I recently joined the Nike Running Club for one of their Speed Run sessions. I only ever join them for their training runs around Rosebank, but this time they invited me to join them at the Wits University athletics track for one of their ‘Speed Run’ sessions.

This seemed more up my alley, because while I am fine with 5-10km distance runs, I was a sprinter during my school days, so running fast for short distances comes more naturally to me. I had no idea that ‘speed training’ is an integral part of one’s training as a marathon runner.


Here’s why:

Coaches now understand the importance of speed development (recruiting maximum muscle fibers per stride, developing neuromuscular coordination, and improving efficiency) – even for long distance runners, who race at paces far slower than their top-end speed.
In fact, if you’re a runner who focuses on the half marathon and marathon distance, speed development is even more important than you may realise.
Most marathoners devote a vast majority of their training to logging lots of miles and threshold runs, which, I won’t argue, is critical to running your best during that training segment.
As a result, most marathoners may go years without running faster than 5k pace. Consequently, they lose their ability to generate explosive muscle power, running efficiency and economy declines, and form starts to breakdown.
This loss of speed is even more pronounced with age since studies show speed is the first ability to deteriorate as you get older.
Therefore, for long-term progress, it’s important you incorporate speed development work in your training.


The difference between speed work and speed development

It may seem like semantics, but there is a difference between speed development and speed work (which is what runners traditionally think of when envisioning speed).

While some coaches and publications use the terms interchangeably, understanding the difference between the two is important to appreciating how speed development workouts will benefit you, especially because they are rather unconventional workouts for a distance runner.

Speed development is training your top-end speed, i.e. the absolute fastest pace you can run, which usually tops out running less than 100 meters.

For example, most Olympic caliber sprinters reach their top speed at around 50-60 meters (Usain Bolt reached his top speed at 60-80 meters during his World Record run).

During speed development workouts, you’re not concerned with improving your metabolic energy systems (VO2 max, lactate threshold, aerobic capacity); rather, the focus is increasing the maximum amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers recruited for each stride and improving the speed at which your brain sends signals to your muscles to fire (the neuromuscular system).

On the other hand, traditional speed work, what runner’s think of as 400 meter or mile repeats, is about improving VO2max or anaerobic threshold. While you certainly recruit a greater percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers during a set of 400 repeats compared to a long run, it’s not the purpose of the workout.

Speed work is, and should be, primarily focused on improving metabolic systems.

How does speed development benefit you?

It all boils down to being able to improve your running economy and efficiency.
In layman’s terms, you can run faster and farther with less effort and while expending less energy. For a marathoner or half marathon, this means race pace will require less effort (making it feel easier, especially in the latter kilometres) and conserve precious carbohydrates.

The Nike Running Club Speed sessions are geared towards getting you ready in every way for your first long to medium distance race. What I love about their club is, you don’t get clumped with people faster or slower than you. You get to choose a pace you feel best suits you and are free to move up a group or drop down to a slower pace.
They use these ‘sessions cards’ as a guide of which group would best suit you and the breakdown of the workout, and the time one should finish each session in.
I was on the blue group and what tends to happen is, the competitive nature of people tends to set in and people end up running a lot faster than the pacer of the group requires us to. Each group has an official ‘PACER’ with them, to oversee the groups sessions.
It was a lot of fun, and after explaining the science behind why speed run training is so important to every runners’ development – you should certainly be incorporating it into your training too.
As always – all these sessions are free of charge, Nike will even provide you with a pair of their latest running shoes to loan for the session. So you really have no excuse!


For more information go to : www.nike.com/joburg – Go to the NRC page to book your spot.

Get running!!


Happy Healthy Fabulous

Referenced: RunnersConnect.net for technical and scientific information.
Photography: Supplied by Nike.