The ‘S’ Word Explained

By Hayden Shearman // This post was first published in my blog in 2013.

In last week’s post I attempted to sell you the idea of incorporating speed into your training plan. However, it’s a complicated process knowing how fast to run and how long for and how often to do it.

So how do you get started? Do you just head out the door and sprint till you collapse, then sprint home?

Okay, we don’t want any collapsing, so here’s an overview of the different speeds you could consider incorporating in your training and how you might utilise them.


Easy, Conversational: Most of our running should be at this pace (about 60-80% is ideal for most distance athletes). Read more about it here in a previous blog.

Threshold: As you increase your speed from an easy pace, you’ll soon hit a point at which the lactate levels in our blood begin to increase more rapidly. This is your lactate threshold. You can calculate it by simply adding 15-18 seconds per kilometre to your current 5k pace (so a 25-minute 5k runner would have a threshold pace of 5:17min/km).

If you haven’t run a 5k race recently, you can also use a heart rate monitor and aim to sit around 90% of your maximum heart rate. Otherwise simply gauge your threshold pace by making it “comfortably hard” or a pace at which you can just say your full name (i.e. you’re too out of breath to talk normally).

Run at your threshold by either doing a prolonged run at that pace (for 10 to 50 minutes) or run bursts of 3-5 minutes at that pace with 2-minute recovery jogs between efforts.

VO2Max: For most people, the point at which your lungs are maxing out (literally, pushing as much oxygen into your body as possible) is just slightly quicker than 5k pace. So our 25-minute 5k runner above would be aiming for 4:52min/km.

The idea with this speed is to just hit that zone of maximum oxygen uptake and to go no further, otherwise you’ll go into oxygen debt. This zone of running will help improve your ability to get and consume oxygen. It’s best to do it in bursts of 1 to 5 minutes with two minute’s light jogging between efforts.

Race Pace: Pacing is perhaps the number one reason people fail to meet their goal race times. Avoid this common trap by doing speed sessions practising race pace so that it is engrained into your muscle memory. You can also use these sessions to practise taking on board the fluids and nutrition you plan to use in the race.

Strides and Repetitions: These could be anywhere between 3k race pace and a notch off a sprint. They are 10 to 90 seconds long and are followed by a long recovery jog or walk. They’re used to develop really good running form and develop top end speed. A few 20-seconds strides at the end of an easy run is a great way to freshen the legs, reminding them that you’re not a single-speed running machine.

I would recommend that you don’t do these stride and reps at an all out sprint, unless you’re training for a race of 1500m or less. This is because you have less control of your form and are more injury prone when at 100% speed.

Have fun mixing up your week’s training by incorporating the above speeds into two runs per week. Be sure to warm up and cool down with 10-20 minutes of jogging either side of the speed work.

Happy running!

3 responses to “The ‘S’ Word Explained

  1. Pingback: The Battle of the Bridge: Two Weeks Out | A Runner's Guide·

  2. Nice post! I’m helping to train a few beginner runners and I started most of them out with doing strides. I think those seem the least intimidating and are a nice gateway to more specific speed work.

    • Thanks Laurel. Yes I think it’s really important to get beginners running fast comfortably before loading them long, slow plodding miles which just emphasise any technique inefficiencies they might have. Plus, strides are heaps of fun in a group!

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