Speed Work

It’s easy to come up with an excuse for avoiding speedwork - everyone knows that running as fast as you can is hard work - but the rewards for putting in the effort can be worth it.

 Whether you want to find your normal pace easier to manage, to have a burst of speed (a 'kick') to end a race - or to just get that stubborn PB down a bit - speed work can be the key.

If you are new to speed work - here are a few tips to remember:

Ease into it When you started running, you ran for just a couple of miles every other day, and have gradually built up to your current mileage. You didn’t suddenly start running 35 miles a week, so adopt the same approach to speedwork. Put at least three months of steady running behind you, then start with just one session every 10 days or so.

Not too hard Speed sessions aren’t about sprinting flat out until you’re sick.(unless that's what you really want to do!) They’re about controlling hard efforts and spreading your energy evenly over a set distance or time, just like you would in a perfect race.

Warm up and warm down Before each session, jog for at least 8-10 minutes to raise your blood temperature, increase blood flow to the muscles and psyche yourself up for fast running. Follow that with some gentle stretching and then run a few fast strides before getting down to the tough stuff. Afterwards, jog for another 5-10 minutes, before stretching once again.

Quality not quantity Speed training should not account for more than 15 percent of your total mileage. So slot in your speed sessions around the regular work you’ve been doing all along.

The following sessions are examples of common speedwork sessions, you’ll find these sessions are amongst those run by the club as coached sessions:

4/6 x 800m – This session is as simple as it sounds, after warming up you run hard for 800m, then run easy for 2 minutes, then repeat. When you first start doing this session you can aim for 4 repeats if 6 seems too much, try to build up to completing 6 repeats in the session. Then warm down. Good locations for this session in Leighton Buzzard are: Astral Park track, Golden Riddy/Stoke Road loop, or Harrow Road loop (this loop is around 1000 metres so you’ll need to keep an eye on distance).

Pyramids – The theory behind pyramid sessions, is you run at a high intensity, and alternate with periods of low intensity for recovery, and repeat at varying distances or times. Below are examples of this session:

  • 200m, 400m, 800m, 1200m, 1200m, 800m, 400m, 200m
  • 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 400m, 200m, 100m
  • 30 secs, 1 min, 1min30, 2 min, 2min 30, 2 min, 1 min 30, 1 min, 30 secs

The low intensity period should be sufficient to lower your heart rate and recover so that your next high intensity period can be as quick as the previous one, so you can increase the recovery period as the high intensity period gets longer (for the time period session the recovery periods could be from 30 seconds at the start to 2 minutes in the middle of the session).

Short Sprints –  When you first try this session take your first sprint at a moderate pace, about 50 to 60 percent of your maximum effort. Sprint for 30 seconds. Slow down your speed or walk for 60 to 120 seconds, Sprint for 30 seconds at 70 percent maximum effort. Slow down your speed or walk for 60 to 120 seconds. Sprint for 30 seconds at 80 percent maximum effort. Slow down your speed or walk for 60 to 120 seconds. Continue this pattern for 20 minutes with the sprint at 80 percent maximum effort.


The session can then be developed by either increasing the sprint time or decreasing the recovery time. For example sprinting for 45 seconds or decreasing the recovery to 60-90 seconds.