Need for Speed: My 10 Favourite Running Workouts

I am one of those runners who has the tendency to get too comfortable with her running from time to time. Therefore I always try to turn one of my weekly runs into a speedier session to push myself a bit harder than usual. This certainly adds a bit more spice and variety into my running. And not only that – doing ‘single speed’ running all the time will keep you from getting stronger and better, it may also increase the risk of injury. Remember that our bodies need variety! In this post I am sharing a collection of my favourite running workouts, taking inspiration from Runners World, McMillan Running and various runner forums.

Before you get started, here are some pointers to help you get the most out of the sessions you decide to give a go to:-

  • Most of these sessions work best on flat surfaces such as parks, running tracks, canal towpaths, riverside, quiet country roads and so on.
  • I would strongly recommend a running watch to help pace yourself for these sessions. More advanced sports watches such as the Polar M430 that I use allows you to pre-load your workout session and your target paces, so on the day of your training run your watch will simply tell you what to do, like a good coach.
  • If you are not sure what your ‘marathon/half marathon/10k/5k’ etc. pace is, I suggest that you visit the McMillan Running Calculator website to get free personalised advice. This handy little tool gives you for example a goal race pace time, a prediction of other race times, and recommendations for training paces.
  • If you do not have or want to use a sports watch, you can always refer to the RPE scale to gauge your level of effort. In fact, it is good practice to tune into yourself and learn what different paces ‘feel like’, without needing to heavily rely on tech gadgets all the time.

The RPE scale

1. The Accelerator

This session is best for medium length runs (45 to 60 minutes). It is a great race-day simulation, priming your body and your mind for a fast finish, so that you empty your tank completely by the time you cross the finish line.

  • Divide the distance into 3 parts.
  • Run the first part at an easy pace (such as marathon-pace)
  • Run the second part at a slightly faster pace (such as half-marathon pace)
  • Run the final part the fastest (such as 10k pace, but not at an all-out pace)

2. Fast and Furious Finish

This is best for routes that have a flat finish. In order to get the most out of this session, use it for runs that last at least 60 minutes. Similar to ‘The Accelerator’ this is also a great race-day simulator, preparing you for a dynamic finish.

  • Run the first three-quarters at 70% RPE (you should be borderline uncomfortable; you are short of breath but can speak a sentence)
  • Run the final quarter at 90% RPE (you are pushing yourself so hard you are unable to talk; you can only hold this pace for a short period of time.)

3. Even Steven Hour

This one also includes acceleration training, albeit this is a very gradual one with some rest periods. You can cut this workout shorter by starting with 5 mins running at marathon-effort and changing the time steps to 1 minute instead of 2 minute increments.

  • Run 10 mins at marathon effort, 2 mins recovery jog
  • Run 8 mins at half marathon effort, 4 mins recovery jog
  • Run 6 mins at 10k effort, 6 mins recovery jog
  • Run 4 mins at 5k effort, 8 mins recovery jog
  • Run 2 mins faster than 5k effort, 10 mins recovery jog to cool down.

4. Michigan University Workout

This is a fantastic lactate clearance session, covering 12kms in total. It is guaranteed not only to train your body but also your mind!

  • Run 3k at marathon pace
  • Run 1.5k at 5k pace
  • Run 3k at marathon pace
  • Run 1k at 5k pace
  • Run 3k at marathon pace
  • Run 0.5k as fast as you can!

5. Super Half Marathon Simulation

This is best for your longer training runs as the total distance this session covers is 18k. To make it less taxing, just turn the rest periods into a walk or a trot. Alternatively, you can do 3 x 3k instead of 3 x 5k initially to make the total distance 13k.

Repeat this 3 times:

  • Run 5k at half marathon pace, run 1k easy

6. Hammer Intervals

This session teaches your body to push when it counts the most. This run is up to 10k, including your warmup and cool-down.

  • Warmup 1k

Repeat this up to 8 times:

  • 800 m at 5k pace
  • 2 mins recovery jog or walk

On your 4th set (if you are aiming for 8 sets), run the 800m segment really hard, faster than your 5k pace. For an additional challenge, run as hard as you can during your final 800m segment as well. You will notice it will be much harder to maintain the 5k effort with the same amount of rest.

7. Surges during long runs

If you can’t face another highly structured training session but want to add a bit of speed, this one is for you! In the second half of your long run, add a couple of 1 to 1.5 minute fast surges. Do not slow down too much between recovery segments. This session can be turned into a fun Fartlek session if you are following a route with mixed terrain and surfaces. You can use the scenery or certain words in your running music to prompt these surges, so this is quite a flexible session.

8. Fartlek

Fartlek is a Swedish word and means ‘speed play’. And that is exactly what it’s all about – adding speed to your sessions with an element of fun. Unlike tempo and interval work, fartlek runs are unstructured, improvised and alternate moderate-to-hard efforts with easy segments throughout. You don’t even need a sports watch for this. You can play with your speed by running at faster efforts for short periods of time (to a particular landmark such as a prominent tree, a bench, a bin or a sign) followed by easy-effort running to recover. This session works brilliantly with a mixed ability group or a partner – for example, you can take turns taking the lead – the goal is to keep it free-flowing and to run at harder efforts but not a specific pace.

Another version of Fartlek (if you are planning to go solo) is to use your running music. Pick your running songs in advance of your session and decide on how each song will dictate your workout – for example, you could run to the rhythm of the song (so you will speed up for the choir and slow down for the slower parts in the song). You could also decide to run faster for female singers and slow down for male singers. This is great if your running route lacks variety or if you need to run after sunset.

9. The Negative Split Challenge

The concept behind using negative splits in running is simple: run the second half of the route faster than the first half. The vast majority of world records and other noteworthy performances are set when runners achieve negative splits, or get very close to it, so this form of energy distribution does seem to pay off as a clever racing strategy.

For this session, find an out-and back route (such as a canal towpath or riverside). After reaching the halfway point in your run, press the lap button on your sports watch to make a note of your time, and then turn back to your starting point. Try to run the second segment a bit faster that the first segment. You can add a fun challenge if you predict in advance how much faster you will be. At the end, press the lap button again to see how many seconds or minutes you have managed to shave off from the first half!

10. How High Are You Inclined to Go? – Treadmill Challenge

This is fast and furious workout that you can do in a relatively short space of time on the treadmill – in the past I used this as a dynamic warm up for a strength session or as a means to get my sweat on before a low impact class in the gym such as Yoga or Body Balance.

  • Start with a 5 minute warm up jog at base level incline
  • Set the speed at a moderately hard RPE level and set the incline to 3, carry on for 1 minute
  • Add +1 to both your speed and the incline, carry on for 1 minute
  • Keep adding +1 to both your speed and incline for 1 minute and keep repeating this until you max out.
  • Cool down with a gentle jog back on the flat.

 What is your favourite way to add some speed into your training runs? Let me know in the comments.

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