs and are unsure how to do them properly, but in reality, they are quite simple. Basically, what you’re trying to do during a tempo run is sustain a pace that is about 80 to 90 per cent of your maximum effort for a longer period of time (anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes or more). Some people like to describe this pace as 10K to half-marathon pace.

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Doing these regularly will increase your lactate threshold, thus allowing you to maintain a faster pace for a longer period of time. Tempo runs also force you to work on your mental stamina, since they require you to stay focused without a break to regroup.

Photo: Maxine Gravina

Intervals

Intervals are the king of speedwork. Put simply, they are bursts of high-intensity running, followed by periods of low-intensity running or rest. They can be performed on a track, a road or on grass, and can be done by distance or time. There are endless possibilities in terms of what type of interval workout you can do, and so it’s important to choose a duration and intensity that aligns with your goals and your fitness level. Many people who are truly interested in getting faster choose to get a coach, who can tailor their workouts to their goals, or to join a local running group where they can train with runners who are at a similar ability level to them.

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