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Understanding Speed Work

by Meghann on September 3, 2009

I am a visual learner. Without a clear demonstration of something right in front of me I am lost.

I believe this fact of information is important to understand as it clearly explains why I have always avoided traditional speed work with training in the past.

I would read about tempo runs, intervals, and strides until I was blue in the face, but nothing ever clicked. Honestly I never understood it. In order for something to make sense to me I need to have someone show me an example of it. Writing down an example with no pictures, graphics or a video reference is basically pointless. A reason why online courses were my mortal enemy in college.

For the past two years my version of ‘speedwork’ has been hopping on the treadmill and moving between 7.0, 8.0 and 8.5 until I couldn’t take it anymore. This would definitely push me, but I wanted more.

My goal is to improve my speed for the Disney Marathon. I trained for my previous marathon with a goal to finish the race, but this time I want to push it to my limits, which means speed training. Real speed training. I found an intermediate plan that read like a puzzle.

Here’s September


GP?…. T?…. S?…. Huh?

I spent more time then I would like to admit determined to make this schedule make sense to me. I g-chatted with fellow runners. I drew diagrams and I wrote a cheat sheet.

cheat sheet

I even had a printed out version of my schedule with notes written on it. I swear I feel like I have a learning disability or something when it comes to this stuff, but I think I finally understand it.

Well, sort of.

I think it will be a learn as I go process. Luckily I have local runners who are willing to continue to teach me along the way. 🙂

This morning in preparation for my upcoming 5k next weekend, I decided to take my new knowledge for a test spin and try a Tempo Run. I gauged my tempo run at the speed I am hoping achieve for the 5k.

So in my laments terms this meant  running a mile at regular pace, speeding up for the 2 in the middle and then regular pace in the end. I was aiming for 8:00 min/mile for the 2 in the middle, but once I started running decided to change it to 7:45 based on how I was running.

Here are my final stats:

  • Mile 1:  9:15
  • Mile 2:  7:42
  • Mile 3:  7:48
  • Mile 4:  8:40
  • Finish:  33:29

Woo hoo!!! The best part was I felt great. I think I can get used to this.

I hit mile 3 at 24 something, which means I am right on track of hitting a new PR for my 5k if I work hard for it.

My new training plan has me doing a tempo run each week and each week the ‘tempo’ part will increase in distance up until the marathon. For the marathon I’m not planning to train to run so fast, but it felt great to do so today.

After my run and shower I was ready for a good meal.


I kept my word and added some Taboule to my egg this morning, then made an egg sandwich with an Arnolds Thin, Sprouts and Salsa.


Honestly, the taboule flavors faded in the egg, maybe I didn’t add enough? I will try it again with more taboule next time.

To me breakfast just is not complete with out a little fruit thrown in. On the side I had a fruit salad of Kiwi, Strawberries, Blueberries, Plain Oikos and a spoonful of Granola.


Sorry for the super long post, but sometimes I just like to be wordy!

Do you understand speedwork? Do you include it in your training plan?

1 Leianna September 3, 2009 at 9:10 am

I don’t understand speedwork really either, I need to see a video or someone demonstating it!
I did improve my 5K time last weekend though by a minute (24 to 23 minutes) trying different speeds on the treadmill!

2 Deva (Voracious Vorilee) September 3, 2009 at 9:14 am

I have trouble understanding speedwork, so I don’t really include it in my weekly runs, I should, and now that I’ve read your calendar and little explanations for it, it makes more sense than it ever did before! 🙂

3 tami September 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

i loved speed work, i was following the FIRST marathon training (run smarter run faster book) (i injured my lower leg, i think from running much to fast)

but the speed work is tough, but it does make you faster. don’t go all out/too fast, find the pace you should be running the speed work at and try and stick to it.

4 Jenna September 3, 2009 at 9:17 am

looks like you have a great speedworkout planned!

5 courtlove111 September 3, 2009 at 9:17 am

You are so dedicated to becoming a better runner! It is very inspiring. It is obvious you want to learn and grow…very cool!
And that breakfast looks very tasty. Now I’m off to make myself some eggs!!!
Adventures in Tri-ing

6 Nicole September 3, 2009 at 9:22 am

I hate speedwork, but it is necessary! Runners World Smart Coach makes great programs for every type of runner, and they include at least one speed workout a week.

7 Carolyn September 3, 2009 at 9:22 am

I am doing the couch 2 5 k right now, so I’m nowhere in your running league. That egg sandwich looks good, though. I’ve been wanting one for days, but forgot to get eggs at the store, yesterday. 🙁

8 caitlin September 3, 2009 at 9:23 am

AWESOME RUN Meghann! I am so proud of you!! cant wait for the 5k! i love staring at your ass as you beat me. LOL.

9 Whit September 3, 2009 at 9:24 am

Great speedwork this morning! I am trying to implement some speedwork in my training plan, so I am sure I will be referring to your blog plenty as I try to find tips!

10 caronae September 3, 2009 at 9:24 am

Congrats on a great tempo run! That’s fast. I understand speedwork, but I hate it, so I hardly ever do it. One thing I have been able to stick with semi-regularly is fartleks. Fartleks are nice because in my mind, they’re just a regular medium length run, but broken up into segments — and you get to speed up/slow down when you want, for however long you want! The key with speedwork is to challenge yourself. You’ll definitely see results!

11 Eve September 3, 2009 at 9:24 am

Wow – that was an awesome run! I understand speedwork, but since I’m not training for anything I usually do what I’m in the mood for and do what you used to. Start slowly ~10 min/mile and slowly increase to about 7:30-8 min/mile, then go slower then speed up more. But I usually don’t plan it out so much.

12 Amy September 3, 2009 at 9:25 am

Congrats on the great run this a.m.! I have always been a little baffled by speedwork, too– but I know it is something I’d like to start working in on a regular basis– so thanks for the tips (and explanations for those of us who don’t speak the language!)

The breakfast looks really yummy!

13 Matt September 3, 2009 at 9:26 am

Speedwork is tough but I always feel amazing after!

14 fitforfree September 3, 2009 at 9:27 am

My version of “speedwork” is sprinting “when I feel like it” during a run . . . not the most effective, because I rarely feel like it! Way to go on your pace — you’ll totally PR 🙂

15 cookinfanatic September 3, 2009 at 9:27 am

Never had sprouts on an egg sammie, but I’m likin that idea!

16 jenngirl September 3, 2009 at 9:28 am

Training plans are very confusing to me as well. I’ve never trained for anything, but i’ve still researched about running, so I know what you mean, there’s a lot of technicality out there!

That’s an awesome run this morning!!

17 amanda @ fake ginger September 3, 2009 at 9:32 am

It’s posts like this that makes me ready to have this baby so I can get back into running.

That sandwich looks delish! As does the fruit.

18 MelissaNibbles September 3, 2009 at 9:32 am

I’m still confused 🙁

19 Julie September 3, 2009 at 9:34 am

I’m a visual learner too. I need to see something in order to know what the hell is going on. I’ve read about all that running jargon…fartleks, speedwork…and I still don’t get it. For my “speed work” I run at my normal pace then up the speed for a minute or so, come back to normal for a minute or so then repeat. I do this for the length of a song. I think it’s working because I’m faster…but who knows!

20 Valerie September 3, 2009 at 9:37 am

I’m not currently training for any races, but the speedwork you are doing reminds me a lot of what I did in high school when I ran on the cross country team. From experience, I feel pretty confident saying that you WILL PR in your next 5k! Speedwork seriously helps a lot, and you are doing yourself a big favor! Good luck!

21 brandi September 3, 2009 at 9:39 am

I’ve never done any speed work before either and many of the training plans I’ve seen totally confuse me, too.

22 Jamie in Arkansas September 3, 2009 at 9:40 am

Thanks for sharing your research on speed training!
I’m an confused as well!! Since I’ve never run track, I never understood
the whole 200×2 and 400x 4 – huh? whatever. Greek to me!

Please keep us updated on your training. I’m hoping to adapt it to my workouts!
Like you, I’m a planner and have to have things layed out for me – on paper!

23 Britt September 3, 2009 at 9:40 am

I am a HUGE believer in speedwork! It definitely helped me improve my marathon times, as well as my 5K times.

That said, I have a hard time doing it on my own unless I’m on a treadmill. Its hard for me to really gauge my pace.

My running club does do track workouts and I try to go to those when I can. Being around all those fast people makes me want to push myself and not slack off.

24 Evan Thomas September 3, 2009 at 10:04 am

I don’t understand or do speedwork, but then again I’m not training for anything. You seem very on top of everything, congrats on that!

25 Angela (Run Study Eat) September 3, 2009 at 10:23 am

That’s okay, as a journalism student I am wordy as well.

26 Nicci@NiftyEats September 3, 2009 at 10:27 am

I love your determination and how focused you are on your races.

27 Catherine September 3, 2009 at 10:37 am

Great tempo! I bet you’ll definitely get a new 5k PR! Speed workouts are a must in my training plans. My favorite speed workouts are 3-4 x 1 mile & 800s 🙂

28 Laurie September 3, 2009 at 10:42 am

Someone mentioned it above, but definitely check out Runners World’s SmartCoach tool. I’m currently training for a half marathon and based my training plan off of the personalized program that SmartCoach spit out — I’m finding it really helpful so far!

As for scary-looking workouts like speedwork and tempo runs, my advice would be to just get out there and do ’em. At first I didn’t understand the terminology either, but as you DO the workout, you can only take it one step at a time — and when you break it down into parts, it’s simple! (And you get to learn by doing!)

For instance, a speed workout might look like this:
5 mi: warm; 2x1600m @ 8:03 w/ 800m jog; cool. (Huh?!?). But it simply means run a mile to warm up. Then run 1600m (1 mi) at a pace of 8:03(ish). Then slow it down and jog 800m (.5 mi). Then run another 8:03 mi. Then jog another .5 mi. Then cool down for a mile. Easy! And fun!

And without even realizing it, you’ll get faster just doing it — that’s one incredible thing about your body: all on it’s own it learns to deal with the lactate that builds up when you push it a bit faster than your comfort zone, your stride gets more powerful (think of getting your knees up, for a more powerful toe-off), and before you know it, you’re PR’ing all over the place! 🙂

Good luck — can’t wait to hear how it goes!!

29 dee (the apple hill adventurer) September 3, 2009 at 10:56 am

what a great run!

that breakfast is seriously one of the best looking, most well rounded bfasts i have seen on the blogs in a while

i want one just like that! but i never have time in the mornings!

30 Kristen @ Simply Savor September 3, 2009 at 10:56 am

thats awesome that you’re on track to beating your 5k PR! i’ve heard so many people talk about speedwork, but never really understood the concept. glad i know now!! thanks meghann, have a great day 🙂

31 Betsy September 3, 2009 at 11:01 am

I love speed work because you get done so dang fast! I’m currently training for my first half and have both speed intervals and tempo runs in my plan. I love busting out some 400s and 800s on the track.

32 Lizzy September 3, 2009 at 11:04 am

speed work is the best!!! i def need to work on mine as well, and its fun to see what your goals are! 🙂 makes me motivated to do it too! 🙂 Thanks Meghan

33 foodieinthecity September 3, 2009 at 11:05 am

Dang girl, that is some SERIOUS speed. I don’t currently do any speedwork and am not training for any races currently, but heck, why not give it a try sometime?

Since I do run on a treadmill since I live in the tundra, I go between a ‘jog’ and ‘run’ to keep myself from getting too bored.

Have a lovely day!

34 ~carolyn~ September 3, 2009 at 11:06 am

I have one speed and it is slow. I am so with you on the confusion of a tempo run and all that. I promised myself that after I completed my first half marathon I would start to work on my slow pace. Well, two months later and I am still just running at the same pace.

I am training for the Nike Womens Half in SF in Oct. I ran 6.5 this weekend with the training group and did a good easy 5 and then the last mile was run as fast as I could for as long as I could. It was easier than I thought.
Should I mention that my hip is killing me and now I cannot even walk without some sharp pain? It did not hurt after the run, just when I went to run on Tuesday…I have taken a break since then and I woke up with it hurting. What does IT Band issues feel like? NO knee pain, just my hip…and I cannot even tell where exactly the pain is coming from…sorry for the long comment but I am finding myself feeling very down about it.

35 rhodeygirltests September 3, 2009 at 11:09 am

nope. don’t understand speed work at all, but I feel like I am not at a point yet where that needs to be a concern. For now it is just about finishing without tripping again.

36 Brea September 3, 2009 at 11:22 am

Today I made my first attempt at speedwork. I have my 2nd 5k in 3 weeks and I used Runner’s World Smart Coach to create a 3 week plan for me to see if I can run faster. My speedwork workout consisted of a total of 5 miles, 1.5mile warm-up, 3 – 800 meters in 4:19 mins with a 400 meter jog in between each, and then a 1.25 mile cool down. I sort of cheated and did this run on the treadmill being I don’t have anything to tell me how fast I’m going outside and didn’t want to attempt a school track (while school is in session) w/o confirming first with the school that it was ok. It was tough, but I completed it! Next week I try a tempo run for the first time. I’m not sure I completely understand it all, but I’m learning!

37 Elsa September 3, 2009 at 11:36 am

I am trying to understand it. The more long distance races I do the more I want to improve my time and I know speed work is the key. Sometimes the training plans get so technical that it leaves me confused but it is definitely something I want to wrap my head around.
My husband use to run track in HS so he understand the terms well. Now I just need to get him out on the track with me to explain it to me as I am doing it.
But great run this morning!

38 eatolive September 3, 2009 at 11:43 am

you are certainly not the only one! i am also a VERY visual learner. not only do i have a hard time understanding things written out but i get bored & tend to space out while reading them – thus leading to the not understanding. i need visual stimuli to not only keep me entertained and focused but also to help me learn so you are defffffinitely not the only one on that!! 🙂

39 Julia September 3, 2009 at 11:51 am

I’ve did some speedwork this summer, but like you I’m always super confused by how exactly I’m supposed to do it.
I always did it with my fiance and so we would do it similar to how he did it in track in high school…only much slower hahaha.
I’d love to hear more about your speed training and an even more in depth post about how you do it.

40 megzzwinsatlife September 3, 2009 at 11:58 am

Great job on the speedwork Meghann.. I am also a visual learner.. In college I always did better on the classes where the teacher prepard power point slides..

I remember doing a lot of speedwork in HS on the track time and it defiantly helped. My senior year I was the fastest I ever was in my life and I account a lot of that toward my speedwork. I try to do speedwork at least once a week although my running has been a little behind lately. Best of Luck!

41 biz319 September 3, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I am totally a “visual” learner myself – that’s why I got to all the time to figure out how to make homemade pasta or how to bone a chicken!

Great job on your speed work!!

42 Anne P September 3, 2009 at 1:06 pm

omg i’m the SAME WAY. i totally don’t get all that stuff. i usually just make my own up when i feel like it 🙂 one of my faves is running on a track – sprinting the straights, jogging the curves. it’s great! and then in between runs around the track i’d do boot camp style moves. it’s such a good workout!

43 April September 3, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Wow… thanks for that info… I pretty much just do what you do, push it for awhile then back off to get in “speedwork”. And, holy crap, you ran that 4 miles FAST! Good for you!

44 Jenn Eats Nutritiously Now September 3, 2009 at 4:49 pm

I always love seeing your fruit bowls. So pretty and I’m sure they’re tasty!

45 lowandbhold September 3, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Thanks for giving an explanation of speedwork. I’m still a really new runner so I don’t know when I should be introducing speed into my regimen, but I’ve always wondered what all that talk meant, haha.

Too bad the taboule didn’t come out in the sandwich, it sure was pretty!

46 sarah (ghost world) September 3, 2009 at 5:16 pm

i’m such a running nerd that i recognize that table from the ‘ultimate’ training plans on runner’s world — the first plans i ever used that had speedwork!

i love doing tempos and repeats — really mixes things up, improves my pace, and makes me feel powerful and strong. ENJOY — and great paces on your tempo!

47 Pam September 3, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Good post! I’ve always been so confused with speed work. I need to start incorporating more of it!

48 Run Niki Run September 3, 2009 at 8:23 pm

I understand speedwork, but I find it kind of scary and intimidating! For my upcoming half marathon, I have tried adding in a little bit of hill work and speed workouts, and have found that I really enjoy my tempo runs!

49 Jessica September 4, 2009 at 3:32 am

I’m sort of a geek for training plans so my runs are pretty planned out. I train for triathlon and it takes some crazy organization to make everything fit. I run one speed, one tempo, and one long run a week. Speed work has been indispensible to me – I would never have gotten faster without it.

I’m a bit more new to tempo runs and they’re usually really hard for me but I’ve learned to love them. It’s just such a good feeling to push yourself that hard and know you can do it. Plus, there’s no denying the results – only a couple weeks after I added them I actually beat my previous 5k race time . . . in a triathlon, no less. So keep it up and you’re sure to kill at your race.

50 Bernadette September 14, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Is this a training plan that you designed or something you found on the web?? My sister and I are going to begin half marathon training next month and are looking at a few different ones and trying to come up with one that works for both of us…. this looks like a good one!

51 healthy ashley September 29, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I’ve been feeling totally blind and clueless with speedwork, but your simple explanation has set me on the right track!

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