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I've been running for a few years now, but I still struggle with speedwork. I use an online training plan generator that takes previous race time and distance, target race distance, weekly distance, and schedule duration to generate a running plan that includes easy runs, tempo runs, speedwork, and rest or cross-training days.

My training plan is based on a four week cycle. Monday is an easy run, Tuesday is an easy run on weeks 1-3 and rest/XT on week 4, Wednesday is speedwork on week 1 and 3 or tempo run on week 2 or an easy run on week 4, Thursday is an easy run, Friday is rest or cross train, Saturday is long run, and Sunday is rest or cross train. The plan also builds speed throughout, across all the workouts. Distance also increases. Total weekly distances range from 22 miles/week to 35 miles/week. The plan deviates slightly at the end, close to the race.

When I'm on a treadmill, I tend to adjust the plan paces based on something like this conversion chart to account for the fact it's slightly easier to run on a treadmill than outside.

I rarely take a rest day, opting for strength training and/or some time on an elliptical (usually strength + 15 minutes elliptical but sometimes 30 minutes elliptical or 30 minutes arc trainer). I do tend to take the rest days as rest days early on in the plan (which is usually following a race), very late in the plan (the week or two before a race), or if I'm not feeling well for any reason to avoid pushing myself too hard.

To give an idea of where I stand, my 5k PR is 29:00, my 10k PR is 1:09:51, my 15k PR is 1:57:21, and my half PR is 2:35:07. Unfortunately, last year, I was coming off an injury. I was healed before the spring, but my winter training was almost nonexistent so my times were far worse. Last years times were 32:55 for 5k (April 2016), 1:17:35 for 10k (June 2016), and 2:53:03 for a half (November 2016).

Based on my training, I'm edging close to a 5k PR this coming April. My easy runs on a treadmill are recently around 10:50-11:10/mile. I could probably even push that up a little and be comfortable. I've only had the weather for one good outdoor run, and it was an easy run around 11:30/mile. My tempo runs are around 3-4 miles long and I'm running at around 9:40/mile.

Even though my easy and tempo runs distances and times are projecting a near PR, my speedwork runs are terrible. Today, I was scheduled for a speedwork run that consisted of a warm up, and 5 0.5 mile intervals at 8:20/mile, each followed by a 0.25 mile recovery interval (I used a pace of about 11:30/mile), and a cooldown for a total distance of 6 miles. By the middle of the third speed interval, I was physically worn down.

Am I doing something wrong in my speedwork if I'm able to complete my easy and tempo runs on plan (and sometimes better than plan), yet struggle with my planned speedwork?

What can I do to specifically improve my speedwork without huge deviations from my plan which is tailored to my upcoming 5k race? Are there any modifications I can make on training days that call for speedwork?

  • Can you provide us with an example of how an average week of training looks like for you? Including distances/additional workouts done on each day and the time spent training? – eigenvector Mar 1 '17 at 13:28
  • @eigenvector I just added a description of my training plan. Let me know if you're looking for anything else. – Thomas Owens Mar 2 '17 at 9:13
  • I had an old coach that said, "Hills are speedwork in disguise." – Eric Nov 6 '17 at 23:45
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Long distance runners (anything above 800m) usually struggle with speed work because they don't take it correctly.

During speed work you must run fast. If you drop below your target in terms of speed after a few reps, then increase your recovery between reps. Recovery during speed session is necessary and must not be seen as a weakness. Respecting the recovery while slowing down is counterproductive in such sessions.

Look at how sprinters train. They do 3x60m full speed and then take 6 minutes rest before their next series. I am not saying you should go toward such extreme if you are not targeting max speed but you can certainly grasp the philosophy.

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I think I see where the problem is. For reference, I like to use this calculator: http://www.runfastcoach.com/calc2/index.php . Now, if you input your PR into the calculator (which, if those injuries are still around, could very well be too fast), you can see that your projected 2-mile pace is 9:04 min/mile. A 5x800 session is bread and butter for VO2Max/2-mile pace, so taking them at 8:20 is probably too fast. You'd be far better off doing them at ~9:04-8:38 pace, starting on the slower end and moving up. That's my advice for this specific session. For general speed work advice, I would recommend strides 3-4 times a week after runs. If you think about it, you're chopping off a large percentage of your pace when you do speed work. Naturally, this faster running recruits different muscles, releases different hormones, and stimulates your CNS. Doing a single speed session every two weeks might not be enough for your body to adapt to this different type of running. Therefore, try running 5-10s as hard as you can, and then taking 2-3 minute breaks after, 6-8x a couple of times a week. They might feel like a waste of time or like you're getting too much rest, but they will train your body to know what it feels like to run quick and hopefully help it adapt better to your speedwork. Best of luck!

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