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home > training > training tips > speed training for the distance athlete. part 2

Speed Training for the Distance athlete. Part 2
Hopefully after reading my first article as an introduction to speed, power and strength training for distance running, I have whet your appetite to find out ways to modify your training routines to get more out of them (not to mention increase the mental stimulus from doing something different).

Speed Training for the Distance athlete. Part 2

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Original Article

Part 3

By Adrian Faccioni (GPSports Systems)
Posted Monday, 8 September, 2003

As a quick flashback, we defined speed as: The ability to quickly move a limb, or quickly move the body from one point to another. Both of these definitions relate to distance running because one thing the distance runner needs to be able to do is to develop what is know as a speed reserve.

The great thing about speed training for the distance athlete is that it is REALLY EASY to improve an athlete's raw speed because typically the distance athlete does so little speed work that these underused fibres and nervous pathways lay dormant just waiting for the opportunity to fire up and have you feel like you should get back on the track and running some 100m races!

The key to regaining some of that lost spark is to stimulate the nervous system in a different manner to what it is used to (sounds like something a relationship counsellor would say!!). This can be done in several ways:

1. Pure speed training

I like to take the distance athlete away from their typical environment (running tracks) and put them in a place where speed is conducive (the 100m start at the local track). I then put the athlete through their paces, which might include:

Teaching basic running drills
These drills teach the athlete to pick up their feet faster, work on quicker leg turnover and have then focus on better core stability which is vital for faster running speed.
Drills include high knees, heel to bum flicks, running over small hurdles (only 4-6inches in height).
Acceleration drills
These drills allows the athlete to focus on getting from point A to point B as fast as possible.
Drills include jog in to start line then sprint for 40m-50m.
Walk to start line and sprint for 40-50m
Standing start sprint for 40-50m
Different body positions to sprint (pushup position, laying on ground, etc).
Maximum speed drills (main neural training).
These drills are specifically aimed at improving the neural output to the legs.
Drills include having the athlete run up to a line/cone (about 95%) then between two marks on the track they have to turn their legs over as quickly as they can.
Importantly in these drills the athlete needs to be able to hear and feel a difference and as a coach you should be able to see the difference also.


Short speed intervals are not fitness training (maybe for sprinters!!). The athlete should take plenty of time (slow walk recovery) between runs to make sure that each effort is at 100%. It is the regular stimulation of the nervous system (@ 100%) that leads to increased speed capacity.

2. Speed training in endurance sessions.

This can be achieved by having the athlete perform varied speed components during any typical endurance session. One example can be having the athlete perform a dozen 5 second sprints in any one session. These can be at set time intervals or for more flexibility the sprints are performed when the athlete feels ready (as long as they get all sprints in during the session).

A typical mistake I see in this type of training is where the athlete tries to run too far each sprint, leading to a less than a 100% effort which results in increased lactic tolerance (not a bad thing) but doesn't do much for the speed improvement that they are after.

Once you have stimulated your speed capacity, you then have at your calling "speed gears" allowing you to change pace quickly if required (great in competition to break from a pack, to keep up with the pack, surges, etc)

Increased speed capacity creates two opportunities:

  1. To run at current race pace using less energy (more energy left at the end of the race - for surges, fast finishes)
  2. To run at a new race pace - therefore improving overall time (time trial type performance).

In the next article I will look at the use of strength training in distance running and how and why it should be used.

Adrian Faccioni is the Managing Director of GPSports Systems, a sport performance evaluation company who have developed GPS/heart rate capture technology (



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