Tag Archives: speed work

Running 101: Flexible Fartlek

The word fartlek is Swedish and means speed play.  That sounds fun!  And these runs or workouts are fun.  That’s the point.  You’re spending time at race or faster than race pace without the suffering of standard speed workouts.  Team ECRP loves having these sessions on their training calendar and here’s why you will, too.fartlek

Fartlek workouts have tons of benefits.  They will help you get faster and improve endurance capacity while getting better at closing the finish of a race.  You’ll also increase your mental toughness and ability to feel your paces.  Heck, it’s even defined as “a system of training for distance runners in which the terrain and pace are continually varied to eliminate boredom and enhance psychological aspects of conditioning.”  So what’s the big deal and how do all of those things happen?

Fartlek work is different from a typical steady state long run because, as mentioned above, it includes short sections of faster running.  It’s also different from standard interval work because you continue to run while you’re resting or recovering.  This unstructured-ness means there’s no end to the fun you can have.  These mixed up ons and offs also keep your heart rate higher for the duration of the workout and that means improved fitness.

Option one for building a workout is to use landmarks.  Pick a road with light posts and pick it up for two on, two off.  Change the pattern each time you run that route to continue challenging both your body and mind.  A second option is to run faster when you feel like it and slower when you don’t.  Hills can also provide a good place for increasing and decreasing effort at irregular intervals.  A hilly road with regular light posts is a fartlek paradise.

Fartlek workouts are also useful at any time during a training cycle.  Since they’re so adjustable the intensity is easy to change.  The variability means you can ramp up speeds while decreasing jog time for race prep but reverse that pattern for maintenance or recovery.  To work on closing speed throw in some faster pick ups towards the end of your session.  When you’re in a rut or want to have some fun on a group run, take off for a low pressure, flexible fartlek.

Coach Meredith

3 Reasons to Run Without Your GPS Watch

Leaving your GPS watch at home can be scary.  Luckily learning to let go of stats and numbers can be beneficial for lots of reasons.  Also known as running naked, here are three reasons to take a deep breath and start running with a bare wrist.gps watch

1.  Relaxing.  Leaving the watch at home can be absolutely freeing.  No beeps, no splits, no pressure. Lots of runners are very connected to their tech. Discovering that you can rack up miles without it might come as shock.  It is possible, however, and people did this for hundreds of years.  Running sans GPS watch is perfect for recovery runs after a tough workout or race.  It’s also useful for runners in a rut or coming off a big training cycle.  Put the joy in and take the splits out to get back to the core of running: FUN!

2.  See the scenes.  Run the same routes frequently?  Odds are you’re looking at your wrist every time that pesky watch beeps to check on your split.  Since those splits occur at roughly the same spot every time you travel the same route you’re probably too busy looking to notice what’s going on around you.  Abandon the GPS watch at home and open your eyes to scenery you might have been missing.

3.  Run by feel.   Listening to your body is incredibly important.  Easy runs are important and should be easy while hard ones should be difficult.  Running naked is a good way to learn how each type feels.  It can open your eyes to potential a prescribed pace was preventing you from seeing.  If you think a 7:00 mile is supposed to be hard and see it on your watch, you might think you’re working harder than you actually are.  Logging some faster miles without the pressure of a watch can lead to big gains and faster races.

Still need data?  Try putting tape over the face of your watch or sticking it in a pocket.  While you won’t see it, stats will still record for your viewing pleasure post run.

Coach Meredith

Running Strides: Why and When

A staple of any advanced training plan and a must do on any scholastic track or cross country team, strides are a wonderful tool.  Running strides has many benefits and missing out on them might leave speed on the table.  The good news is that running strides is both fun and good for you.  Here’s a guide on how to get the most from the strides you run.running strides

What are strides?
Strides are a short pick-up designed to focus on form.  Each one lasts for 15 to 30 seconds with about 1:40 recovery and reaches close to mile pace on flat ground.  Note that a stride is not a sprint!

Why run strides?
Running strides will improve your form.  It should be exaggerated and focused on during each pick-up with good posture and a relaxed body being paramount.  Strides also help develop muscle memory and encourage higher cadence which can mean increased speeds over the long haul.  These fast bursts at the end of a workout remind your legs that they have the ability to go fast when they’re a little tired.  That not only builds confidence but can help your become more fit.  Spending little bits of time at faster paces adds up to make a once seemingly way too fast race pace closer every time you hit it.

When should I run strides?
Running strides can mix up the middle of a longer run or close out an easy one.  Tossing some in the middle of a session is a great way to build fitness while having fun.  Try not to leave them for the very end of a workout or you might end up skipping them.  Additional times for strides include warming up for a race or before a tough workout.  Since they prepare your body to run fast and work hard using them is a must.

Meant to improve form, have some fun running fast and build fitness running strides is an invaluable and simple tool for everyone.  If you’re not comfortable adding strides to your next easy run, reach out to a qualified coach for help.

Coach Meredith

Agility Training for Runners

Runner need to do things other than run to become faster, more powerful athletes if there’s a PR sometime in the future.  While strength training is incredibly valuable, agility training is equally as important and unfortunately also overlooked.  Agility training has lots of big benefits from making you a stronger all around athlete to building better body awareness.  Here are several fun ways to enhance your running with simple agility exercises.

Form Drills.  Running form drills are usually included in a good warm up.  That’s because they get your body ready to run and ready to run well.  Drills such as carioca, ‘a-skips’, ‘b-skips’, butt agility trainingkicks and high knees all build strength, coordination and promote high quality running form.  These agility skills can be also be practiced on their own, outside of a warm-up.

Agility Ladder.  Also called a speed ladder this simple tool can have big benefits.  Moving your feet fast through the ladder will carry over to less contact time when you’re running.  Jumping movement will build ankle strength, foot responsiveness and explosive power.  An agility ladder is a good place to improve footwork, learn how to control your body and the amount of energy you’re putting into the ground.

Cones.  Like the agility ladder, there is an endless number of exercises you can perform with a bunch of cones.  These provide a chance for bigger lateral movements than the ladder and can be especially beneficial to trail runners.  Using cones will develop your ability to accelerate, change direction and move your feet quickly.  Try a variety of configurations and run on angles for the biggest benefits.

Include at least some of these agility training exercises in each of your warm-ups and add a few more to your normal non-running routine.  You’ll get stronger and faster with their help.

Coach Meredith

Speed Work: Walking or Jogging Rest?

The only way we get faster is by actually running faster.  While we can’t push ourselves all the time without inviting injury, working hard is the only way we get better.  The best way to practice running faster is with interval work.  Bursts of speed with a period of standing, walking or jogging rest between repetitions.

So which kind of rest is best for you?  Jogging or walking?  The choice you end up making can play a major role in how intense your workout ends up being.  Varying the type of rest you use during a workout can also be a good gauge of how your fitness is improving.  Did you walk for rest the first few times but now jogging rest is feeling good?  As long as the work portions are jogging restthe same pace and effort, you’re clearly increasing your fitness.

Jogging Rest
While you might want to stop and stand to catch your breath, jogging rest has big benefits.  Continuing to move will help clear lactic acid and waste in muscles, keeping your body ready to work for the next repetition and workout intensity high.  Lactate levels drop the most when recovery lasts more then 90 seconds.  This length of rest is usually associated with repetitions lasting three to five minutes or longer.

Walking Rest
Slow walking has its own set of benefits.  It allows for body to recover by clearing lactic acid and muscle waste without the extra stress of having to continue working.  This is the most used and probably best choice for most basic workouts.

Standing Rest
Standing rest doesn’t keep your blood moving very much.  Bent over, panting, hands on knees standing means you’ll face a build up of lactic acid and muscle waste during your next repetition.  That makes legs feel heavy and worn out, simulating that tired feeling at the end of a race without having to rack up all the miles beforehand.  On the other hand, your supply of power creating phosphocreatine refills when you’re standing.  This type of rest is best used when you’re working on top speed.  Repeats less than 90 seconds mean you’re burning through that phosphocreatine and need to let it refresh before taking off again.

Of course, standing, walking and easy jogging rest aren’t your only options.  You can use marathon pace to recover from 10k pace intervals.  Not recovering fully between intervals will help you get tougher for race day and become more comfortable being uncomfortable.

When in doubt about what type of rest is best to get the most our of your speed session, seek the advice of a professional.  A coach can help you design the right kind of workouts to reach your goals without risking injury or overtraining.

Coach Meredith

The Pros and Cons of Heart Rate Training

Any runner who has looked to improve their speed or fitness has at least thought about using heart rate training to get better.  Heart rate training means using a heart rate monitor either on your wrist or around your chest to constantly measure your heart beat during exercise.  This training method bases workouts on target ranges.

Some people have great success with heart rate training while others prefer to run by feel.  Here are a few of the pros and cons to training based on heart rate to help you decide if it’s right for you.heart rate training

PROS
Slow down.  Many runners get stuck working medium hard too often.  That can lead to over training or, even worse, a serious injury.  It’s difficult to separate levels of intensity using the talk test unless you’re very experienced.  Heart rate training can help give guidance on just how easy the easy runs need to be.

Know your numbers.  Knowing what your resting and max heart rates are can be a great gauge of fitness.  If one goes down and other goes up you know you’re improving.

Stay in the zone.  Just like knowing your numbers can let you know if you’re improving, they can let you know how to work out.  You’ll want each workout to be a specific heart rate zone to create the desired adaptation.

CONS
Too many variables.  There are a wide variety of things that can change your heart rate that have nothing to do with your workout.  You naturally have a higher heart rate in the afternoon than in the morning.  Hydration, weather, sleep, stress and diet can all also play a major role in how hard your heart works while you’re exercising.  This many opportunities for variance make it difficult to compare apples to apples.

Inaccurate.  Especially when working at a very high intensity level, most heart rate monitors don’t respond fast enough to really let you know what’s going on.  Breezing through a few 100M repeats?  No way you’re going to get accurate data off a wrist watch.  Receivers can get sweaty and malfunction.  They can sense things that aren’t really going on.  It might pick up a close by heart rate monitor even if it’s on someone else.

Get stuck.  It’s easy to become a slave to data.  Paying constant attention to your heart rate can end up stopping you from pushing yourself hard when you need to and that won’t lead to improved performance.

Coach Meredith

4 Reasons to Race One Mile

One mile isn’t very far.  It’s a racing distance most half and full marathoners are familiar with for only one reason:  mile repeats.  But there are a few things can running one mile all out, as fast as you can, do for you.  Here are four of Team ECRP‘s favorite, and useful, reasons to race one mile the next time you have the chance.

It’s fun.  While time trials are an important part of every training plan, training can get boring.  race one mileFinding a one mile race might be a challenge but take advantage if you can.  These short, fast races often have similar perks to longer and bigger events because they often take place together.  They can also be exciting to watch and lead you to set new goals.

You learn.  Using your one mile race time will help you establish training paces for other types of runs.  You’ll get feedback on where you’re strong and what you need to work on.  Racing one mile multiple times in similar conditions is also the best gauge around to see how your fitness is improving.

Bonus speed.  Races always give you an edge over training and that means you’ll run just a bit faster.  Not only will you be faster in a race than in a normal time trial, the benefit of pushing harder than you do in practice is seeing the quicker final result and gaining the confidence you need to power through hard workouts.

Recover quickly.  One hard mile is not twenty.  That might sound silly but it’s true.  Time trials are typically done as part of a bigger workout on days when your legs are feeling fresh.  Racing one mile means that mile is your workout.  You’ll recover quickly from it and be ready to tackle whatever your next training week has in store.

Training to race one mile is different than training for your longer race but including it, or any time trial, in your bigger plan is always worth it.

Coach Meredith

4 Big Benefits of Speed Work

To race fast, you have to practice running faster.  This type of running at faster than race pace is known as speed work.  Doing speed workouts has several big benefits, outlined below, and is an important part of any successful training plan.

Increased speed.  Even if you only practice running faster in short bursts, your body is learning speed workhow to operate at those paces.  The more you run fast, the easier it becomes to maintain.  That ultimately means faster race times and new PRs.

Get stronger.  Running faster requires more effort from your entire body.  Fast twitch muscles are recruited at a high rate while bones, tendons and ligaments work to handle the extra impact.  That’s why it’s important to not overdo it when you add speed workouts to your training program.  Your whole body is working harder during these sessions and you don’t want to invite injury.

More efficient.  Along with increased speed, you’ll also become more efficient at those higher speeds.  Your gait will become more efficient as stride length shortens, cadence increases and over striding often disappears.  Those same short bursts of speed help teach your body how to clear lactate, increasing your tolerance, or lactate threshold.  The high intensity of speed work also means better fat burning that lasts long after you’ve uploaded your run to Strava.

Less boredom.  Speed work is fun.  The variety of workout types, from hill sprints to fartleks, means you’ll never run out of options.  Unlike during your long runs or steady state tempo runs, the changing of paces provides both physical and mental challenges.

Remember that you need to train for where you’re racing.  It’s OK to do some of your speed work on a track but if that’s not where you’ll be shooting for your next PR, don’t spend lots of time training there.  Take your speed workouts off the track for the best results.

Coach Meredith

4 Tips to Run Faster

Everyone wants to run faster.  Whether it’s breaking a 30 minute 5k or hitting a sub-3 hour marathon every runner has a goal they haven’t reached yet.  Here are four tips to improve your running and help you hit that next PR.

Form:  It’s hard work to run faster than you’re currently comfortable.  Wildly moving elbows, over-striding and breaking at the hip all make it that much tougher.  Developing proper posture and a good foot strike position can go a long way to help.  The base of any good program should focus on eliminating form faults that hamper your ability to get where you want to go.  Try taking a video of yourself to see what your form looks like then think about what could improve.  Of course, every runner has a different natural gait, making it a good idea to get together with a coach for a gait analysis before comparing yourself to the run fasterprofessionals.

Turnover.  Moving your feet faster is a good way to run faster, right?  Increasing your cadence, also known as step rate, has two big benefits.  The first is that it can decrease your risk of injury by lowering the amount of time your foot spends in contact with the ground.  It’s hard for your body to get injured in the air.  Less time being pounded into the ground means less stress on your legs.  The second benefit is that it can make you faster and more efficient because less time spent on the ground means less friction and faster movement.  Elite distance runners have an average step rate of 180-220 steps per minute while less experienced runners typically average around 165.  Use a metronome to help you find your current rate then work to gradually increase it.  Striders and short repeats are a great way to work on this skill.

Power.  The more power you put into the ground with each step the more will be returned to your body for the next one.  The key to building power is strength training.  You can run hills, hit the gym for box jumps or jump rope, they’ll all help you run faster.  Sit-ups and push-ups are also great exercises for runners.  They build the core stability and strength that’s needed to maintain proper form late into any race.

Practice.  To run faster, you actually have to do it.  To be ready for speed on race day you need to get comfortable at race pace or even faster.  Speed work, whether it’s on the track, road or trail is the key to better race times.  Repeats at a variety of distances and speeds all have a purpose and should be part of your training plan.

Use these four tips to run faster for success racing this spring.  Challenge yourself to improve in each of these categories and see what you can accomplish.

Coach Meredith

Off-Track Speed Work

Speed work is an important part of a solid training plan.  It helps you build strength, cardiovascular capacity and increases both speed and turnover.  So, of course, there’s no better place to do it than on the track, right?  Not always.  Here’s how off-track speed work can make all the difference.off-track speed work

But wait, isn’t that what tracks are for?  Yes, the track is a wonderful place to run fast.  Just don’t do it too often unless you’re going to race there.  The constant left turns can create extra torque on your inside leg, the surface might not be the same as what you’ll find on race day and it can be boring.  By choosing off-track speed work instead, you’ll reap some major physical and mental benefits.

Running hard away from the track’s smooth, steady surface makes muscles work on both sides of your body.  You learn to balance in all directions and deal with the variety a road or trail presents while strengthening your hips, ankles, core and legs.  Conquering race-like conditions during training goes a long way to helping you succeed after toeing the line.

To get started with off-track speed work find a place where it’s safe to run fast.  Ideally that will be a road, paved trail, park or sidewalk where you aren’t battling distractions from traffic or other outdoor recreation activities.  Hills are a great spot for challenging speed workouts and can be lots of fun.  Mark a one/two/three mile loop around your neighborhood to use as benchmarks for progress.  When you can cover the same distance faster with less effort, you’ll know your fitness if improving.

Remember, the track is always there when you’re in a jam.  If you don’t have somewhere safe to go instead or are working with a group, it can be the perfect spot.  But to get the most out of those fast sessions, opt for off-track speed work as often as possible.

Coach Meredith