Why speed training will transform your long distance running time

Charlie Watson for New Balance

This content has been created in collaboration with New Balance.

Charlie Watson went from not being able to run for more than 10 minutes to training for her seventh marathon. Here, the Runner Beans blogger (@therunnerbeans) and New Balance ambassador explains how speed training has been the key element to her stratospheric improvement.

Why

While you certainly wouldn’t sprint a marathon, the impact of speed training on your muscles’ ability to perform over long distances is incredible.

“Whenever a person sets themselves a running challenge, they are always going to try to run further or faster than before,” says Charlie. “And since 26 miles is more than enough for me, I’m trying to improve my time.”

To run faster, train faster. “Adding in speed work has been the thing that has made the biggest difference to my marathon training in terms of increasing my pace and breaking PBs,” says Charlie.

The science agrees: speed work is one of the best ways to reach your VO2 max potential – the amount of oxygen you can process at peak effort – which makes you burn through energy more efficiently for longer.

You can only build up your VO2 max in small amounts, but these tiny improvements equate to minutes off your finish time. What’s more, a study in 2005 found that after two weeks of interval speed work participants’ muscles saw a significant increase in markers for storing and processing fuel during exercise.

How

So, where do you start with speed drills?

“I started off doing repeat drills of 400m and 800m,” says Charlie. “I also use tempo runs – where you run faster for the middle few miles (from 3-7 miles on a 10 mile run, for instance) so the pace becomes natural.”

You can also incorporate hill sprints into your workout. This will give your body a similar impetus to build up explosive strength and process oxygen more efficiently.

When

Speed work shouldn’t replace your long runs. And it certainly shouldn’t replace the runs you find the most enjoyable.

If, like Charlie, you run three days a week, make one of those a speed session. Even if you’re strapped for time, the beauty of speed work is it’s just that. Speedy.

“If I only have 20 minutes I do something fast paced or get on a treadmill and play with the speeds and inclines,” says Charlie. “Knowing how much you can achieve in 20 minutes is important.” Go harder. Go faster. And enjoy the speedy benefits.

New Balance Toughest Opponent is a story about the battles we have within ourselves. The niggling mind games that play out between our ears that make us question whether to run that extra mile, to lift that heavier weight, or to go forward and push harder, faster and stronger than we did the day before. Find out more at: http://www.newbalance.co.uk/ToughestOpponent.

You are your toughest opponent.