Why run speed work is important for endurance athletes

Speed work can give triathletes many tools to draw on on race day says international endurance runner and coach Shaun Dixon. Here he explains why all endurance athletes should include it in their training schedule


Speed work comes in a lot of guises. There’s pure speed work, which is short sprint work, and then there’s more faster 5-10km distance work.


Endurance athletes should touch on pure speed workouts on a regular basis, because the higher your top-end speed the more economical you’ll be, and the easier these race paces will feel.

For example, if you’re able to run a five-minute mile, running at eight-minute mile pace will feel a lot easier than if you couldn’t. Physiologically you’re more economical running slightly at sub-maximal pace if you’ve got that speed training behind you.

If you do very fast work, you’re moving more ballistically and it contracts your muscles and makes them much more explosive, which improves strength and power. Another benefit is that it improves technique. When you’re running faster you’re using more muscle groups that become part of your arsenal, and the brain will improve its communication with those muscles.

A good and efficient run technique is really important for triathletes. Obviously triathletes are using lots of different muscle groups on the bike, and when they come to the run they want to be able to focus quickly on the right areas. This will happen much more smoothly and quickly, with less energy wasted, if they’re running with nice and solid form.

Also the quicker your legs can turn over and the more you can extend your range, the easier it is going to feel on your legs when you go from the bike to the run. Therefore turnover is an important thing to focus on in your speed training.

A lot of Kenyan runners do a lot of short downhill sprints at the beginning of their training plan purely to work on improving their turnover, and that will help triathletes have a good range of motion for when they jump off the bike.

Different speed workouts

Strides (specific speed sessions) are relaxed fast sprints of about 80-100metres (about 20-30secs) with a walk back recovery after each one. What’s great about strides is they really focus on the benefits of what you want from your speed training, like improved neuromuscular communication and technique.

The problem with a lot of endurance athletes is that, when they do speed, they try and run as hard and as fast for as long as they can, almost ‘gurning’ to get every last drop of speed out of their body. Strides are all about running fast while staying relaxed.

If you watch top sprinters, they’re very smooth and the reason they’re so fast is that they’re really relaxed and move nice and efficiently.

Touching on that regularly is a really useful exercise and it’s not difficult to integrate into your training schedule

Hill training is the best for improving your power, short fast 30-40secs with a jog/walk back recovery. Doing 10-12 of them in a session is really useful for improving strength

Running downhill is good for turnover. Don’t use a steep hill and good for technique. Make sure your nice tall but leaning forward slightly to avoid much impact on your quads. just concentrate on your cadence and turn over.

Four running drills to boost your 10km speed

Shaun Dixon is an international endurance runner and lead coach at Let’s Get Running, coaching runners across all distances from the mile to Ultra Marathon.He believes runners and triathletes can makes significant improvement by becoming more efficient; improving technique and training more productively.


Shaun is also working with the Bloomberg Square Mile Relay, which returns on Thursday 21st September to the streets of London. The global race series prepares for another sell-out event with 120 teams from top businesses across the financial services sector competing to be named the fastest company in The City, taking on the new and improved one-mile route around the Square Mile. Find out more about the race at www.squaremilerelay.com/London and secure one of the few remaining team places.

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