“Even the best athletes in the world do an 80/20 balance, with 80% easy aerobic and conversational runs as active recovery,” Corkum says. “Speed should only make up 20% of the overall mileage run within a week—nobody should be running hard for every run.”
So what does this mean, practically speaking? Let’s say you normally run 15–20 miles per week, or at least one to two runs that are least 60 minutes long, as part of your routine. If you’re regularly running this much per week, you’re ready for one 4- to 5-mile run per week to be speed-specific, Corkum says.
5. Schedule speed workouts wisely.
After your first few speed works, you should expect to feel some fatigue and soreness—that’s a result of the adaptation process as your body recovers—though it should go away within a few days. It should also become less noticeable as your body gets stronger and begins to anticipate hard efforts, says Corkum.
Allowing for ample recovery is one reason why it’s important to space out your speed work and not overdo it. That means definitely no back-to-back speed-based workouts (even if you run on consecutive days).
While you can schedule speed work weekly, some people may benefit more from doing one speed workout every 10 days versus every week if they find they’re not recovering well, Corkum says.
“We recover differently based on age, experience, current fitness, other life stresses (physical and emotional), and sleep, among other factors,” she says. “A training cycle doesn’t necessarily need to fit in a calendar week.”
6. Learn to stride, not sprint.
Rather than hitting the track and attempting to bang out 400-meter intervals or hard mile repeats out of the gate, it’s best to start out with shorter bursts you can do on a regular road run. That’s where the term “strides” comes in.
Strides or accelerations are a type of speed workout designed to improve the efficiency of running at faster speeds, Mayer explains. These are quick bursts of running—not all-out, max efforts: By the end of the acceleration, you should be running fast, but at a controlled effort, slightly slower than an all-out sprint.
Because your central nervous system adapts quickly to dynamic movements, you should start to feel like you’re expending less energy hitting those strides—meaning your running efficiency is improving—within a few sessions. Strides are also a great start to speed work, since they make a solid introduction into longer segments of fast running.
7. Sprinkle in those strides.
Strides can be incorporated into the middle of a run or at the end of a run, when your muscles are moderately fatigued but not exhausted, says Mayer.
Here’s how to do it: Either during your easy-paced run, or at the end of it, complete six accelerations or strides of 20 seconds, or up to 100 meters (0.06 miles) if you’re wearing a GPS running watch (more on that below). Recover until you fully catch your breath before starting your next stride.
“When moving into the strides, the runner has to pick up the intensity and should be mindful of running with good form,” Mayer explains. By training this way when your muscles are somewhat fatigued from an aerobic run, it may improve your ability to hold good form when you’re tired on race day, she says. (Whether it’s virtual or whenever an in-person event may be.)
8. Try speed endurance runs.
You can train speed endurance, or the ability to hold higher speeds, through relatively short and fast intervals of 150–300 meters (0.09 to 0.18 miles), or between roughly 45 to 90 seconds in duration, Mayer says. With speed endurance, you should be running at a sustained, hard pace that’s faster than your 5K effort. For many runners, that would be close to the pace they could run for an all-out mile.