Want to Get Faster? My 3 Favorite Speed Workouts

You might not know it now, but I used to be kind of fast. No, not like elite level, blow your mind fast. More like pretty fast for a normal person. A sub-20 5k. A 42 minute 10k. Times good enough to get me a few age awards, and an occasional overall win (in a small town). A 1:33 half marathon and a 3:16 marathon. I once got 5th in my age group in the Honolulu Marathon (30,000 runners!). Ah, memories.

running faster

On my way to 3:16:38. I was 41.

Well, that was then. I was in my early 40s, by the way, having started running at 37. Now, as you know, my goal is to break 2:00 in the Costume Party Run in July. A knee injury and a few years have happened, and goals change.

The Process is the Same

The thing is, now matter what your fitness level, your age, your abilities, the process is the same. If you want to get faster you have to, well, run faster. Science may come up with new ways to track your training, coaches may design new killer workouts, you can add strength training, plyometrics, stretching, foam rolling, whatever. The truth is the same.

You must run faster.

My 3 Favorite Speed Workouts

Favorite is a funny word. Running faster is hard. When I do these workouts, I hate them. They make me push to my limits. But, when I’m done, I feel amazing. And when they work (and they do!), I love them.

1. My Favorite Interval (VO2 Max) Workout: These type of workouts are generally short to moderate distance (think 400-1600 meters), frequently run on a track, designed to improve how your body uses oxygen.

My favorite workout of this type is the Ladder Workout. After warming up for a mile, do these intervals in order, at about 95-100% of your effort level (this can be measured by heart rate or perceived exertion): 200m, 400m, 800m, 1000m, 1600m, 1000m, 800m, 400m, 200m. Take a 30-45 second break between each interval.

Why I love it: First of all, I like that each interval is different. While I appreciate knocking out 16 400m repeats (and they do have great value), I like the variety of the Ladder Workout. Plus, on the way back down, there is something wonderful about knowing that your next interval is going to be shorter. Any light toward the end of the tunnel.

2. My Favorite Tempo (Lactate Threshold) Workout: Your lactate threshold is the point at which your body cannot keep up with processing the lactic acid it produces during hard exercise and responds by needing to slow down. This type of workout usually involves slightly longer intervals that the VO2 Max workouts, run at a slightly slower pace, your lactate threshold pace. This is a little slower than your 10k pace, or about 85-90% of your effort level. You’ll find a more detailed description in this post.

My favorite workout of this type is a Steady Pace Tempo run. After warming up by running moderately for about a mile, pick it up to your Lactate Threshold pace. Sustain it for two-six miles. Finish with a moderate to slow mile.

Why I love it: I sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? No fancy pick ups, run this at one pace that at another. Which is exactly why this is my favorite tempo run. To me in simulates race conditions. You don’t stop (hopefully) in a race, you try to keep a fairly steady pace throughout the distance of the run.

3. My Favorite Long Run Workout: You can get a lot of opinions about at which pace to run your long run. Some will say it should be done slowly, or it takes too much of a toll on your body. Others will say that if you run too slow, your body gets used to running slow. The most frequent recommendation is to run about a minute slower that your goal pace. But every now and then, it is fun to shake things up.

My favorite workout of this type is what I call a Negative Split run. I usually doing it during a cut back week, so that if you are training for a half, a good distance would be about nine miles. For a marathon, up to about 16 miles works well. Basically I cut the run into thirds, the first third run about 30 seconds slower that your goal race pace, the second third at pace, and the final third 30 seconds faster than race pace.

Why I love it: This workout is great for teaching you to run fast when you’re tired. Making yourself “up the ante” and run faster challenges your body, sure, but it also teaches your mind that you can push through.

I promise, if you incorporate one or two of these workouts once or twice a week, you will get faster.

These are my favorite workouts, but I still mix in a variety of workouts of each type during training. It keeps training interesting and challenging. I am sure that you have some favorite workouts and I hope that you will share in the comments.

Disclaimer: Although I am a certified Coach and Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Coach or Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

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  1. says

    YES YES YES! These are the ideas I need to work on speed. Thanks for detailing the workouts.

    ALSO, I’m super encouraged to know you were fastest at 41. It’s encouraging for me, still on the younger side, to know it IS possible to get faster and I have time to work on it. If I ran a 3:16 marathon I’d be ECSTATIC and probably dead. [o:
    Running Hutch recently posted..Mt. Baden-PowellMy Profile

  2. says

    Yes you were speedy! I’m so glad you shared your PRs with us–people should no that about you!!

    I love tempos, although I’ve done SO many the past few months getting ready for marathons/half marathons that I’m actually starting to crave more time on the track. I like ladders, too. Just did 8 x 600 (w/ 200 rest) on Tuesday, and I enjoyed that b/c it was an out of ordinary distance.
    misszippy recently posted..So much for attritionMy Profile

  3. says

    I’m curious, do you know how weight affects a runner’s speed? I’ve noticed when I’m at a race awards party, the winners are nearly always very petite and lean. If I want to be faster, should I also be working on being leaner in addition to speed workouts?

    • says

      While it is true that the fastest runners tend to be petite and lean, it is not a requirement to get faster. This question almost requires a whole post (I might follow up with one next week), because there are so many considerations to think about with speed and weight. Many runners diet themselves into anorexia with the misguided belief that if they just lose a few more pounds they will take that extra few second off their time. If you lose too much weight, you will eventually lose muscle, which you don’t want to do.

      That being said, losing some weight can help you get faster. You will be moving less mass through space with the same amount of effort, so you will move faster.

      The nice thing is, when you notch up the intensity of your training and eat in such a way that you fuel your body healthfully, you will usually lose some weight (if that’s what you want).

      It also depends on your goals. Not knowing where you are now, it is hard to guess where you want to go.

      FYI, I have never been petite. I am 5’8″, and usually weight somewhere between 145 & 150.

      I hope that kind of answers your question. I’m happy to answer any others that you might have. If you want, you can email me: debbie (at) livefromlaquinta.com
      Debbie recently posted..Want to Get Faster? My 3 Favorite Speed WorkoutsMy Profile

  4. says

    this is great! I took a turbo tread class and I loved it, we’d do slow 5k speed, what you’d run with friends, fast 5k, what youd run to win, and then sprints of all out near breathless effort for 1 minute. It made increasing speed so much easier, and now my old normal pace seems easy! i need to work on keeping up with it on my own though! it’s so much more fun with a coach!
    fizzgig recently posted..Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks…My Profile

  5. says

    I’m a little late on this post, but I want to get faster/more consistent in my faster paces. I just started strength training this week because I have read many articles that said adding strength training (arms and core, in addition to legs) helps increase speed. That being said, our trainers have us doing stairs as our leg workout. Will this help me get faster, or should I be adding in additional leg workouts?
    Rachel @ Undercover Diva: A Sitcom recently posted..Noodle ArmsMy Profile

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