Q I had a couple of years without racing, and then took up speedwork again 11 months ago. But even though Im back up to 40-50 miles a week (from 15-25) and doing speed sessions (typically 6 x 1 mile with four-minute jog recoveries, or 16 x 400m with 200m recoveries), plus hard fartlek and threshold sessions each week, my speed just isnt returning. Im still more than a minute outside my 5K best and two minutes outside my 10K time, which I set two and seven years ago respectively. Am I being too impatient? Im 37, and Id like to think that I could set some good times before the end of the year.
It does sound as though you might be trying to get your speed back in too much of a hurry. Im sure it will come but it will come faster if you dont force it too hard or try to squeeze too much quality work into each week.
You need to build quality in gradually to ensure that you recover sufficiently from hard work-outs before doing another one. Its not clear whether youre doing your mile reps and your 400m reps each week, or on alternate weeks. The latter would certainly be preferable. I would also recommend, for the next month or two, that two out of three times when you do these work-outs you slow the pace and reduce the recoveries to one minute, and that for the third time you do only 4 x 1 mile or 12 x 400m with the recoveries as they are (thereby seeking enhanced speed).
You could enhance your week overall by building up to a long run of two to two and a quarter hours, including only one repetition session and either a hilly run/fartlek, or a four- to six-and-a-half-mile threshold run in any given week; and by inserting a relaxed/steady 10-mile run in midweek, and a recovery run of six miles. Only add a threshold run if you feel sufficiently recovered.
After a month or two of this regime, I suggest alternating your track sessions fortnightly with gradual upslope (road) reps of about two to three minutes (up to six reps) with a jog back to recover. Alternate your hilly/fartlek and threshold runs, and add 4-6 x 200m up a tough hill (technique runs) a few minutes after each threshold run.
Finally, add a fortnightly hill session (up to 20 x 200m) with jog recoveries (and the option of a five-minute break at midway). Remember that one high-quality session each week, from which you recover sufficiently and which is properly backed up by mileage, will bring your speed back more quickly than three or four tough work-outs with inadequate recoveries. So keep your routine mileage solid and be cautious with regards to your inclusion of second and third hard sessions in any one week.
George Gandy, director of athletics at Loughborough University