Speed is something that is very misunderstood in the endurance world. We use the term “speed work” to mean anything from short sprints to 10k paced intervals. Regardless of what your personal definition is, true speed work is essential for any athlete to perform at their best. The endurance and OCR world is no different. Learn why you need OCR Speed Work.
There are three basic drills that everyone can work into their training routine regardless of where they live: Strides, Fly 40s, and Burst 40s.
-A STRIDE is simply an 80-100m run that starts as a jog and progresses into a fast effort by the end. I like to build up to roughly Mile or 800m race pace by the end of my strides.
-A FLY 40 is a 40m dash with a “rolling start.” A rolling start is simply getting moving before you actually begin the interval. This allows your body to build momentum and avoid the drastic stress of going from standing still right into sprinting. Unlike the STRIDE, the FLY is an all-out sprint. I like to keep these to 40m, as I am not looking to do anything other than fire every muscle intensely for a short burst. They can, however, be built up into longer sprints.
-A BURST 40 is a 40m sprint, starting from a static hold and then exploding into a sprint. I like to use a 3 point stance to begin. This is the most dynamic and stressful of the three, and must be done only when your body is ready for this type of movement.
To put it simply, the faster you are capable of moving, the easier it will be to maintain your race pace during training and competition. There are obviously numerous other components involved in improving your race performance, but speed training should not be overlooked. In addition to improving your top end speed, sprint training has two other very important benefits for an endurance athlete.
#1: The recruitment of ALL your muscle fibers.
When we train at anything slower than a sprint, we are only capable of using the muscle fibers associated with that pace. No matter how fatigued you make your legs at Marathon pace, you are still only using the muscle fibers associated with Marathon pace. When those fibers finally are incapable of firing at your desired rate, you have nothing to fall back on. An all-out sprint effort recruits every muscle fiber you have, thus training areas of your body that would otherwise go untouched. This not only will help strengthen your stride, but I like to think of it as “cramp proofing”. When you are forced to trek up a 35% grade for hours on end during a long OCR race, you run the risk of cramping if you don't have bulletproof legs. Sprint training is a great step towards bulletproofing them!
#2: Resistance to injuries.
When you stay in touch with your top end speed year round, you never will be able to surprise your body with a sudden burst of activity. Those sudden, unprepared-for bursts are what generally lead to injury. You ask a hamstring that hasn't been used at full capacity to suddenly sprint, jump, or change direction, and you are asking for trouble. Many people start up intervals once they have built their base for a month or two. You are now introducing something new to your body, and you may not have the accumulated strength and resistance throughout your body to handle it. This is the stage of training where the most foot and leg injuries occur. So much of it could be avoided by building up all those little tendons, ligaments, and muscle strands year round with speed work. Speed training will also do wonders for your hips and lower back.
The key to adding in some quality speed work to your routine without risking injury is to do so in moderation. We need to really build into this.
-This first step is to add in STRIDES after your easy runs. Simply doing 4-8 of these strides at the end of an easy run will go a long way towards maintaining health and footspeed year round. Make sure to take a nice long walking recovery after each stride. This is not designed to build endurance, so do not start the next stride until you are fully recovered from the first one!
-The next progression is to add in FLY 40s. 3-5 reps are plenty to begin with. Again, take a LONG break in between each rep. These should only be done once or twice a week, with several days in between sessions. A full dynamic warmup should be done prior to engaging in this.
-The final stage of progression in BURST START 40s. I make sure to alternate which side I start on. As you will see in the video, I am worse with my right hand down. I tend to pop right up rather than explode out. While I am not training to be a sprinter, better form and technique will always help an athlete, so I keep trying to improve! The BURST should only be included once or twice a week in training. A full dynamic warmup should be done prior to engaging in this.