Why would a distance runner do speed workouts, isn't that for sprinters? Isn't that for more serious athletes? Won't going fast injury me? I will never be a fast runner, why should I even do it? These all the questions coaches get when it comes to speed workouts; however, it IS true that an athlete should be incorporating a quality speed workout once to twice a week. As a distance runner, you typically have 4 days of easy, base runs; your long run; and one day of QUALITY - speed workouts.
So why would a distance runner incorporate these into the routine?
Speed workouts quite simply help you become a better runner. By running at a faster pace, you increase ground reaction force (the force exerted by the ground on a body coming into contact with it), improve on running economy, and improve on agility/flexibility, while also reducing the likelihood of injury. The more efficiently you run, the less likely you will become injured. "As a Division 1 collegiate sprinter at Virginia Tech I was always aware of how important speed drills are in making me an overall faster runner, and it was pretty obvious that speed was what I needed as a sprinter. At the time, what I didn’t realize was how the speed drills that I was doing as a sprinter would years later also make me a more efficient and faster distance runner" (cited: Imani Mack, Physical Therapist, The Importance of Speed Workouts for Distance Runners).
What happens to your body when you perform these speed workouts that will transfer to helping your overall fitness?
During speed workouts, you activate your slow-twitch muscles and intermediate muscle fibers, this increases your aerobic capacity.
Myoglobin, which is a protein found in your muscles. Speed workouts increase the production of this protein. Why would you want to increase this protein? Because Myoglobin transports oxygen to the mitochondria in your muscles. Mitochondria produce ATP (energy). By increasing your Myoglobin, you improve your body’s ability to quickly transport oxygen to the muscles for energy, making you able to run faster.
Increases your VO2Max
Your VO2max is somewhat limited by what your genetics; however, you will see many benefits from performing continued speedwork, especially workouts that target improving your V02Max. When you see improvements in V02Max, your body will become more efficient at recruiting your fast-twitch muscles. Your running economy improves, so that you expend less energy and can run faster at the same effort level. In addition, your ability to tolerate and clear lactate improves which helps you sustain a faster pace for longer.
Practicing a skill
There is the skill aspect to running. In order to get better at a certain skill, there needs to be variation. So by practicing different ranges of paces from sprinting to easy long runs, you will become a better runner. If you want to run faster, you have to practice running faster! You also need to practice running slower (but that is for another blog post). Speed workouts train you how to output more effort, maintain a higher cadence, and mentally cope with some physical discomfort while running. If you practice this skill once or twice per week consistently, you won’t just become faster -you will run faster with less effort.
Are you intimidated by doing full blown speed session?
Improvements in running economy and everything that was mentioned above isn't limited to doing only speed session. If you are looking to make improvements in your running, but aren't quite ready, or want additional improvements without the fatigue. Use strides to practice running quickly. Strides aren't all out, but they will help to reinforce faster running and recruitment of fast twitch muscles fibers. You may not see benefits right away, but when done consistently you will notice improvements in your running.