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Training & advice

Starting speedwork

So you've tackled the distance and now you want to run it faster. That means you will have to do some speed work. runbritain has several articles in this section with ideas of how you can develop your speed. Here are ten basic rules that will ensure the sessions you choose get you off to a flying start.

1. Build it in gradually. If you haven't done speed work before you need to build it up very slowly. Choose one of these sessions to put into your programme once a week for a month and then choose another one and start to include that for the second month and so on.

2. Find a track or parkland. Avoid doing speed work on the road unless it is a few strides within your run. A running track or grass will be far more forgiving than tarmac on your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. It is also important to choose a smooth surface. You will be upset if you go over on your ankle by stepping onto a tree root or into a divet or pothole.

3. Choose your inclines wisely. If you are using hills - either up or down - choose a gradual hill so that you can run fast. After all, this is supposed to be speed work and not strength work. If the hill is too steep you won't be able to run quickly up and you will put the brakes on as you descend and that can leave your muscles sore the next day.

4. Warm up and stretch. Always begin with 10 to 15 minutes of easy running before picking up the pace. Combine that with dynamic stretching for optimum results.

5. Cool down and stretch. Always cool down after a speed session by running for around 10 minutes at an easy pace and then walking. After that you should performing some static stretches. Cooling down prevents the blood from pooling in your legs. Static stretches help to realign the muscle fibres that are slightly damaged through training.

 6. Focus on technique. You will notice that the faster you run, the further to the front of your foot you land, the higher you drive your knee and the more you extend your support leg. This is great practice for great technique so think about it whilst you are running. Think about driving your arms back, running tall and relaxed. Eventually this will transfer to a smoother and more efficient technique at all speeds.

7. Join a group. Speed work will feel much easier if you do it with friends! Join a Run England group, jogscotland group or a running club where you will benefit from coaching and structured sessions whilst enjoying the company and banter.

8. Balance intensity and volume. The general rule is that if the session is fast it will be shorter and if it's slow it can be longer. You must also make sure you have recovery days and these are best placed on the days before and after the speed work. They don't have to be a complete day off but you should slow down and cut back on distance. For further guidance on this, click here.

9. Balance intensity and recovery. If your speed work session is interval training you need to consider recovery within the session. Decide how many efforts you will do, the pace you will do them at and how much rest you will have in between them. One session a week of interval work is wise at first.

10. Hold back on the pace at the start of a race. You will be amazed at how easy it is to go off fast once you have adapted to the speedwork but this can catch up with you later in a race. Make a conscious effort to go off at a steady pace and pick it up towards the finish when that speed in your legs will really come into its own!