Speed Drills For Runners Of All Experience Levels

speed drillsWhether you are a beginning runner or a seasoned athlete, you’re probably always looking for ways to improve your technique. If you frequently participate in races or would like to try, than you might want to consider ways to improve your speed as well. After all–athleticism and goal-setting go hand in hand; it makes sense to want to get across the finish line faster. Speed drills are one component of increasing your overall running speed, and a great conditioning exercise that you can add to your running regimen.

There is a lot of training involved when you are working towards your first 5k, 10k, or even marathon, so while you are working towards that goal, it is relatively simple to integrate some speed drills into your training routine that can ultimately increase your speed and endurance. We’ll take a look at some of the speed drills that are popular among experienced runners and explain the technique so that you can try them out for yourself.

Start Slow With Strides

When you want to increase your speed, it can be kind of tough to stay patient. You want to-well-hit the ground running so to speak! It is important to start out gradually, or you run the risk of injuring yourself-yikes! You can decrease your chances of athletic injury even further by learning about sports medicine and massage and what preventative measures you can take while you are easing into more strenuous speed drills.

To work on your strides, you want to begin your run just as you would during any other training session. It’s best not to make this your first run of the week. Instead, try for your third or fourth run, or go ahead and start on the last run you will do in one week. You want a nice, flat surface, so if you have access to a track, that’s ideal!

  • Find your “conversational speed”, and hold it for awhile.
  • When you’re ready, increase your speed for 15-20 seconds, building up to faster and faster accelerations.
  • After 20 seconds, decrease your speed and give yourself one to two minutes to recover, allowing your pulse to drop and your breath to slow.
  • After your minute is up, increase your speed again just as before. Repeat this drill 3-7 times before returning to your conversational speed.

Each time that you run, attempt your stride speed drill again, but after a few runs, take a break. Rest is just as important to conditioning as training is, so make sure that you are taking care of that aspect of your regime. Your rest days are also an excellent time to keep an eye on your body and make sure that you aren’t developing shin splints or other little twinges and take any time that you need to recover.

Fartlek Speed Drills

The Swedish running coach Gosta Holmer is sometimes considered to be the “father of the fartlek”. This funny little term means “speed play” in Swedish, and as you would imagine from the name, they make for excellent speed drills for runners. If you’ve been working on your strides, than you are ready to work on your fartleks, as they are quite similar-though the fartlek is certainly more intense than a striding speed drill. There are also a few levels of fartlek speed drills, which means that you can work your way up to each new level as you feel that you are ready.

  • Basic Fartlek-this beginning fartlek is very similar to your stride speed drills.
    • Begin at a conversational speed, just as you did with the basic drills, and once you have been running for about 7-10 minutes, increase your speed for a solid minute.
    • Once that minute is over, decelerate back to your starting speed. If you are having trouble catching your breath before the next fartlek, this could be a sign that you are accelerating too quickly. Simply adjust your speed so that it becomes more comfortable between intervals.
  • Transitional Fartlek-for these speed drills, you want to be sure that you have given your body plenty of time to adjust to the additional strain that you are putting on it, ideally 6-14 weeks. For experienced runners, 6 weeks will do. For beginning runners, you’ll need to give yourself more time.
    • Instead of beginning at a conversational speed, start at a slightly more intense speed. Not enough to wind you, just enough to challenge yourself.
    • At 6 minutes give yourself a 3 minute recovery time.
    • After that time has elapsed, begin running again at a speed slightly faster than your beginning speed. You should really begin to feel the burn.
    • After 5 minutes at that speed, rest for 2 and a half minutes.
    • Finally, do a two minute, high-intensity run and then give yourself 1 minute to recover before dropping to a conversational speed for your cool-down.
  • Downcycle or Reverse Fartlek– For these speed drills, you will basically do the transitional fartlek, but in reverse.
    • You will begin with the two minute fartlek and one minute recovery time.
    • Then you’ll move to the less challenging 5 minute run, with the half-time rest.
    • Finally you’ll do the six-minute set with a three minute rest and then move into a conversational pace.
    • If you feel comfortable, feel free to repeat the downcycle fartlek.

Hill Repeats

Hill repeats are speed drills that can really challenge you. You’ll want to ensure that you know just what supplements to take and what kind of diet you should be eating, especially if you have a big race coming up. It’s important to fuel the machine, after all!

  • What you want to do is find a slight incline that you can run comfortably in the space of 20 seconds to one minute. You can choose a steeper grade if you feel that you are ready to move on to that kind of challenge.
  • When you run up the incline, make sure that you are using proper form and breathing technique to ensure that you are not making yourself susceptible to injury.
  • When you reach the crest of the incline or the end of the one minute work, allow yourself to recover by descending the slope at a slow jog or run.
  • You can do these hill repeats over and over again–the gentle grade and short bursts of intensity should allow you to do more than if you were working on a steeper grade or longer distance.
  • Make sure that you stretch and rest when you complete your hill repeats, because you are using a lot of muscles to fight the gravity of the incline–muscles you might not otherwise use?

Pyramid Speed Drills

A pyramid speed drill is also similar to a fartlek, in that you work in intervals, steadily increasing to a top speed at a longer length and then, once you reach the apex of that run, you will slow down in the same way–using intervals. One of the great things about the pyramid drill is that because it requires timing relatively short intervals, it is difficult to get bored while you’re doing it, which makes them great speed drills if you’re starting to get weary of the same old routing.

  • Begin with a warm up by running or jogging at a nice, leisurely pace for five minutes. It can be helpful to wear a stopwatch that emits a beep upon reaching a set time, or bring a smartphone with an interval app on it.
  • For your first interval, go for one minute at a slightly challenging speed.
  • Recover for one minute.
  • You will repeat this interval/rest period by increasing each for one more minute as you continue to run. For instance, your next interval will be two minutes, your next rest will be two minutes, then three, then four, and on until you reach five or six minutes, begin heading in the direction.
  • You will decrease your intervals from there, going from five minutes to four, and then three, all the way until you return to your original one minute interval.
  • Instead of a one minute rest, take an entire five minutes to cool off, you’ve earned it!

Those are just a few of the basic speed drills that runners can use to improve their race times, you’ll likely even find ways to create your own or increase the intensity of the ones that have been laid out here. Of course, you don’t have to use speed drills to increase race time. You can use them just to improve your conditioning or because you are looking to push yourself further as a personal goal. It is completely up to you. Remember that running has as much to do with mental perseverance and training as it does with physical and that you can learn ways to train more holistically, taking that into consideration. Finally, remember that not all athletic training has to be fast and intense. There are times where a nice, slow yoga course can be just as beneficial, by focusing the mind and body and retraining yourself to breathe effectively.