Many runners, bikers and swimmers ask the question, “Do I need to do speedwork in the off-season?” Well, I guess that would depend on if you want to become faster, healthier or lose bodyfat. If you want to do any one of those things, then YES, do speedwork.
Speedwork can be done in many ways and there are at least 3 different types of faster workouts that can and should be done. For now though let’s worry about the most basic place to start. I will call this workout REPITITION work which, ironically, is a workout skipped far too often in endurance athletes who are already doing some form of speed day. It is also the perfect kind of workout to start with if you are a beginner.
What is a REPITITION workout? Basically, it is when you do shorter intervals with lots of rest. Sounds fun, ehh? Seriously though, I am not kidding here. You actually get tons of rest and get to go for short distances lasting anywhere from 15 seconds -90 seconds. What is the catch? The catch in this case would be the speed part. You do have to go pretty fast. Not quite an all out sprint, but a pace that is backed off enough to relax and think about your form. An example would be to do 8 X 200 meters on the track with a 200 meter slow jog in between. When you are fully rested (how cool is that), then you go again. Remember that you have to go pretty fast, but not too fast or you may not be able to finish. The goal is to run the distance at a speed that you might be able to actually RACE for 4 times the length. So the 200’s would be run at a pace you might be able to all out race an 800.
The great part about this kind of workout is that you give your body much different physiological signals than when you run slow. When you do REPITION work, you are training your brain and muscles to go faster, run more efficiently and powerfully, and kick out more growth hormone. This growth hormone burst is a legal way to get an anabolic workout in. So you get to build muscle, strength and power (which all endurance athletes need a little more of), build your immunity and give your body even more fat burning signals. The hard part about the slower base mile type of running is that you are actually telling your body the opposite. I have seen countless endurance athletes (including myself) run and run all that slow distance and not be able to lose fat. But, if you add speedwork and weightlifting, then you get a totally different hormonal response. And of course, you get strength and speed and power. Those gains will most definitely help you become faster as you apply them to longer, race pace oriented workouts.
Remember to always warmup for at least 2 miles before doing a set of REPITITIONS. Take plenty of rest in between and do them only once a week at most. Sometimes after about 3-4 weeks, you need a week off. And then of course there are tons of variations. You are free to do any combination of 100,200 and 400’s that don’t exceed two miles of fast stuff and most people do about 1.5 miles worth. Always match the interval distance with that much slow jogging. On the road, you can go by time once you have a feel for this workout. So an example would be to do a 90 second fast effort (about 400 meters) and then rest for about 3.5 minutes so you are leaving about every five minutes for the next one. How many? Not more than 2 miles, so that would be 8(about 400 meters) of them at the very most. When the going gets a bit tough, just remember it takes time to adapt so stay as relaxed as you can.
Should you do them all year? Yep, pretty much. The only exception being your 3-4 week rest period after your last race of the season.