In my previous blog post, I wrote about endurance and how to train for it. It’s the most important building block for anyone competing in events that are longer than 60 minutes, regardless of the sport of choice. Endurance takes the longest to train for and requires patience, but a good endurance base is really what lets you achieve your potential for speed. I like the comparison to the car engine I once heard: endurance is like the size of your engine, and with a small engine you can only go so fast even if it’s just for short periods.

I usually build most of my endurance in the off-season, maintaining it through the year with the bulk of my training kept at low intensities. But as the races approach, I also start working on speed.

There are two different components of training for speed; what is the fastest you can go, and how long can you maintain that speed for? Many factors affect both maximum speed and speed endurance, but ultimately it boils down to three main points: 1) how quickly your heart can pump the blood to your muscles to deliver the oxygen (also known as VO2max), 2) how fast you can run without producing significant amounts of lactic acid (also known as lactic threshold), and 3) how efficient you are at all the running motions (also known as running economy). VO2 max is the hardest one to train, but it also matters the least when it comes to performing at endurance sports where your top speed matters less than in a 100-yard dash.

So how do you increase your speed? Once a week, I would do an interval workout to develop a faster top speed. Short repetitions of 1-3 minutes of fast running, followed by 1-2 minutes of rest. Sometimes I would do those on hills – sprinting uphill builds leg strength while decreasing your top speed, reducing the risk for injury.

Sometimes I would do them on flat ground – speeds are faster, and sprinting on flat ground builds running economy, teaching your body how to be more efficient with each step. I try to always do those on surfaces where the ground I’m running on is never what limits my speed – gravel paths are better than technical trails for speed workouts. Most of the time, it’s a combination of both; some uphill sprints with a short rest, followed by flat intervals (or vice-versa). Keeping the stimulus varied is so important for growth, and you never want to fall in the habit of doing the same type of workout over and over again, week after week.

Once a week, I would do tempos. These are long periods of harder efforts amidst easy runs. For example, a 20 minute pick up in pace during my 13-mile trail run. These work on speed endurance, which is as important as the top speed. In a 30 mile race, a 6 minute per mile pace won’t help you much if you can’t sustain it for more than a couple of minutes. Tempo runs aren’t all-out fast like some of the intervals, but rather something you could sustain for at least an hour.

If you’re mostly racing endurance races where you’re never going much faster than a fast jog, or if your favorite races are those climbing thousands of vertical feet, why does all this matter? First off, the faster you can go, the easier those slower paces become. A fast 10K time will result in a faster 100-mile time, simply because the easy pace feels easier, your running is more efficient at all speeds, and your body works less hard to maintain your “long-run” pace. As for climbing uphill? Even for the steepest of climbs, your velocity vector still has a horizontal component that is larger than vertical – meaning, unless you’re going straight up a ditch, your forward motion is still a bigger part of the overall movement than your vertical climb. So to be a fast climber, you need to be fast on running flats first.

All of the above information isn’t running specific – it translates to bikes, rowing machines, StairMaster step mills, and anything else you enjoy doing or can get your hands on. The bottom line, speed is important no matter what kinds of races you love to run. But to be fast, you need to have a good aerobic engine first, and you have to maintain it throughout the year. Your fast running should never be more than 20% of your total training both to maintain your endurance and to minimize risks of injuries. Speed workouts don’t have to be done running on a track and shouldn’t be mundane and intimidating – there are a million ways to train for speed, so find one that works for you and that makes training fun and exciting.

Stairmaster 10G workouts for speed:

Short intervals

Start with 20 min easy, starting it at an effort where you could easily hold a conversation with a friend on the machine next to yours. After about 10 minutes start increasing the speed slightly for the next 5 minutes, with a couple of really fast efforts for about 30 seconds each. End the warm-up with 5 minutes of easy effort you started with.

Then start your workout:

5x2min jog in regular mode with 2min really easy walk rest in between

5min easy

4x30s overdrive, as fast as you can

10-minute easy cooldown

Tempo workout

Same 20-minute warm-up progression as for the workout above

3 rounds of:

5min overdrive at a high/moderate effort followed immediately by 5min of hard/moderate effort on normal mode (can be fast walking or a slow jog)

10-minute easy cooldown

By: Rea Kolbl | Professional OCR Athlete 

Learn How the 10G Can Improve Speed

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