If you want to build speed into your long runs, interval sets are the way to go. They are honest, hard work, and a lot of fun if you do them together with a running buddy or with a track team.
During the interval repetitions of the set, you will be pushing past your threshold pace and run at a higher speed & cadence than you usually do in order to let the body get used to this ‘overspeed’. The leg strength, turn-over, and speed in the shorter interval sets will spill over into your long-distance runs. Add an interval set into your weekly running routine and you will soon find that your long runs will be faster because of it.
How much is too much?
There are a few guidelines to adhere to when adding these faster-paced sessions into your running routine.
Try to minimize the interval sessions to one or maximum two sets per week, assuming the goal is to improve your distance running pace. One set might be aimed at repetitions less than 800m whereas the other one might target your speed endurance in 1k to 3k sets. Your other sessions should not have you work on overspeed if you already have these two track sessions built into the plan.
Make sure you take your recovery intervals (RI) into account. As you are working different energy systems in the shorter speed sets and the speed endurance intervals, you need to let the body recuperate from the effort. I always jokingly say to the new athletes on the track to spot the experienced track athletes by their pace in the recovery interval. The ones that move the slowest in the recovery, are usually the ones that go the hardest in the reps. Typically, for the shorter speed sets, a 1:2 work-rest ratio works well. Run 300m in 60 seconds, get 2 minutes recovery time.
For the speed endurance set, I prefer an 'insufficient recovery time' approach. The pace in the speed endurance set is slightly slower but with a shorter amount of recovery time, you will have an insufficient amount of time to get rid of your fatigue and you carry that fatigue over into your next rep. This is what makes the speed endurance sessions more trying as the set progresses.
A good place to start
If you are going to take on the challenge and add a track session into your routine, here is one of my favorite interval sets for building speed into your long run. It combines the speed set with some speed endurance running so you get a real kick out of this one!
Interval Set #2: Mix It Up!
Follow this link for the video explanation of the Mix it up! interval set
The Mix It Up interval set is one of the best ways to see how you can actively recover from a surge or a temporary harder than race pace effort in your race. Your longer reps are at a pace that is sustainable for a 10k race and your short 400m bursts are nearer to your maximum speed for the 400. Stick with it, this is not easy but the benefits are huge!
Jog or light run (HR below 130) for 1600m/1 mile. Include 4 strides in your warm-up. Strides are short bursts of faster running (typically 60 to 100m) in which you get progressively faster. You start slow and build throughout the stride, finishing each stride almost at your fastest speed.
After the warm-up, take 8 minutes to go through the following set of leg activation drills.
- 4 x 10m of Knee Huggers (this drill will help you open up your hip flexors and )
- 4 x 10m of Ankle grab (this drill will force you to start 'pulling' your ankles up into a position where you can make an effective stride without reaching)
- 4 x 10m of Catch your pull (This drill lets you check your posture just before you lean into your stride)
- 4 x 10m of Toe walk drill (this drill will help drive your hip forward for a more active run)
You are now about to start your Mix It Up interval set. Choose your level of fitness and try to complete the whole set at the same pace. Having little to no drop between the first rep of the set and the last one means you have the endurance to handle this pace in a long-distance race.
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Erik Böhm - Effortless Running - January 2022