12-Week Speed Work Progressions to Run Faster

Welcome to the latest edition of “Workout Wednesday” when each week I share a new running or strength training for runners workout! This week we are talking about speed, because almost every runner I know wants to get faster, but speed is relative.

A pace that is easy for one runner could be a high-intensity pace for another — so instead of basing the workouts on pace, we’ll be using the rate of perceived exertion chart (RPE) instead. You run based on how hard you feel you’re working.

12 week speed work to run faster

It’s essential that you don’t attempt to follow arbitrary paces from workouts that you find on the internet. Always work according to your fitness level determined by your current 5K race pace or the RPE chart that uses the breath test below.

If you can’t talk during your run, no matter what the pace says on your watch or app, you are working an extremely hard effort at a level 9 or 10. It’s not the pace that determines how hard you’re working, but your effort level at that pace. Make sense?

On my long run, I often sing the alphabet out loud (sorry neighbors) to ensure I am running a moderate level, one that requires I can sing the alphabet without taking gasps of air between letters. If I can’t do it, I know I am running too fast for an endurance training run, and I slow down.

USE THE RPE CHART TO DETERMINE EFFORT

RPE chart

RPE chart

TYPES OF WORKOUTS TO INCREASE SPEED

If you’ve never done speed work before it’s best to introduce speed with phases of intensity gradually. This plan is 12 weeks of progressing speed work. First, let’s go over the different types of speed training.

STRIDES

Strides are short bursts of speed that start as a jog, accelerate to near max speed in the middle, then gradually slow at the end. They should last about 20-30 seconds for 100 meters. Perform four strides after an easy run with complete rest (heart-rate returns to normal) after each one. After three weeks, increase the reps to six strides.

FARTLEKS

Fartlek is Swedish for speed play. I love Fartleks as an introduction to speed work because they do not have predetermined timed paces or distances.

Start by warming up by running for a mile at a comfortable pace. Once warmed up, choose a visual destination in the distance, like a parked car, a park bench or a stop sign, and pick up the speed to a pace that is a 7-8 on the RPE chart until you reach your destination.

Return to a slow jog until you are breathing normally at an RPE 4, then choose a new destination and run faster until you reach it.

Repeat for a mile or two and cool down with a slow jog or walk. I wrote in more detail about Fartleks in this blog article.

SHORT INTERVALS

Short intervals help improve top end speed for shorter distances. To perform short intervals warm up at a relaxed pace, then run for 30 seconds to two minutes at a 9 RPE, followed by rest period equal to the work period. Repeat six times or until performance noticeably declines during the work period. Increase reps as your fitness improves.

Hill repeats are also effective as short intervals. Choose a moderate incline hill that takes 45 seconds to a minute to run from bottom to top. Start with a jog at the bottom and increase intensity as you burst up the hill. Walk or jog back down to the base. Repeat six times or until performance declines.

TEMPO RUNS

Perform your tempo run at the upper end of aerobic capacity. It’s the fastest you can run aerobically before your body switches to the anaerobic (without air) energy system used in sprinting. A tempo pace is comfortably hard but controlled.

It is not at an all-out sprinting effort; it’s a pace you can hold for a steady-state up for an hour. It’s often referred to as 10K pace.

If you have a recent 10K racing result, that pace is likely your tempo pace.

It’s a 7-8 on the RPE chart or about 75%-85% of max heart-rate. It’s harder than your easy effort, but not so hard that you can’t hold the pace for longer distances.

A tempo run teaches your body to hold faster paces for long periods. As your fitness improves work to increase the length of your tempo run, rather than the speed. Aim to run longer, up to an hour, at your tempo pace. I wrote more about tempo runs in this blog post.

LONG INTERVALS

Long intervals are most useful for increasing speed for half marathon on longer distances. Run for three to five minutes at an RPE effort of 8-9 with a two-minute recovery between reps. Run four to five reps or until performance noticeably declines during the effort interval. The key is to find the pace you can hold for three minutes or longer, but you couldn’t keep for 30 minutes. Faster than your tempo pace, not as fast as your short interval pace.

12 week speed work progressions to run faster. save to your favorite running Pinterest board for later.

12 week speed work progressions to run faster. save to your favorite running Pinterest board for later.

12-Week Speed Work Progressions To Run Faster:

Weeks 1–3

  • Strides: four reps after an easy run, two to three times per week.

  • Fartlek intervals: 6–10 reps of speed increases with full recovery between rest. Increase the reps as you build fitness.

Weeks 4-6

  • Strides: six reps after an easy run, two to three times per week.

  • Short Intervals: six reps of speed intervals for 30 seconds to two minutes, with rest period equal to the work period one to two times per week.

  • Tempo run: Start at 10 minutes at a comfortably hard pace and increase time as fitness improves, one time per week.

Weeks 7-9

  • Strides: six reps after an easy run, two to three times per week.

  • Short Intervals: six reps of speed intervals for 30 seconds to two minutes, with rest period equal to the work period, one to two times per week.

  • Tempo run: 20-30 minutes at a comfortably hard pace and increase time as fitness improves, one time per week.

Weeks 10-12

  • Strides: six reps after an easy run, two to three times per week.

  • Long Intervals: four to five reps of speed intervals for three to five minutes, with two minute rest period, one time per week.

  • Tempo run: 30 minutes to an hour at a comfortably hard pace.

RULES OF SPEED TRAINING

Follow these rules of speed training to ensure your efforts to become a faster runner don’t lead you down the path of an injured runner.

DO SPEED TRAINING ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK

Most athletes will thrive on just one or two speed sessions per week. Always allow 48 hours between effort sessions. The recovery period is the most critical period. Our bodies adapt to our training by getting faster and stronger during the rest period after the workout, not during the workout itself. If you don’t allow adequate rest, you won’t see the full benefit of your hard work.

DON’T INCREASE BOTH INTENSITY AND VOLUME IN SAME WEEK

Never increase intensity (speed) and volume (distance) in the same week. If you are training for a marathon and you introduce speed work into your plan, do not also increase the distance of your long run in the same week. For a marathon trainee it may look something like this:

Week 1 - Add mileage to long run
Week 2 - Add mileage to long run
Week 3 - Add mileage to long run
Week 4 - Decrease long run, add interval training
Week 4 - Add mileage to long run, perform the same interval training as previous week
Week 5 - Add mileage to long run, perform the same interval training as previous week
Week 6 - Add mileage to long run, perform the same interval training as previous week
Week 7- Decrease long run, increase either number of reps or speed of interval training
and so on…

Add mileage to your long run each week for three weeks, then during the fourth week, drop the mileage down on the long run and introduce speed work. Perform the same speed workout for the next three weeks as you increase mileage of your long run. Repeat until your reach your goal distance.

Increasing intensity and volume in the same week increases the risk for injury.

Got it? Good! Let me know how it goes!

ONLINE RUN COACHING

Need help with this? I am opening up two spots of my online training program, delivered online. $50 per month includes:

  • Weekly running and strength training workouts customized to your unique fitness level, delivered online.

  • Food diary assessment for better nutrition habits.

  • One weekly phone call for accountability, goal setting, questions and concerns about the program.

Name *
Name

Did you like this post? Do you know someone who might benefit? It helps me when you share with your friends and followers.