Although I’ve been racing the marathon lately, the longest distance in track and field, it wasn’t too long ago that I was participating in mile races. I will always be a miler at heart, because I love the lactic acid burn of a fast run—which explains why I look forward to my weekly speed workouts.
During my training for Chicago, I knew the flat, fast course would require me to keep up my leg speed in order to maintain a podium-worthy pace. But it’s really easy for running mechanics to get sloppy when you’re training for a marathon—high-mileage weeks (I’m talking 115 to 125 miles per week!) will undoubtedly lead to fatigued legs. Your knee lift gets a little lower, and your stride starts to look more like a shuffle. That’s why it’s so important to have days built into your training plan where you intentionally run faster than race pace, to help wake up your nervous system and remind your body that it can still get into good form and run fast.
Fartlek Your Way to Fast
One of my favorite speed workouts sounds silly, but it can make you seriously fast. While training for the Chicago Marathon, I regularly did a fartlek workout with 20 repeats of 1 minute “on” and 1 minute “off.” I would start by warming up for 3 miles at an easy pace, slowly progressing until my muscles were loose and ready to work hard. Then, I did light plyometric drills followed by eight 100-meter strides to get my body ready for fast running with good form.
I ran the one minute intervals “on” between 5:10 and 5:20 pace (20 to 30 seconds per mile faster than my marathon race pace). And then I tried to maintain the one minute intervals “off” at around 6:10 to 6:20 mile pace. Although I typically started out faster in the beginning of the workout like this, and got slower as it progressed as my body became more tired, the point was to be as consistent as possible with the pace so I wasn’t slowing down too significantly with each “on” interval. Using the Lap Run function on my Fitbit Surge really helped me nail my pace for those 1-minute intervals.
My Favorite Speed Workout
- Warm Up 3 Miles Easy
- Plyometric Drills
- 8 x 100-meter Strides
- 20 x 1 minute “on” (20 to 30 seconds faster than race pace) and 1 minute “off” (30 to 40 seconds slower than race pace)
The great thing about this workout is not only do you get in a good amount of work at a faster-than-race-pace pace, but you also get in about 40 minutes of continuous running at a pace that averages out to be your marathon pace. Which means you’re investing in speed maintenance as well as endurance.
Preparation Makes All the Difference
While it feels hard in a training workout, running at a faster-than-race-pace speed is important, because it makes the pace on race day seem easy. Fortunately, that was the case for me in Chicago. At times, I was surprised to see splits in the high 5:30s when the Run Cues popped up on my Fitbit Surge—that pace felt so much easier during the race than it had in practice.
I’m thankful the Bank of America Chicago Marathon was a much better race for me than my first marathon in Los Angeles last March. Even though the race fell just four days after I arrived back to the US with my four newly-adopted daughters from Ethiopia, we all adjusted well to the time change and smoothly transitioned to being a family, which allowed me to get to the start line of the Chicago Marathon feeling healthy, rested, and excited.
My legs were strong and my turnover felt good thanks to the many high-mileage weeks and high-intensity speed workouts I had completed in the months leading up to the race. And I’m looking forward to tackling the marathon distance and having another great race in February at the US Olympic Trials!
Who’s trying this speed workout this week? Join the conversation!
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.