The Importance of Speed Training In Long Distance Running

Unveiling the Benefits of Speed Training for Long Distance Events

With Coach Kelvin, Online Running Coach for We Run and the We Run Virtual Running Club, and 1:1 Running Coach for Leeds and surrounding areas

Hello everyone, Coach Kelvin here from the We Run Virtual Run Club and We Run coach for Leeds and surrounding areas, as well as offering online coaching. In this post, I’m excited to delve into a topic that’s often overlooked but crucial for runners: why getting faster at shorter distances is beneficial, especially if you’re training for a longer distance event.

Understanding Long Distance Events

First, let’s define what a ‘longer distance event’ means. It varies greatly depending on the individual. For some, a 10K might be a long distance, especially if they are accustomed to running 5 to 7 kilometres. For others, long distance could mean 100 miles. Typically, we see people training for half marathons, marathons, and ultras, where top-end speed is frequently neglected.

The Role of Speed in Long Distance Training

When working with ultra marathon runners who are mechanically sound and have a strong training base, we often start their training with a focus on improving their 5K personal best. This is done through a VO2 max phase, which is non-specific to ultra marathons but incredibly valuable. It helps elevate the VO2 max, allowing other thresholds, which are more pertinent to long distance events, to move more easily.

A common mistake is when runners only focus on mid-level intensity or the misguided concept of ‘time on your feet’, trying to shift thresholds that are crucial for longer events. However, they often hit the ceiling of their VO2 max. Elevating this ceiling allows the lactate threshold and lactate turn point to move up the intensity or heart rate scale used for training monitoring.

Mechanical Efficiency: A Key to Long Distance Running

Another benefit of speed training is the improvement in mechanical efficiency. While it’s evident that a 1500-meter runner needs excellent mechanical efficiency, it’s equally important for someone running a 50K. The reason is the sheer number of steps taken during such a long event. Even a slight increase in efficiency per step can make a significant difference in the long run.

Training with a Coach vs. Self-Guided Plans

Working with a coach in the early stages of training for a long distance event often involves focusing on enhancing your VO2 max and potentially setting a new personal best in shorter races like a park run before moving into race-specific work. For those following self-guided plans from the internet, the challenge lies in these plans typically only covering race-specific training, neglecting the pre-race phase where VO2 max development is crucial.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

In conclusion, don’t neglect your top-end speed, regardless of whether you’re training for shorter or longer events. Ensure a logical progression towards your goal, keeping in mind that a VO2 max phase should ideally last around six to eight weeks, as it plateaus around that time. Integrating such training phases can lead to significant improvements in your long-distance running performance.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. Happy Running!

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