When Should Runners Start Speedwork?

So, you got your training plan going, you're increasing your mileage, and you're trying to figure out, when do I want to start doing speed work? Well, Toby says never. He's out of here, he's going for a nap. But you, on the other hand, might be starting to speed work sooner than you think.
When Should Runners Start Speedwork?

So, you got your training plan going, you're increasing your mileage, and you're trying to figure out, when do I want to start doing speed work? Well, Toby says never. He's out of here, he's going for a nap. But you, on the other hand, might be starting to speed work sooner than you think.

So, we talk about this on this channel a lot. And if you've not been here with me on this channel, and hear of all these episodes, I call Runner's High, hit that subscribe button, stick around with me. But I talk a lot about how you need to spend time base building. Which is when you are just doing long, slow miles, increasing your mileage.

And the reason is that if you introduce speed work, going faster of any sort too soon, you can include too many stressors on your body. Meaning that your body will break down, won't have the time to recover. And then you can end up in overtraining, injury, all those kinds of things.

But just because I recommend you spend that time base building doesn't mean that you can't incorporate some kind of speed work. Really, the answer to all of these questions in most of the videos on this channel is it depends, right? But we're going to go through a few scenarios where it's okay to start a little bit earlier. And that's something I'm doing right now as I'm transitioning back from triathlon training to run training, we're building my mileage. But it isn't just long, slow miles.

Now, 95% of it is, but I add a little bit of tempo work, a little bit of kind of fartlek work in there. Those are things you can start thinking about earlier on after you build some mileage, but you're not quite ready to do interval work. This is basically where you say, okay, I'm at 10-15 miles a week. And I like to do something to break up the monotony. Long runs are nice but if that's all you're doing, sometimes that can be mentally draining, right? So, maybe in the middle of your-- one of your runs for the week, you do what my coach refers to as pickups.

So, for me, this is a section where it's 45 seconds, probably 5K pace slightly faster than 5K pace. And then a minute and a half off, and we do four or five of those. And basically what you're doing is getting your muscles to fire at a faster rate. getting a little bit of that in but you're not putting a huge taxation on your muscular system by doing a full-fledged speed workout on the track.

That's something you're not ready for at this point if you haven't gone through all of that base building. You can also do other things like incorporate hills, go do some hill repeats is what I mean. I don't just mean run up a hill, but do a couple hill repeats and by a couple I mean, really just a couple, two, three, something like that, to add your mileage and add variety. These are things you can look at earlier on.

But again, I often recommend 20 to 25 miles a week before you start looking at speed work. Even once you've hit that threshold of 20 to 25 miles a week, you have to determine where you are in your season. Because if you're doing speed work all year long without a periodized schedule, without a way to back off and you just continue to do it over and over and over, then you're likely to lead yourself into injury and overtraining.

So, this is something I try to get you to avoid at all costs. I've been there. The school systems in school competitive environments are really often not great ways to do optimal training because they focus on racing so much. They really overload young athletes. So, I've been through all these injuries because of these mistakes that are made in that environment. So, I'm trying to help you avoid those mistakes that are very common in that environment.

If you're not in school, you don't have to worry about it. You can hopefully follow my advice and get past all the potential injury. But you wanna look at where are you in your training schedule. And that means, where are you in relation to that ratio you want to do really well at?

Now, there may be a winter run that you want to do well at, but most likely, it's going to be sometime in the summer because that's going to be near-optimal racing conditions, right; spring, summertime somewhere in there, where you're going to have that race you want to do really well at. Maybe there's a turkey trot or jingle bell run or something in the winter that you want to do well at, but it's not your A race. You're thinking, “Hey, fourth of July run, like that's my jam. That's the one I want to peek at.”

So, you have to think when I do those races earlier in the year in the winter, I'm probably still on base building. Maybe I'm doing speed work in terms of that fartlek or hills, something like that. So, it's not going to be a terrible time for that race, but use it as a benchmark for fitness. Don't use it as I need to be my fastest ever. At that point in time, you're simply just not going to be in peak shape.

You can really only spend 12 to 16 weeks doing speed work in trying to avoid that overworking, injury-prone kind of environment. So, if you go, and you say, “Hey we're in July, that fourth of July run, that's my jam, that's what I want to do,” you got to work back three to four months. And then say this is when I start speed work and I start building my speed up, getting ready for that race.

Now, there is a period of time before that, where you're doing more and more of these tempo runs, all that kind of fartlek stuff in building that in more often into your base building. So, it goes base build, which is that time where you're kind of doing a mixed and then speed work where you're actually doing full-fledged track style workouts. I talked about periodization in a few other videos on the channel, as mentioned, subscribe to the channel, hit that button.

Go check those out here in a minute if you don't know what periodization is. But when you figure out where that A race is, then that gives you a better indicator of this is when I should start speed work not earlier because you want to avoid injury and overtraining.

So, if you've been looking for the go-ahead to start speed work, hopefully, this video has helped you figure out if it's time, when it's time, but either way, if you build some miles, you want to get rid of that monotony building some easy things. Just a few pickups, a little fartlek, do some hill repeats, those kinds of things before you get to that time where you're going to be doing full-fledged speed workouts on the track to get ready for your actual A race.

If you have any questions for me, leave them down in the comments below, I’d love to make a video just for you to answer your questions. I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.

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