Do I Need to do Run Speed Work to Get Faster?

A common question we receive from runners is, “Don’t I need speed workouts to get faster?” It makes sense why we get this question so frequently. Many of the free training plans and club-organized training that you will see are using methods that originated from the 60’s and 70’s. In these plans you will usually find one day of speed work, one Tempo run day and a long run on the schedule. For athletes who are newer to running, or even those new to structured training, it is likely for them to see an improvement in fitness by doing this style of training. But for many, you will eventually reach a slowing rate of fitness improvement or even a plateau in your fitness.

With many of the training plans we create our goal is to optimize the rate at which our athletes will improve their fitness without risking their health. We do this by focusing more specifically on energy systems. What does that mean? It means we hit hard on a tighter range of intensities. This usually means that if we are doing speed work, we focus on speed work for a block and there may be multiple sessions in a week. If we are focusing on improving an athlete’s threshold pace, we focus on threshold paces to build an athlete’s ability to buffer waste byproducts while simultaneously improving their sustainable pace.

We do this because at its most basic perspective, training is about eliciting a stress on the body and then allowing the body to recover. By focusing on one specific energy system, we can elicit a greater response from that system without creating significant residual fatigue from other unfocused workouts. For many this can be quite a shock to them but after
several weeks of training it becomes apparent that the switch in training methodology works and months down the road, we find that athletes are at a completely different level than previously conceived.

Each of these intensities has its place, it’s the purpose and a great function to create a more well-rounded athlete but for many of us focusing on one facet of our running, threshold work in this instance, creates a much more efficient athlete and utilizes time more effectively.

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