Speed Training For Dummies

OK everyone, I have a confession to make. BEFORE TODAY I REALLY HAD NO CLUE HOW SPEED TRAINING WORKED. Well, sure I have RunKeeper telling me when to run faster or slower, but I honestly had no clue why I was doing it, how I was doing it or if I was doing it correctly. So I thought sure, ignorance is bliss but knowledge is power. (Woah. Who just felt the change in the room?) Because if you have no clue what the hell someone means when they are all “Run 3-4 x 1000m with 2-4 minutes recovery (depending on the speed of your interval)” or “Fartlek: 6 x 1 minute, with 2-3 minutes of light jogging” THEN THIS POST IS FOR YOU!

So, why waste your time with speed work? “I just want to run to run” you say. I know, I’m with you, I do too! BUT I got all cocky and declared I was going to run a sub 3 hour and 30 minute marathon in four months so I kind of have to get with the program and if I have to do it, then I am bringing you along for the ride. The bottom line is speed work makes you a faster runner. It also increases your anaerobic threshold meaning you can run harder and faster without becoming oxygen depleted. (IE You won’t be dying, breathless, while you lay on the floor comatose.) Speed work also helps your body tolerate the buildup of lactic acid. I was talking with my best friend Irene about her marathon she ran on Sunday (which she TOTALLY killed) and she said to me, "next time I am going to do more speed work." It's really just as important as training for long runs.

There are three (we will discuss 5) ways to do speed work. So let’s start with the words I pretend to know when my fellow runners use them in a sentence.

1. Tempo Runs

2. Intervals

3. Fartlek


5. Hill Repeats

Tempo Runs: Tempo runs are longer distances run at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. So you are running hard but it’s not all out. (Starting out you may run a tempo run for 4-10 minutes working your way towards longer runs at 25-40 minutes a piece.)

Intervals: Intervals are like tempo runs but a shorter distance and you run at 85-95% of your maximum heart rate. THE RUNNING WORLD ALWAYS USES 1000M, 800M AND 400M AND I NEVER KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS. So if you’re like me and a little clueless about conversion: 1000m=about .6 mile, 800m=about .5 mile and 400m=.25 mile. (LOOK I am never at “the track.” Cut me some slack. And now we all know so you’re welcome.)

Fartlek: A Swedish hilarious word for speed play. Basically this is unstructured and it’s run fast here and there. This is predominately how I used to do speed work when RunKeeper’s foxy voice wasn’t all, “2 minutes fast.” An easy way to do this is in between light poles or during the verses of songs. It’s the loosy goosiest of the speed work family. (I think that’s why I like it…I’m slightly non-committal…)

HIIT is short intervals at 100% effort. For example 30 second pickups (when you run fast) for 20 minutes. So 30 seconds all out.

Hill Repeats: Hill repeats are extremely crucial to any training plans. Running hills works different muscles in your body differently than just normal speed work. The way it works is you can do 30-60 second intervals up a hill and walk or job back down to repeat about 8 times. They rock, do them, do them, do them.

Some things to remember when you do speed work:

1. WARM INTO IT! Make sure you do a 10-15 minute warm up before you do speed work. Speed work is a double edged sword; it helps prevent injuries but also puts you at risk of sustaining one. So warm up! And try to run on softer surfaces like grass if you can manager it. (Just don’t trip and take time to get used to the change. AVOID HOLES!)

2. With all five you are going to have recovery periods between your intervals. In those recovery periods remember that it is an “active recovery” so you continue to move and it should be equal to or slightly less than the interval itself. The point of an active recovery is to bring your heart rate down so you execute your next interval with the same speed and intensity every time.

3. You should be doing speed work once a week or twice every 10 days.

4. ALWAYS COOL DOWN AND STRETCH FOR 10-15 MINUTES POST SPEED WORKOUT. The only way to prevent injuries is to cool down and stretch. This is serious yall. I am totally guilty of this. I always have a subway ride and I just ignore stretching so I can get home and shower. But only you can prevent training injuries. You’ve been warned. (Ok I’ve been warned. I hate having to tell myself I told you so.)

5. Try to schedule your speed workouts before a rest day.

Alright that’s it! I feel a lot better about myself now. Now I won’t feel like such a dumb dumb when people ask me my plan is for speed work. Alright friends, that’s all I have. I am SO excited for the Chase Corporate Challenge tomorrow! MY FIRST 5K! Follow me on Instagram or twitter @KellyKKRoberts to follow the race. Until tomorrow, #RunSelfieRepeat.


Kelly Roberts

It all started when a silly joke made headlines back in 2014 when I took selfies with hot guys “hottie hunting” my way through the New York City Half Marathon. But ironically enough, I haven't always been a runner. As the self-proclaimed former President of the "I f*cking hate running club", I spent most of my life finding ways to avoid physical activity. Growing up, I missed over 70 days of PE my senior year. Working out was something I thought I had to suffer through in order to lose weight. 

Then, in 2009, my younger brother passed away unexpectedly and struggling to manage my grief, I gained more than 75 pounds. With the weight gain came a new fight to regain my sense of self and learn to love the body I saw when I looked in the mirror. Then one Thanksgiving morning, drowning in grief and self doubt, I decided to go for a run. I didn't make it half way down my street before I had to stop to walk but for some reason, struggling forward made more sense than getting back into bed. It turns out that running is a lot like grief, neither ever really get easier, you just get stronger. 

Over time, I realized that while some people are in fact born runners, others are made. I created this blog Run, Selfie, Repeat and my new podcast by the same name with the hopes to inspire others to say yes to themselves while making them laugh hysterically because laughing, in my opinion, is the solution to everything. 

Named by Women's Running as one of twenty women who are changing the sport of running and by Competitor Magazine as one of 12 Influential and inspiring runners under 30, my mission is to inspire others to get embrace a healthy lifestyle and pursue the strongest version of themselves possible.