January 2017 - Getting Speedier

The Question

January's question was from Lee in Aldershot. Lee asked:

“I've recently been focussing on marathons and ultras, but now want to switch to shorter distances in order to get some speed in the legs. I'd like to start with breaking 20 minutes for 5k. I managed 20:16 a couple of years ago, but that was before lots of long, slow mileage. I would then like to progress to a sub-40 10k and eventually a sub 3:30 marathon. What's the best way to go about this?”

- Lee

Our Experts' Answers

Matt Kiernan
Matt - Athletics coach and distance runner

“Introducing one or two interval sessions a week will certainly help with this. To begin with, I would introduce one interval session a week with an example being 10 x 2 mins off 2 mins, so that’s running at a tempo pace for 2 minutes and then jogging for 2 minutes.

Once this is settled into your programme, I’d introduce a second interval session which could for example be hills-based. Hill repeats lasting a minute or two are a great way of running out of your comfort zone and will give you an extra few gears to work with in the distances you refer to.

One bit of advice I would say, is never follow up a speed session with another speed session the day after. Recovery is crucial, especially if sessions are new to you, so an easy run or a complete rest the following day would be recommended.”

Paul - Ultra Runner and endurance coach

“Hi Lee, good question! Funnily enough I'm in a similar position myself switching from marathons to shorter stuff. Firstly, I'd say look at what exercise you are doing outside of running; both conditioning work and swimming are fantastic to improve strength and flexibility. For the shorter distances it's important to be powerful so you definitely want a strong core.

Secondly, to start developing that speed I'd advise doing one interval session a week and another progression/fartlek. The interval session is ideally done with a group, perhaps at a track or elsewhere, it's important to have the environment of others running around you at threshold and 5km pace. You'll definitely see improvements with this.

Lastly, so that you are able to build from 5km up to marathon I'd advise for you to still be putting in those miles, outside of the interval training make sure you are doing some easy runs and a longer one every week. You want to be working all the energy systems to help getting you faster and stronger.”

Our Member's Answer

This month's member's answer is from Joe in Yorkshire.

Joe S. - 5k fanatic

“When I started running I was intent on running a marathon and got quite a few under my belt. I now run over all distances from 5k to marathon. Once thing I have found really helpful is to make sure that I'm not neglecting speed. Interval sessions are important, but so is getting is some even faster stuff - usually with fartlek running. Use it or lose it!”

Wise words from all-rounder Joe.