In fact we all need to work on our speed, but don’t panic. We're not talking about doing 100m sprints as fast as you can, or even sprinting between lamp posts on your weekly runs. It is much more sophisticated than that.
Why do speed work?
Speed work depends hugely on what distance you are running and how fast your race pace is. If you’re running marathons then it’s important you look to run quicker than marathon pace at least once a week for an extended period of time. Why? Because your legs really need to be used to running quicker so that when it comes to your race, your marathon pace will actually feel "easier".
Your legs really need to be used to running quicker so that when it comes to your race, your marathon pace will actually feel "easier".
My first marathon in 2011 came off the back of a track season at the start of that year (March - May). I finished the track season and then went straight into marathon mode in order to run the BMW Berlin Marathon in September. The track races and all the training that track racing entailed really meant that the marathon pace was MUCH slower than my 5km/10km pace. As a result, when it came down to running the marathon I certainly felt more relaxed at race pace.
Since running Berlin I have been training mainly just for marathons, which has meant I haven't really gone back to the track and with hindsight, I believe this was a mistake. I should have been going back and running the shorter distances to improve my speed and help with my marathon progression.
Return to shorter distances after a marathon
I really believe that you should always return to running shorter distances in between marathons so that you don't become too used to marathon pace. As well as maintaining your pace, running shorter faster races also allows you to mix up the training and it keeps things interesting.
There is obviously more than one way to train for a marathon. Some people like to run a lot of miles in training while others prefer to keep the mileage lower and focus instead more on quality. Bear in mind that it will take you a few marathons to work out exactly which method really works best for you. That said, with both approaches you should never neglect the shorter races/speed work in training.
You should never neglect the shorter races/speed work in training.
Speed work can even include races, such as racing a 10k or even a 5k in preparation for your half marathon and marathon races. Even something as simple as doing strides in training after your steady run will help keep the pace in your legs. Always remember, you want to be known as a runner not a jogger!
There are plenty of training plans out there where you can find some good speed sessions to incorporate into your training for a half or full marathon. I would really recommend heading down to your local track and trying some of them out because you'd be surprised how much easier a steady run feels once you have run a bit quicker in other aspects of your training.