The Best Speed Workouts for Every Distance
Tailor your training to the race you're going to run
“Don’t dream of winning. Train for it.” Mo Farah’s contribution to the canon of inspirational quotes may not win any awards for creativity, but the four-time Olympic gold medalist makes a solid point. Anyone can fantasize about athletic success. Doing what it takes to make success a reality, however, is a different story.
For runners who want to take it to the next level, the speed workout—whether intervals or a prolonged tempo run at or near race pace—can be an effective, if challenging, way to get there.
We asked Mario Fraioli—who writes our favorite running newsletter, The Morning Shakeout—to offer workout suggestions for some of the most popular race distances. Fraioli was an All-American runner in college and has coached runners at every level, from first-time marathoners to Olympic Trials qualifiers. Fraioli stresses that these workouts, while important, are all just pieces of the puzzle; in other words, these should be viewed in the context of a larger training program—not as a silver bullet to ensure a good race.
The following workouts (and the first three in particular) should be preceded by an adequate warm-up: jogging/dynamic stretching/a few quick strides.
Race Distance: 1 Mile (On the Track)
“This workout really forces you to be disciplined with your pacing and simulates what the end of the race is going to feel like, when your legs are just flooded with junk and get really heavy and it’s a lot harder to maintain the same pace you set out at.” —MF
- 1×800 meters (two laps) at goal mile pace
- 60 seconds rest
- 1×400 meters (one lap) at goal mile pace
- 45 seconds rest
- 1×200 meters (1/2 lap) at goal mile pace
- 30 seconds rest
- 1×200 meters at goal mile pace
5K (Track or Road)
“A good benchmark workout that you can repeat multiple times throughout your training cycle. Early on, your goal pace for a 5K two months down the road might be hard to hit, but if you do this three times throughout a ten-week training cycle, you can see your progress.” —MF
- 6×800 meters at 5K race pace, with a 200-meter jog between reps
10K (Track or Road)
“A bread-and-butter workout that you can do many times throughout your training cycle. As you progress, shorten the recovery time—the last session, maybe ten days before your race, would have only a minute recovery.” —MF
- 5×1 mile (four laps) at 10K race pace, with three minutes of rest between reps
Half Marathon (Road)
“This isn’t a workout that you’re doing from week one. This is your key indicator workout two weeks from race day.” —MF
- 4×2 miles at half marathon pace, with a one-mile recovery jog between reps. Recovery pace should be at least one minute per mile slower than half marathon pace. This is part of a continuous run, with a total distance between 13 and 15 miles. Begin and end with one to two miles of easy running.
“The classic negative-split long run.” —MF
- 18 to 22 miles, with first half roughly one minute per mile slower than marathon race pace. Run the second half at your goal marathon pace.