Distance Runners Getting Their Speed Work On: The multi-level approach to getting faster

Getting a runner to be faster is an interesting undertaking. It’s actually a concept that coaches and athletes have been trying to perfect for centuries. As science has improved, training has evolved, we’ve created training phases and workouts that push the runner and train their body.

Simplistically it’s easy to sum it up like this: if you want to run faster, run faster. This is true of course, doing speed work and improving your base speed, is going to enable a runner to run a faster pace as the distance gets longer. As in, if you improve your mile time you’ll be able to run a 5k and 10k faster. If you don’t do speed work you’ll never improve your speed.
runner cartoon
Though as I said, that’s overly simplistic, and if a runner is truly wanting to see how fast they can be they need to open their eyes and expand their training logs to include ALL of the factors that make a runner faster. You see, the body is an interconnected machine, you can’t just concentrate on straight running workouts.

I’ve been working on a series for Competitor.com tied to speed work and the other techniques that enable a runner to, well, run faster. There are drills, strength work, and a neuromuscular component to getting faster.

Check out the series so far:

What Distance Runners Can Learn From Sprinters

The Neuromuscular Component to Speed Work

Distance Runners Staying SHARP During an Injury

In reading each of them you’ll see that the first step to getting faster is working on your shorter-repeat speed. You shouldn’t avoid those 200′s even if you’re a 10k and above runner. But that’s ONE step in the process.

After that you’ve got to build the synapses and teach the nerves to fire faster; your brain is ‘telling’ your legs and foot to move faster. But if you don’t build the connections the ‘message’ won’t be able to travel faster from brain to foot.
running fortune cookie
A runner’s form is also related, and the articles touch on that. Running faster takes POWER and EXPLOSIVE propulsion from your muscles. Your muscles also need to be ‘waken-up’ and eased into the movements of running. That’s why a proper warm-up is so important for your had workouts and races. There will be more on that specifically in upcoming articles.

So if you’d like to run faster, even if you’re a marathoner, it’s important to realize that it’s a multi-pronged approach. It will take time too, but consistency is the law of distance running and THAT is what will, in the end, take you to the next level.

Consistently incorporate speed work, speed-endurance, and endurance work into your training.
Consistently be working on your core and strength routines.
Consistency with foot-firing and ladder drills that play off of the short speed sessions.
Practice, improve, and then have a coach or be a student of the sport if you’re training yourself.

Without going on a long tangent, a big mistake many new runners are making is getting swept up in marathon and mileage mania. They just want to do more, more, more. That’s fine, but if you want to get faster you need to TRAIN to run faster. That’s where quality of miles becomes more important than just quantity.

I hope you enjoy the series so far and keep on the lookout for the next ones. Running is an action that can be broken down to be incredibly simplistic: left, right, left. Running faster can also be thought of in simple fashion: run faster. BUT it’s a lot more complicated, and to be honest insanely interesting, than just that.

To run faster you’ve got to be training your body to do so on multiple levels.

1) What’s a concept about speed work that you have learned from this series so far?

2) Have you done any work geared toward training your neuromuscular system to get you faster? Or is this a new idea to you?

3) If you’re training to get faster, what are some of your ‘staple’ speed sessions?
best running shirts

Booty-Lock: The Runner’s Struggle Against Fire on the Butt

Run like your butt is on fire…
running with fire
Surely it FEELS like your butt is on fire at times, no? Nothing like the booty-lock shuffle induced from going out at a pace you probably shouldn’t have. Payback for making that pacing mishap can turn downright ugly come the later stages of the race or workout.

But fire on the bum isn’t solely reserved for the pacing blunderers, no, I doubt you could find any 400 meter runner who is able to escape it on the final sprint for home. Sprinters aren’t the only ones, and us distance runners aren’t immune…the tough this is that when our booty-lock sets in we usually have to stick it out for longer than a few hundred meters. ;)

So today’s post is a little mix-up mash-up of sorts in tribute to fire on the butt and booty-lock. The first picture set the stage…and then we move to the next one:
runners booty-lock
See, booty-lock IS worth it when it means a PR. Remind yourself that as you’re battling the booty-lock shuffle en-route to the finish line…just get there in one piece and you’ll get your reward.

Fire on the butt for training: Plyometrics are awesome for that and doing them, intentionally setting those fast-twitch muscle fibers alight will see you reaping rewards in the speed and power department. Even distance runners shouldn’t shirk away for ‘sprinter’ stuff…if you want to get faster you have to train to get faster, no?
run for cake
The booty debate? I think across the board runners take the cake both literally and figuratively when it comes to having the best legs. Maybe I’m partial, but I know I’m proud of my legs not just because they are muscular but also for what the DO for me. I know sprinters tend to be blessed with a little more caboose, but distance runners aren’t too shabby of a backside view either, what say you?

In the end it’s worth dealing with the fire in the quads, butt, and even arms alike in the quest for getting the best from ourselves. But envisioning actual flames off our tush, well that’s just for some haha’s and hopefully a fun distraction and motivation for you the next time you’re waging the war on booty-lock. ;)

1) Let’s have some awesome booty-lock stories…what’s been a time where you were doing the shuffle for home? Was it because of bad pacing or it was just par for the course and racing hard? Was there a happy ending?
A time that stands out in my mind was a tempo I was running on the track, I felt good early on and stupidly dropped the pace too drastically for the second and third miles…enter fire on the bum and all over those last two miles. :P

2) Favorite booty or bum exercises that you do? Which are you a fan of and how often do you do leg/butt strength type work?

3) Weight in on the booty debate, what is your favorite body part thanks to running, is it your legs, butt, or something else?

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Plyometrics for Runners Part II – Jumps and Hops: I caught the Easter Bunny hopping away plyo style

Let’s talk some plyometrics.If you’re reading this and your face is already smeared with chocolate and Peeps sugar residue, you’ve done the Easter Bunny thing right. ;) Just kidding…Happy Easter to those who celebrate and Happy Sunday to those who don’t.

jelly bean runner

Jelly beans also work their way into those eggs! ;)

But because we have bunnies on the brain today I thought it fitting we revisit the topic of plyometrics, this time covering hops and jumps. You can read the Part I on bounds and skips.

This time of year also falls into early track season; here is a prime time to build strength by incorporating plyometrics into your training. Plyo’s, because they are intense, fast-twitch muscle focused are taxing on the body and even if you don’t feel sore right away that will usually change come the next day. Because of this you have to be careful not to over-do them and typically you’ll want to ease back on these plyos, or cut them out entirely, come peak racing season.

During base building phases and early season is your opportune time to increase you strength and work on areas you need to improve on. If you’re not racing track, or not racing at all, plyo’s are still great because they:

1) Build strength and power; this translates into speed and the ability to end your races faster with a kick
2) Build more muscle; more muscle mass and less fatty tissue is always a good thing ;)
3) Rev up metabolism;similar to interval sessions, intense bouts of plyo’s not only get your heart rate up there while you’re doing them but they create an after-burn effect where your metabolism is elevated for hours after you complete the workout


Channel your inner sprinter; plyo's will build your speed and give you that fast finishing kick! :)

Let’s get into the hops and jumping variety of plyo’s:

* Rocket jumps: Start standing with feet about shoulder width apart. Bend down into a squat and touch the ground with your hands and then blast up into the air, extending your arms up over your head. Reach for the sky and try to get as high off the ground as you can. Get back down into the squat and blast again. Start with one set of 10.

* Single leg butt-kicker leaps: Start balancing on your right foot and keep your left leg bent and off the ground for all of this jump. For this jump you want to achieve two things: clear as much distance as you can AND get your right leg up high into the air and kick your bum. You will look funny doing this, but that’s okay. Do 10 jumps on your right leg and switch to your left.

* Star jumps: Similar in look to jumping jacks, the star jump is different in that you will raise your arms and legs out at the same time. Start standing feet together and arms at your side; jump up into the air, kick your legs out to the sides and raise your arms up until they meet over your head. When you land you want you finish in the same position as you started. As you build power you’ll want to test yourself to see how high you can jump and how far apart you can get your legs during each jump. Do a set of 10 to start.

* Single leg step-up blasts: Find a bench that when you place your right foot on it your quad is about parallel to the ground and both knee and hip bent at 90 degrees. Start in this position and with you left leg still on the ground, step-up and transfer your bodyweight onto your right leg and swing your left leg up towards your chest as you go. Once you are standing on the bench keep the step-up momentum going and then blast off with your right leg into a jump. Try to jump as high as you can, land back down on your right leg and then lower down into the starting position. Your arms during this will swing in the opposite arm/opposite leg motion you do while running. Do a set of 10 with your right leg and switch to your left.

* Quick feet bench taps: Use a bench the same height as you did the step-up blasts; start facing the bench with both feet on the ground. Here you will alternate quickly tapping the bench with your right foot and then your left. You do this in a continued hopping motion; right tap, left tap, right tap, etc. The aim is to keep moving and to get those feet to fire off the ground, to the bench, and back down again as quickly as possible without losing balance. Your arms will follow the opposite arm/opposite leg motions you do as running. Start with a set of 20 toe-taps; that would be 10 taps for each foot.

These are 5 great jumping plyometrics to get you started in building a routine. If you’re new to plyo’s, remember it is QUALITY over QUANTITYand if you need to slow down or take longer breaks to complete them right that is better than doing more sloppily. Doing them with poor form will only re-instill bad habits and set you up for an injury. Secondly, for your first few times only do a set of 10, you may feel like it was ‘easy’ but typically you want to walk away from a session tired but not demolished; with plyo’s the fatigue sets in later and even if you don’t feel like it, the muscle tissues were broken down.


Do a plyometric routine after your hard workout day; finish your cool-down them move into those plyo's.

For runners, here are points to remember:
* Do plyo’s on days you already did a hard workout. It sounds off, but you don’t want to add plyo’s to your easy days because that will defeat the purpose, you’ll never recover and then come your hard workout days you’ll be spent and tired.

* Start with doing plyo’s only 2, up to 3, times a week with at least one day between them. Start with only 1 set of 10 for the first week, if not the first few, and work your way up to 3 sets of 10.

* Allow full recovery between each set. You want to be fully recovered between each set so you can give each jump the most power; you’re working on your explosiveness not your endurance here…channel your inner sprinter.

* Mix and Match: If you’re doing more than one plyo session a week, do jumps and hops one day and switch to the leaps and bounds routine the next time you do them. Get a good variety of what you’re doing, as with any other training philosophy.

Once you’re done with your plyo’s be sure to refuel like a champ within 30 minutes to get the recovery window!

1) What’s your favorite Easter type candy…are you all about the chocolate eggs, the Peeps, or were you one of those kids who actually looked for the real hard-boiled ones and ate those?

2) Do you do plyo’s and if so, which are your top picks? If you don’t, would you be willing to try them?

3) If you don’t do plyo’s, what do you do to work on your power and speed?

4) Anyone race this weekend?

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This Runnerchick Can’t Jump, BUT Plyometrics are Your Friend – Part I Bounds & Skips

I don’t jump. I can’t really, anything that I do would only qualify as a hop at best. In my one-time attempt at the high jump in junior high PE, I made the running start, I tried to clear the bar, failed miserably, and then proceeded to roll off the back end of the mat and onto the concrete. Nice.

pizza flop

Epic fail.

I’m pretty sure, actually I know it to be true, that the correlation between my lack of any speed and jumping ability are interrelated. It’s because I don’t have a single, not one, fast twitch muscle fiber in my body.

I’ve worked on it though in the past, diligently like a good little coachable athlete. That entailed 200’s to boot, hill work, pulling weights while I ran (this was hilarious and I wish I had pictures…anecdote for another day perhaps), weight room, and of course plyo’s.

Plyometrics. Short, all-out bursts of exertion, anaerobic, all fast-twitch baby. Hopping, jumping, bounding, leaping, you get the picture. Typically this is what you’d think of as only ‘sprinter’ or field eventer (is that a word?) work, but if you’re a distance runner and you turn a blind eye to plyo’s you’d be missing out.

[Actually, plyometrics are great for anyone, and I semi-cringe in writing this because in my writing of this I’m not trying to cater to the weight-loss masses or turn into one of ‘those blogs’ where they talk about working out for the sole reason to lose weight, but here is a quick fact: plyometrics are among certain activities that rev up your metabolism more-so than just going out for a steady run. They create something called the ‘afterburn effect’ too which keeps your metabolism elevated for hours after your workout is done as well; this is similar to what happens after you do a hard, interval session. Plyo’s will also give you more definition and improve anyone’s athletic abilities if done right, that’s why so many sports teams incorporate them into their training.]

Other things you need to know about plyo’s,( other than that they hurt…hehe) is that the aim is quality over quantity. Here it’s all about giving it your ALL for the number of rep’s that you do, and when you first start out you only want to begin with one set of each exercise and slowly build up. The thing is, you might not feel like you worked ‘hard’ enough your first few times out, but the next day and those that follow, that is when you’ll feel the soreness.

The reasoning behind why you need to do each one precise and not get sloppy is tri-fold: if you do them with poor form you’ll get into a bad habit and then repeating that is only instilling poor muscle memory, if you aren’t doing them right you’re not reaping the full benefits, and finally, you’ll get hurt. Plyo’s, if you do them right will make you more injury resistant but if you do them wrong you can easily hurt yourself, pull something, tear something, no good. So if you can only do a few correctly, stop there and wait until you’re strong enough to add more; don’t just do five ones perfectly and then ten more junky ones, it’s not worth it. This is why it’s smart to have someone watch you the first few times to make sure you’re doing them right.

Plyometrics take it out of your body too and the best times to do them are early in the season, during the off-season, or during what would be considered a base period. Typically you wouldn’t do them during racing season, by then you’ve pretty much put in all the work anyways. So, early-season timing is a great time to bust them out…and lookie here, that’s where we are. :)

optical illusion

There are tons and tons of different plyo’s you can do, so this one will be a series. First on the agenda will be bounding and skipping. Bounding is sort of like exaggerated running, you want to explode off of the ground here. Skipping, don’t be shy boys, it’s not just for girls on the schoolyard. The difference between the two is that for bounds you land on the opposite foot, for skipping you will land on the same foot as you started.

For this series you will aim to make each distance of bounds 30-40 meters in length; not too long because you want to make each bound exact, hard, and you’ll be burning by the end. Start out with one set of each the first week, you can do two the second, and work up to four sets. Plyo’s should be done at most three times a week and on non-sequential days. Don’t do them the day before a hard workout and probably not the day before your long run either; doing them after your hard sessions is one suggestion. That way your easy, recovery days allow you to do just that.

*Bounds for distance: The aim here is to cover as much distance as you can with each bound, think of eating up that ground below you. You want to get as much air between those legs; when you toe off, extend the opposite leg as much as you can before landing.

*Bounds for height: Here you want to get as far off the ground as possible, all about the altitude. Try to get in as many bounds as you can in the distance because each one will be shorter, just make it higher.

* Skipping for distance: Similar to the bounds, but this time with skipping; really push to see how far each skip can get you.

* Skipping for height: Try to see how many skips you can get; and really reach for those clouds, friends. ;)

* A-Skip: This one is about speed and agility rather than trying to go for distance or height. When you skip, you want to be extra mindful of coordinating your opposite arm and leg to go up and down at the same time. Lift your knee up for the skip, get it up and then back down to the ground as fast as you can while still keeping the motion controlled. Again, if you have to slow it down at first to do it RIGHT that’s much better than doing them faster but sloppily.

* B-Skip: This one is different from the A in that you will extend your leg as you skip. When you’ve gotten your leg to the top of your ‘skip’, kick your foot out in front of you, and then pull it back as you cycle back and land. As you get better at these you want to increase the speed in which you do them.

A few last things: As you work up to more sets of these, alternate the foot that you start off with. So if you did your first set of bounds leading with the right leg, do the second set leading with the left.

Finally, give yourself a full recovery between each set. With distance training it’s our tendency to think that shorter rest is better and will get us more fit, but we’re not tapping into our cardio here, it’s all anaerobic and for this you really want to make sure you’re fully rested and recovered before going into the next exercise. That way you can really put your all into each set and make it your best!

Alright folks, I’m out…but for my friends here that aren’t necessarily on a team, plyo’s are for everyone because it will make you stronger, faster, and improve your running. Then, again under my aforementioned disclaimer, it will give you some awesome definition too and that metabolic boost…all the more reason why refueling immediately afterwards is imperative!

1) Jumping, leaping, bounding, plyo’s; love them or hate them? Or have you never tried them?

Not going to lie, I hate them, but it’s usually the things we hate the most that are the best for us, right? ;)

2) Favorite refuel after a hard workout?

Ummmm, favorite choice or the best choice? Hehe.

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