30 Speedwork Sessions

Ignore speedwork at your peril, says Paul Larkins. By mixing up your run pace, your overall run performance will come on in leaps and bounds


Ignore speedwork at your peril, says Paul Larkins. By mixing up your run pace, your overall run performance will come on in leaps and bounds…


For some triathletes, the word ‘speed’ invokes a similar reaction as to when you hear your granny swear – it’s something that makes you wince, so you do your best to block it out. As a result, training consists of simply lacing up your shoes and heading out of the door for yet another one-paced effort. Of course, that certainly has a role to play in any training programme – it’s refreshing, good for general aerobic fitness and, for a while, it can even result in improvement. For instance, if you’ve been off for a while or have just started, easy miles in the bank will be just what the doctor ordered. But keeping everything at the same speed will quickly see any improvement plateau, before declining to a dead-end.

Alternating patterns The key is not to think that speed involves emulating Usain Bolt, but rather running at a different pace to your usual run. In actual fact, a good proportion of a speed session will actually mean running slower than normal – as long as you include the faster bits as well. So what we’re talking about here is alternating fast and slow efforts.   To get the most out of a speed session, you need to evaluate your own running and create workouts accordingly. The examples that follow will cover that, but remember: speed can take on a whole host of different guises. A young triathlete aiming to run no more than a few kilometres might regard 8 x 200m with 90secs rest as a tough endurance session; an Ironman hopeful might be looking at 10 miles very slow followed by 10 miles at race pace to create a similar effect.

When and where Where is simple: anywhere! You don’t need exact distances, nor do you need special venues. Ten x 400m on the track is a perfectly acceptable workout for an Olympic-distance event. But then so is 10 x 75secs on the road or 10 x 68secs in the park… All will provide the same physiological response.   The most important thing to consider is how often you should include speedwork. If you were simply running and not doing any other sports, then two speed efforts a week would work perfectly. But given the time needed for recovery, as well as the other two disciplines and life in general, a rough rule to work to would be one workout every six running sessions. So that might mean you throttle down and change pace every 10 days or so.

Jargon Buster Intervals
A set recovery period between efforts. Decrease the recovery for endurance; increase it for speed. For example, 10 x 400m with 30secs rest is good for endurance; 10 x 400m with 4mins rest will be much quicker.

Around three miles is the best distance for runs at this speed (about 85%). A good rule is to be able to finish and say, “I could run 10 miles at the same speed if I had to!”

The Sessions

Build raw speed
This is an important element to consider. You may not be training to be a sprinter, but developing a sprinter’s style, and the muscles employed, will help you train better in the workouts that are more beneficial for you. Unlike ‘professional’ runners, you
might look to do this in the autumn or early winter, which works great as a transition back into training. Remember to stay relaxed in all of these workouts; fast sprinting is about relaxed power.


Build 10km power The core workouts for most triathletes, these sessions will develop speed endurance allowing you to maintain a high speed for much longer.


Build endurance Learn to maintain a high speed in these workouts and running at long-distance race pace will become easier.


Build strength Hills are a great ‘natural’ strengthener, as well as helping you to concentrate more on your running form.