How to Use Speed Work Training to Improve Your Time

© Martinmark |

© Martinmark |

Beginning half marathoners do not always incorporate speed work into their training programs, but there are a number of great reasons to add these workouts. The number one benefit of speed work, of course, is racing faster.

(MORE: 13 Tips For Your First Half Marathon)

Though beginning half marathoners often have the goal to simply finish their race, many are also aiming for a specific time. Speed work also aids in cardiovascular improvement which can have lasting effects even when done only on a weekly basis:

  • Longer runs go better, thanks to an improved level of fitness.
  • Muscles are strengthened.
  • Stronger legs make running more efficient and every workout will be greatly improved.

Yasso 800’s, mile repeats & fartleks

There are plenty of different types of speed work. They all include runners testing their skills at a faster than race pace for shortened periods of time. Most workouts total anywhere from 3-6 miles for a beginning half marathoner, including recovery jogs.

It may take a few sessions before you feel comfortable running at higher speeds, but it can be enjoyable once your body adapts. A few of the most popular speed work workouts include Yasso 800’s, mile repeats, and fartleks.

Yasso 800’s are name for Bart Yasso, a widely respected member of the running community who coined the term. The workout was developed for full marathon runners, but works as a great speed work session for half marathoners as well.

The workout is simple. Run 800 meters as fast as possible and then jog for recovery in the same amount of time it took to run the 800 meters. Start with 2 to 3 repeats and build up to 5 to 6 repeats as your body becomes more comfortable with the idea of speed work.

Mile repeats are a favorite of M.J. Allen, a four-time half marathoner from Virginia. Similar to the Yasso 800’s, mile repeats are a great tool if running fast seems a bit daunting. Your goal pace should be faster than your 5K pace. Run one mile at this pace and recover.

Some runners need only a half mile of recovery, but some may require up to a mile. If you have never done speed work before, evaluate how you feel at the half mile mark. The goal is to build up to three miles done at the faster-than-5K pace.

Fartleks are favored by many runners. Originally a Swedish term that means “speed play,” the fartlek brings fun to a speed work session. There is no right or wrong way to do this particular type of workout which makes it great for runners of all skill levels.

After warming up for approximately a mile, alternate periods of fast running with slow recovery jogs. Choose a landmark along your regular running route and run as fast as possible towards it. Recover for a few minutes and choose a new target.

Not required, but it makes a difference

For many first time half marathoners, speed work is not part of their training plan. Kelly from New Orleans just finished her first half and avers, “I did no speed work, and I think it was the right choice for me. I had never done anything like this before, so it was better for me to just focus on logging the miles. I just wanted to finish.”

However, it can make you stronger on race day. If you are the type of runner with a time goal in mind, consider adding speed work to your training program. Joe from Pennsylvania advises that speed work “will prepare you mentally for those last miles when your body wants you to stop and you mind can go back to those efforts and know that you’ll get through.”

Those last few miles can be tough for the first-time half marathoner, but knowing that you have done tougher workouts will be a huge mental advantage on race day.

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