Do Not Neglect Speed and Speed Endurance Workouts

Posted by Scott Christensen

Modern training theory is invaluable in applying scientific research to the development of middle-distance runners.  Knowing how to set up training microcycles that include all of the necessary session components during a training phase is critical to progressive development.  Modern training theory does not suggest that training microcycles need to be seven days in length.  By definition, microcycles should be constructed so that they contain all of the various sessions and units that must be done to address the aerobic and anaerobic energy demands of the events, including speed and speed endurance workouts.

The middle-distance events create a very high aerobic and anaerobic energy system demand for racing success.  Athletes need to be aerobically fit, and also to be able to effectively tolerate a high load of lactate produced anaerobically.  They also need to improve their maximum speed so they get more efficient at sub-maximal speed.  There is just a lot to do to fully develop the elite middle-distance runner.

I know Rudisha doesn’t neglect his speed workouts

Setting up middle-distance training microcycles should be done to accomplish what is necessary before re-cycling training components again.  With that in mind, an examination of what is necessary for every cycle would include on the aerobic side:1) VO2 max session, 2) long run and, 3) tempo run.  On the anaerobic side, the session list would include: 1) special endurance 2 (300-600 meter repeats), 2) special endurance 1 (150-300 meter repeats), 3) speed endurance (60-150 meter repeats), and 4) maximum speed session (30-60 meter fly repeats).  In addition, there will be a race, a hill strength session, and three base run recovery days.  Total up all of the sessions and the middle-distance microcycles need to be 12 days in length.  To make the cycles any less days would neglect some component that is critical.

It has been my impression over the years from coaches attending the schools, camps and clinics that I have presented at, that not every component is covered in their middle-distance training schemes.  It seems that speed endurance and maximum speed sessions are the most neglected of the training components. It is difficult for distance coaches to act and think like sprint coaches for the most part.  Yet, it is necessary to prescribe training sessions that isolate both maximum speed and speed endurance.  These sessions are the means by which middle-distance athletes improve the following: top end speed, speed mechanics, and coordination.  In addition body strength increases, as does efficiency of thigh amplitude placement, and a more effective response at the neuro-muscular junction because of these sessions.

Training Resource:  Speed Development for Distance Runners

Maximum speed sessions are designed to be what the name implies.  Do these sessions on the track in spikes with lots of rest between repetitions of work.  Prescribe a single set of 8-10 flying 30 meters, between cones, with a10 meter acceleration to the fly zone and a 15 meter deceleration zone from the fly.  The rest period should be active and should consist of 3-4 minutes between each fly.  If done correctly, the session should stimulate the creatine phosphate anaerobic energy system and should produce no lactate related byproducts.  This will result in a 24 hour complete recovery.  Follow this training unit with 4-5 miles of easy running unit at the aerobic threshold.  Do not reverse these two units in the session as is common in what is called “strides” at the end.  These flying 30 meter repeats need to be done first, as all technical units in track and field must be done.  The goal of the session is maximum speed development, not additional endurance if done at the end.  These sessions can and should be done throughout the annual plan.  Never get far from maximum speed development.

In contrast, speed endurance sessions should only be done during a structured microcycle because lactate will accumulate and will need to be buffered, and recovery is more in the 48 hour range.  Speed endurance sessions are among the hardest workouts athletes do because one is trying to hold as much maximum speed as possible out to as far as 150 meters.  The quality of this type of work for a top-notch miler cannot be overstated.  The warm-up unit for a speed endurance session should be long and detailed.  Make it as structured as a race day warm-up.

Tip from Coach Christensen: How to Run the 800 Meter (video)

With a small dot of paint on the inside line of your track make a dot 150 meters from the starting line.  Then move a hurdle onto the inside of lane 1 aligned with the dot which will serve as the athlete’s visual finish line.

The workout itself will consist of 2 sets of 3 repetitions of 150 meters with 4 minutes between the repetitions and 6 minutes between the sets.  Use a good starter to get the athletes going and accurately time their work.  If the runners start to tail off due to accumulating fatigue, increase the rest interval.  The goal of the session is to hold speed.  Follow this unit with a 4-5 mile recovery run at the aerobic threshold.

Understanding speed development is critical to middle-distance racing success.  The critical zone of these races is all about holding speed and lactate tolerance.  Give your athletes all of the tools they need for success.




FREE REPORT From Distance Expert Scott Christensen

Race Strategy and Tactics for the Endurance Events: 800m – 5000m

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Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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