3 Essential Run Speed Sessions

The three most essential run-speed workouts for triathlon…

In order to become a faster runner, you need to regularly practise running fast. There are several ways to do this and in this article, we’ll outline the three key types of speed-session we use in our triathlon plans. Before we do that, we’ll go through the essentials of structuring your own workouts, how often to do them and how hard to run. With this information, you can take control of your own training and see significant benefits within a matter of months.

Before You Begin

As a triathlete, you should be looking to do one speed-session per week, preferably on a track or a measured circuit. Failing that you should use a running watch that measures pace and distance. To help you run at the right intensities it is important to have a good idea of your current race paces for 3km, 5km and 10km. If you haven’t raced for a while (or ever) aim to do a flat 5km race or a self-timed 3km time-trial to give yourself up-to-date timings. You can use our online running calculator to get estimated times for the other race distances.

What Should a Speed Workout Look Like?

Speed workout consists of the following six elements. If nothing else, make sure you include the Warm Up, Main Session and Warm Down.

  1. A warm up of easy running. Normally this is around 10-minutes.
  2. Dynamic exercises to take your joints through a good range of movement and mobilise muscles. So try 5 to 10 minutes of leg swings, skipping, zig-zag running and step ups.
  3. Running drills to develop coordination, teach or reinforce good mechanics. Running drills are a magazine feature in themselves but aim for a few drills done really well.
  4. Running strides to rehearse the speed of movement of the actual main session. These are short progressive sprints e.g. 4 to 6 x 60m build-up runs to 80% maximum intensity.
  5. A main session consisting of several hard efforts (see below for ideas)
  6. A warm down of easy jogging, normally around five minutes.

Three Essential Speed Sessions

Once you’re warmed up, you can move onto the main session. There are three main types to choose from and these are what we focus on as part of our triathlon coaching. The session you pick should depend on the race-distance you’re targeting, your current strengths and the timings of your races. Either way, don’t attempt all three types in a single week or you’ll burn yourself out. As a triathlete, it’s better to focus on one type of session and then do it once per week for 6-8 weeks before moving onto the next.

1. Anaerobic Run Speed Workouts

These sessions involve short, fast efforts with relatively long rests. By training at these paces you develop your ability to apply quick force to the track or road, increasing your stride length and efficiency. The volume of these types of sessions is relatively low – a maximum of 3km and often less. If you already have a good endurance base and you’ve done some longer track workouts (see points 2 and 3 for ideas) you will find that it doesn’t take many of these speed sessions to produce a rapid performance improvement. Just six to 10 workouts will move you on significantly, provided you are fresh and fuelled when you do them. We often set them for our triathlon coaching clients in the last few weeks before an ‘A’ race.

  • Session 1: 10x200m with 90secs rest between reps
  • Session 2: 7x300m with 2mins rest between reps
  • Session 3: 6x400m with 2mins 30secs between reps

2. Aerobic Run Speed Workouts

If you want to run a faster 5km or 10km race, these are the bread and butter sessions that will help you get there. They involve fast repetitions with relatively short rests. Keep the volume of your main set to around 5km and your pace at around your best for 3km. Start with short repetitions and build the length of time you are running at this pace. Here are some examples of how to progress your main sets:

  • Session 1: 2x10x200m with 20secs between reps and 4mins between sets
  • Session 2: 3x5x300m with 45secs between reps and 4mins between sets
  • Session 3: 2x6x400m with 60secs between reps and 3mins between sets
  • Session 4: 12x400m with 1minute rests

3. Aerobic Run Endurance Workouts

These sessions will help you to maintain a fast pace for longer, so that you can stay strong all the way to the finish-line on race day. The volume stretches to 8km and the speed towards 5km race pace. You will be required to run for over 3 minutes in each repetition, all at high heart rates. Examples of fast aerobic endurance sessions include:

  • Session 1: 8x800m with 2mins rests
  • Session 2: 6x(800m/400m) alternating 2mins rest and 1 minute rest
  • Session 3: 8x1km with 2mins jog rests
  • Session 4: 6x1200m with 2mins rests
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Final Advice:

Try to keep it interesting and challenging by changing the sessions and combining elements at different paces. Record your times and build up knowledge that helps you gauge how fast you might run on race day. And if you’re new to all this, don’t do too much on your first few outings. Build it up over a period of months and take notice of any unusual muscle pain.

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Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)
Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)

Phil is a recognised endurance expert who founded MyProCoach in 2010 to offer smart training plans that still leave quality time for your family, friends & career - complete with highly-rated coach support (he has sold over 40,000 so far). Learn more here!

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