No sport benefits from leg speed like running does. Regular leg speedwork not only improves your basic speed but also actively stretches muscles and tendons in a specific manner, which means in the long term you’re much less likely to sustain running injuries. But it gets better: Leg speedwork can also improve your basic ability!
Think about it: If you can improve your stride length by 2 centimeters (approximately 16 meters per mile) and your cadence by two strides per minute (approximately 23 meters per mile), a runner with a 10K personal best of 40 minutes could improve by close to a minute. That can be achieved not by training harder, but simply by implementing leg speedwork.
If this sounds like you—and why wouldn’t it?— then use this workout to pick up more leg speed.
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Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale
RPE 1—Easy—Slower than normal training pace
RPE 2—Moderate—Normal training pace
RPE 3—Moderately—Hard Marathon pace
RPE 4—Hard—10K race pace
RPE 5—Very Hard—5K race pace and faster
These sprints can be 20–30 seconds across a park, or they can be 100–200 m on a running track. They are fast, but not 100 percent, about the pace you would race 400 m. But this is not an effort session; it’s a technique session. You will huff and puff a bit at the end of each sprint, but the 5 minutes of easy running between reps should help you to recover fully so you can get through the session without undue effort. This is crucial because any fatigue will undermine your ability to run fast with good technique. To promote speed without undue effort, this workout is best done with a tailwind or on a slight downhill. It’s the kind of workout you can do year-round because as well as building leg speed and helping avoid injury, it’s a great final speed workout in the five days before a race and for maintaining speed between races.
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How Fast Is Too Fast?
There is a fine line between a leg speed workout and an anaerobic workout. To avoid a crossover you need to do this workout just under maximum sprint speed and with 5 minutes between each sprint. Ideally the pace is around the speed you would race a 400m sprint. You could establish this pace by doing a 400m time trial or use the following table to estimate legspeed pace per 100m based on your 5K personal best.
Excerpted with permission from One Hour Workouts: 50 Swim, Bike & Run Workouts for Busy Athletes by Scott Molina, Mark Newton and Michael Jacques (VeloPress, 2010).