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Training & advice

How to improve leg speed

Once you have built a good aerobic base and are able to get around your chosen distance, the next target is likely to be to run it faster. To do this you need to increase the speed at which you can turn your legs over. You will make these improvements if you introduce some speed work into your training sessions. Below are sessions that you could include in your programme.

1. Fartlek. Fartlek, or speed play, is variable-pace running and allows you to run as you feel, injecting bursts of pace when you feel like it and for as long as you like. You can have fun with this session. It was first used on the pine needle paths of the Swedish forests by Gosta Holmer, coach to world record holders Gunder Haag and Arne Andersonhoose who chose certain trees to mark the spot to speed up and slow down. Depending on your environment you can take a similar approach by picking out telegraph poles, trees, buildings etc. If you're running with a group you could all have a number and take it in turns to choose the pace, distance and recovery of efforts.

2. Hills. Hills can be used to improve speed-endurance and strength-endurance, depending on the length of the hill. As we are talking about improving speed we want you to choose a fairly short hill with a gentle ascent that will take about 40 seconds to run quickly to the top. If possible try to choose one where you can also 'run off the top' so that you keep turning your legs over quickly on a flatter bit rather than coming to an abrupt halt. You need to warm up before you start the session so this could be a gentle ten minute run to the bottom of your chosen hill. Run up at a fast pace then run slowly back down and repeat several times depending on your level of fitness. This could be anywhere from four times for a beginner and twelve times for a seasoned athlete. Move at a speed that allows you to get over the top of the hill without gasping. Try to focus on your form rather than running as fast as you can so that you keep the session controlled.

3. Strides. The term 'strides' refers to fast running but not flat out sprinting. Include between three and six strides within a half hour run. They should last from 80 - 150 metres. When you stride you should feel yourself move up onto the front part of your foot and start driving your arms back. This will enable you to lift your knee higher and to run faster. It should be controlled so that you can gently ease back to your original pace and not have to stop completely. Alternatively you could carry out the strides after your run and walk or run slowly back after each one. If possible do them on the grass so that you lessen the impact that you would get from a road or pavement, but make sure the ground is smooth and there are no divets or rough patches! 

4. Enter shorter races than your chosen target distance. Any coach or athlete will tell you that you have to train under and over-distance in any event. The over- distance improves your endurance and the under -distance improves your speed. parkruns take place all over the country each Saturday morning at 0900hrs and, during the summer, there are plenty of mid-week evening races that are usually between 5k and 10k. These are a great way of getting a tempo run in with company and support.