There’s nothing like the year’s first glorious, warm, sun-filled day when all the colors of spring are in full display. It’s the sign of a new season beginning. And, as a runner, the new season signals that it’s time to cash in on the big base of fitness you developed over the winter and shift into a new training cycle. Even if you weren’t as diligent as you had hoped you’d be during the off-season, spring is still a great time to start speedwork and teach your body how to run faster.
One of the biggest mistakes runners (myself included) and other endurance athletes make is not maintaining their speed. The older we get the easier it is to lose our quickness, so it becomes exponentially more important for us to spend a decent amount of the year focused on speed development. Whether you run ultramarathons or 5Ks, doing speed work in the spring will pay off once racing begins.
Spring Training for Runners
The emphasis of spring training is much different than that of winter or summer. Your overall volume decreases as the workouts get shorter, faster, and more intense. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can run the same volume and increase your speed work at the same time—that’s a recipe for injury, fatigue, and burnout.
To run faster, you’ll need to add two types of workouts to your training routine: speed work, which teaches your body how to run faster over longer distances, and sprint work, which is important for getting your leg muscles firing and for building power and basic sprint speed.
What should spring speed workouts look? It depends on what you are training for. When I was training for spring marathons I’d only do one speed workout a week, plus two sprint days. The speed workout would typically consist of 10 x 400 meters with a 1-minute rest (I recommend using heart rate as your guide rather than time. Check your Fitbit tracker to see what your heart rate is when you finish the interval and then wait until it drops by 40 beats before you start your next interval).
If I was training for a half-marathon I would do something similar for my first speed workout but would add in a second session of longer intervals on another day—6 x 1 mile or 3 x 2 mile or 2 x (2 miles, rest, 1 mile)—and then finish out the week with a long run.
When I was training for the 5k/10k, my first speed workout would be similar to that of a marathoner or half marathoner and then get shorter—8 x 1 kilometer or 4 x (800 meters, rest, 400 meters). I’d also finish the week with a long (but shorter than usual) run.
When I was a marathoner I would do hill sprints and flat sprints. I’d recommend the same for you. The distances can vary from 20 meters to 100 meters, but no longer.
Add in these sprints after your easy runs. On an easy day, I’d recommend cutting your run 10 to 15 minutes short and then spend that time doing sprints. That way you can still get speed and power development in (and reduce your volume) even when you’re crunched for time. Limit yourself to 10 sprints per sprint session.
Put it All Together
If you’re new to speed work, try introducing one speed session and one sprint session a week into your training.
For example, if you’re an intermediate runner training for a half-marathon your week might looks something like this:
10 x 400m
|Easy Run 45 minutes||Half-Marathon Workout
Run 5 miles at half-marathon pace
Run 1 mile at 10K pace
Sprint Work10 x 100m
After a couple of weeks, gradually build on this until you are doing two speed sessions a week and two sprint days a week.
The basic principle of spring training is this: shorten and quicken your running. If you follow this basic principle, you’ll see results. And it’s fun to just switch things up. When I run the same workouts all the time I get bored and my body stops responding. Use the spring to introduce a new stimulus and freshen up your training at the same time.
If you need more guidance, check out the complete 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon training plans that I designed for intermediate and advanced runners. New to distance running? here’s my Easy-Does-It Training Plan for First-Time Marathoners.