Coach Alana: The Need for Speed
Here on the RunningLane Blog we have talked about strides and their place in training, but we want to cover why it is important to never be too far removed from true speed work. Sometimes periodization in training is taken to the extreme, people view different phases of training like making certain check points that need not to be revisited. In reality, we believe that it is important to touch a bit of every system in each phase of the training cycle. In the same way you aren’t going to see a professional swimmer do all their work on dry land during the off season, you aren’t going to see a high caliber runner go months without touching some sort of turnover, even if it is just in the form of strides. Speed work in the form of near maximal efforts is a critical piece of the puzzle whether you are training for the 800 meter or beyond.
Let’s take it back just a bit. Aerobic work is the base layer of all running. Simply put a runner has to run, and run frequently and consistently. Aerobic work/ aerobic threshold work is the base of all training (Check out Coach Will’s article here). This type of work allows us to replicate and increase the size of our mitochondria (Our powerhouse cells that create ATP). There is little here that can be debated. However, in order to get faster, be more comfortable at higher velocity and have the muscular capability to produce said higher speeds, one cannot simply rely on aerobic work.
Running slow and running fast require different types of muscle recruitment. We run fast to not only recruit more muscle fibers, but wake up neuromuscular connections and create muscle tension that aids in greater power output at faster speeds. Seems like a no brainer, but let’s take a look at this example.
Going into my freshman year of college, I was very fit after logging a big summer of mileage…perhaps too much. I got a stress fracture at the very start of the season and had to cross train for 6 weeks. Sometimes I’d cross train up to 2.5 hours a day. I actually kept a lot of aerobic fitness. When I started running again, I felt pretty good, even my first tempo workout went better than expected. Then came some faster work…
I remember doing my first shorter reps with the team at a higher velocity and feeling awful. I was running like an uncoordinated duck. Shortly thereafter we had our conference meet. I led the race up till the final kilometer. When the pack picked it up, my legs had absolutely no ability to turnover. I wasn’t slowing down, I simply had no more gears and fell to third place. Flash forward a couple weeks when I had been running for over a month with some consistent speed work and turnover practice, I finished 10th in the nation after falling and being in 50th place at the first mile. Was my aerobic fitness any better, maybe slightly? What was the big difference? My speed. It didn’t take much, but I needed time to reteach those muscle fibers to fire again after months of not being used.
Muscle recruitment, stride frequency and overall mechanics can be improved by incorporating near maximal efforts in your training. This doesn’t mean you need to introduce max effort 400s in marathon training (please don’t). Introducing this type of work means never getting to far away from the mechanically fundamental part of running fast. Perhaps it means you are introducing strides more frequently and early into your training block or doing 200s and hill sprints. Whatever it may be, don’t miss out on the opportunity to be a better-rounded and faster runner at any point in your training cycle.