A few weeks back, I posted some key workouts that I like to put in training plans for marathons. The marathon is about control and endurance. Shorter races (5k to 10k) are about running hard and spending some time (or the whole race, if you can stand it) in the pain locker. If you want to be able to race hard, you need to train yourself to run hard and consistently. And if you’re lucky, you might have something left for a kick to the finish.
Springtime is a great time to focus on speed and shorter races. If you’re coming off of a long marathon training cycle through the fall or winter (and as you can get back outside to enjoy some days on the track), it’s a nice change from the repetition and monotony that marathon training can bring. Also, getting some speed into your legs early in the year will make longer intervals “feel” a bit less difficult down the road. And let’s be honest…it’s fun to run fast.
As with any other distance, how you train is how you’ll race. Go out too hard and fizzle in your workouts, and you’ll most likely do the same thing on race day. Teach yourself to start fast but in control, and you’ll be able to do the same thing on race day. Here are my favorite workouts for building that sort of ability.
Pre-workout Warm-up: It is really important to get in a proper warm-up before any hard interval session. Not only is it smart to rehearse the warm-up before race day arrives, but it’s also critical to have your muscles and joints good and warm before working hard. You can check out my post on warm-ups here. Do a full 5k-10k warm-up before these workouts, and jog for 20+ minutes afterwards to cool down.
Pyramid to Cut-down: The concept here is to be smart for the first half, then increase speed for the second half. Another pet name for this workout is “Controlled Explosion.” After your warm-up, run intervals of 200, 400, 600, 800, 1200 @ 10k pace (yes, for all of them), then 1200, 800, 600, 400, 200 progressing from 10k pace down to mile pace. Recover for half the time of the previous interval at a jog.
Classic Cut-down: This workout is a staple of high-school track and XC programs, and for good reason. Its focus is increasing speed while you are getting tired, something that the best short distance racers have an ability to do. After your warm-up, run a set of 1600′s (2-3) @ 10k pace, a set of 800′s (3-4) @ 5k pace, a set of 400′s (4-5) @ mile-3k pace. Recovery time = half of interval time. Then, finish with a set of 100′s (5-6) with a jog recovery back to your starting point.
20 Quarters: When I was living in Athens, GA and training with some racehorse shorter-distance guys, the group would work on building up to running 20 400′s at the peak point of the season. I never got all the way to 20 with those guys…but I definitely got faster in races. After your warm-up, run sets of 4 400′s with 30 seconds standing rest after each interval. At the end of each set, you can take an extra 30-60 seconds rest before starting the next set. Early in the season, run 2 sets, then build up to running 5 sets (or 20 total 400′s). These should be consistently paced, allowing for a little bit faster per interval in the final set. The pace for each 400 should be between 1-mile and 2-mile race pace.
Time Trial and 200s: About 2 weeks before your race, you can both get in a good workout and check your fitness with this one. After your warm-up, run a 2-mile time trial (race it!). Then jog for 10 minutes and change back into trainers (if you change into flats or spikes for track intervals). Then, run 4-8 more laps, alternating between 200 hard and 200 recovery, then cool down. The time trial will give you a good sense of what pace you can manage on race day, and the 200′s after recovering will give you another chance to practice running fast when your legs are getting tired.
Here’s a bonus tip. Shorter distance speed isn’t about putting your head down and pushing. It’s about learning to relax and let your stride and turnover do the work. Smooth = speed.