Do speed workouts work? Do they?

While cruising through my Insta feed I see people adding speed workouts to their training. I’ve always wondered if it actually helps. I’m more of a slow and steady runner, focused more on distance than actual speed… or so I tell myself. While covering longer distances is the end goal, I still obsess over my time. In the peak of my running 8:40 min/miles were about my average pace but at a cost. I could maintain that speed but I would end up tweaking my back and resorting to slower running for months afterward, nursing pulled back muscles.

Back in December in decided to push my luck. Not being content with 9:30 min/miles I decided to push myself and really try to break back into the high 8’s. I ended up pulling my lower back muscles and ruining my holiday by not being able to move without intense stabbing pain. So I took a break.

After a brief recovery hiatus, I returned to running a little disheartening to find my average pace was in the high 9:00 min/mile range. Knowing I needed to make a change I decided strength training would be necessary, focusing on the muscle groups I would so often damage. But, that left me to question, which comes first – Cardio or Weights?
Taking a cue from “Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise” (by Alex Hutchinson) I decided to focus on cardio, and then strength training after my cardio sessions. Basically in a nutshell: If you want to build muscles and get ripped – weights first, then cardio. Likewise, if you want to build endurance then cardio comes first, followed by weights.

Well, this ended up being a super smart move. I could push myself during my training runs and found that afterward, I was less sore and actually ready for more! My current focus is on my lower back and hamstrings – gradually I’ll work in upper body workouts, but for now, I’m focused on targeting my problem areas.

Where were we? Oh yeah: speed workouts. In a weird twist, a co-worker of mine has recently taken an interest in running. After a few weeks of talking about running during lunch, we’ve actually started running during lunch – focused on a single one-mile loop. I don’t know if it’s just the competitive nature of the office, but what started off as an easy mile jog has turned into an all-out race against the clock. We started running the mile loop with an average pace of 9:00 min. As time has passed, we’ve gotten the mile down to a cool 7:50 min. For me, this counts as a speed workout. Last week, my time hit 7:37 min for the mile – speeds I’ve thought were out of my range.

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So how does this translate to my long distance running? My average 5k times floated around 9:30 to 9:00 minutes, but now my times have dropped to 8:45 to 8:00 minutes and I couldn’t be happier. I’m noticing a significant increase in my endurance and that I’m not struggling to maintain faster speeds. Am I doing speed workouts 100% correct? Probably not, but the daily push to cover a fast mile, combined with strength training – I think I’m on to something.

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Do you have speed workout tips you’d like to share? Feel free to leave a comment or share your recommended reads!

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