Speed Work for Starters: 5 Tips to Get You Round the Track

So here’s something I didn’t see coming: a trendy work outfit on Friday (my shorts are flowery if you need a telescope) and an afternoon of speed work on Saturday.

After a relatively late night out on Friday and a certainly lazy morning in the apartment on Saturday, I didn’t really feel like heading up to Central Park. By noon, I knew it’d be too crowded, hot, and especially sweaty, and so instead, Noah and I decided to run on the water and to add some speed work on the East River track to the mix. At first I had no interest, but it only took a couple of minutes to reassess my options. I mean, I had nothing more interesting on my plate, and given the heat, I definitely didn’t really feel like running all that far. Speed work would be the perfect way to actually do something to enhance my running without subjecting myself to 2 hours in the swamp-like outdoors.

I felt tired almost immediately, but was nevertheless grateful to be out there running without any obligations or time restrictions. The plan: to run about 2 miles out to the East River track and to complete 4 quarter-mile loops in (spoiler, I speak in very loose terms when it comes to my speed and distance) under 2 minutes each.

Noah actually set that goal for me, and I’ll admit that at first I freaked out. Let’s not forget that I’m a consistent 9 to 10 minute per mile type of girl. To even suggest that I could run a quarter of a mile in under 2 minutes — at an 8 minute per mile pace — was crazy talk to me.

As it turns out, I ran the first 3 laps in about 1:40. Now, I’m not a mathematician, but me thinks that’s a 7 minute per mile pace. Maybe my little legs have more juice in them than I thought?

Anyway, get this: I managed to have a lot of fun with the speed work. Maybe it was the change of pace (literally); maybe it was the unique feeling of sprinting my heart out; or maybe it was just being on the water, flying with a little drizzle of rain falling all around me. Regardless, while I won’t exactly be throwing speed work into my runs any time soon on my own, if Noah were to coax me into a little afternoon on the track in the future, I probably wouldn’t be as apprehensive as I was on Saturday before we left the apartment.

New to speed work too? Here are 5 things I learned on Saturday, as a now self-proclaimed expert in novice speed work.

1. Plan ahead; find a track. Especially being that it was my first time doing any sort of speed work, I loved not having to look down at a watch to know how far I’d gone and how much further I had to go. Quarter mile loops on a soft surface was definitely the way to go with this one.

(Noah, checking his watch, since I don’t own one. Yep, I’m a big moocher.)

2. Don’t start out at your 6’1” boyfriend’s speed. Big mistake. Like I said, I’d never done this before, and so when he said “3…2…1…go,” I raced off at Noah’s pace. By the time I got about halfway around the track, I was spent, and plodded my way back in. Remarkably, I still managed to break 1:40.

3. The sprints may be short, but they certainly aren’t easy. Say this out loud. Really internalize it. I suppose this was because it was my first shot at speed work altogether, but during none of the laps could I maintain the same steady pace throughout! I was amazed that, as good as I felt for the first half, the second half just made me want to keel over. And then I got angry.

4. Bring water, or run near fountains. Had I not been hydrated properly, this run could have been brutal. Be sure to carry a bottle of water or plan your run somewhere near water fountains. After the second quarter mile lap, you’ll be very thankful you did.

5. Know your body. Mind your muscles. I was excited to get my final and fourth lap over with, and stood at the starting line eagerly awaiting Noah’s signal, when I felt it. Yep, that was my back going out temporarily, and I could hardly run at a 10 minute per mile pace during that last around. In other words, for my first speed work session ever, 3 laps might have been enough.

Having never done any official speed work before, by the time we were heading back north along the river to our apartment, my body was definitely tired — like, tired as though I had run 10 miles instead of the 5 to 6 miles we actually covered. My thighs were shaky; I felt physically drained.

Sunday’s run — which the humidity almost deterred me from — was strong but tough. Not knowing what to expect of a run just a day after speed work, I set out feeling confident and cocky, and within less than a mile was thoroughly put in my place.

It took a full half to 3 quarters of a mile to finally get my legs loose, and even then, the humidity was a real bitch. I managed to run about 2 miles quickly and then slowly felt my energy drain as I made my way home. By the time I got there, I was exhausted and abnormally drenched, but I was obviously glad I did it.

Before the weekend started, I had hoped to squeeze at least 1 long run into either Saturday or Sunday — probably the result of recently signing up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. And although I wouldn’t call a 5 to 6-miler and a 4-miler particularly monumental, I do have to say that I truly felt accomplished after these 2 weekend excursions. I also truly feel sore in my inner thighs. Apparently, speed work uses totally different muscles that I never knew I had!

  • How was your weekend? Any good runs, races or PRs?
  • What’s your usual speed work program? I could clearly use some tips here.
  • Do you ever feel as drained after speed work as you do a long run?
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8 thoughts on “Speed Work for Starters: 5 Tips to Get You Round the Track

    • Yea, I needed that advice about 48 hours ago! Fortunately, I figured out that I was not supposed to run his speed after about a half a lap.

  1. Short little bursts of speedwork can be a really pleasant surprise in how quickly you can run when you’re all-out sprinting! The pace you held was great – your legs really are impressive!

    Speedwork isnt fun for me (another 9-10 minute miler), but I realize it’s the only way I’ll get faster, so it’s worth it…

    • I actually had (a little) fun doing them! You’re right though, it’s seriously tough work. Maybe once every 2 weeks will be enough to start for now, but we’ll see.

  2. The day after speed work is always tough. I try to take it easy with a nice, slow 3 mile run.

    A couple of suggestions with the speedwork:
    After running hard each lap (making sure you can maintain your speed through each hard lap), do a recovery segment of jogging/walking. For instance, after running one lap faster than your usual race pace, jog or walk for half a lap. Then crank out your second lap and recover, etc. This helps increase your lactose threshhold for long runs and increases your speed if done consistently.

    Sometimes I do timed runs on the track such as 3 minutes of faster pace with a recovery of 2 minutes jogging/walking and sometimes I base it on distance and do 2 laps at the faster pace and 1 lap of recovery.

    Since it’s not something I necessarily look forward to (though I really like how it feels when I am done!), I take the mental approach of telling myself “this isn’t supposed to feel good, it’s supposed to be hard” to get through it and I kind of find comfort in the discomfort if that makes sense.

    • Yes, when I woke up I had this grand number in my head and the moment I started running knew I’d be settling for 3 to 4 miles. It’s hard work! Thank you so much for the suggestions, I’ll be sure to incorporate this. I definitely think a slow lap would have helped; instead, the bf and I just kind of wandered around for a few minutes. On another note, I was fortunate enough to be running on the East River in the rain, so at least the environment was pleasant. Next time might not be as attractive, and I may be cursing speed work altogether. We’ll see!

    • Once a week is ambitious, however, I may be inadvertently including them. For some reason it seems better when I don’t consider them anything official?

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