Speed Workouts for the Time of Coronavirus

With races and group runs cancelled for the indefinite future what can you do to keep fit? Here are weekly suggestions, but please respect coronavirus safety rules. *Image by “Mike” Micheal L. Baird, Wikimedia Commons.

Week 9 (May 24-30). Tuesday: hill crests. This one’s straightfoward, and lets you double speedwork and hill-climbing, if you’re doing the Team Red Lizard hill challenge. You’ll need a hill with about 400 meters of continuous upgrade. Pick a starting line about 90 second below the crest, and run hard uphill, working to speed up (i.e., retain the effort level) as the grade abates at the top. Go just enough beyond the crest to feel that speed-up in action. Recover back to your initial starting point. Do 8-10 reps at 1500m race effort. You can do 12 reps if you’re running 60 or more miles a week, but that’s optional. Friday: straight tempo. We’ve been doing a lot of complex stuff, so this one’s simple: 20 minutes at steady tempo effort. High-volume runners can do additional tempo repeats of up to 20 minutes each, sufficient to bring the total tempo volume to 10 percent of your total weekly volume…but again, only if you want. It’s not like you’re training for a marathon at the moment.

Week 8 (May 17-23). With the 5K time trial behind us (for those who did it), we’ll shift gears for a few weeks, with a possible eye to doing a mile time trial the second week of June. Tuesday: ersatz mile floats. Here’s the idea. Each repeat will be a mile, but you will break each one into three pieces, separated by a 100m “float” (a pseudo-recovery) at about marathon pace. Run the fast sections at about 5K effort. Make the first fast section 500m (.31 miles), the second one 300m (.19 miles) and the third one 500m. Finish with a third float after the 500. So each mile becomes 500-300-500-, where the hyphens are floats. Don’t worry too much if you’re not sure of the distances; this is basically a fartlek, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a few meters off. Repeat 3-4 times, separated by a 400m jog recovery. Friday: inverted speed pyramid. This one is tough, but fun. Again, don’t worry if you can’t quite get the distances right. Approximate is good enough. For those who know my notation, it goes like this: 2 x 600 (200) @ 5K effort, 2 x 400 (400) @ 1500m effort, 2 x 200 (200) @ 800m effort, 2 x 400 (400) @ 1500m effort, 1-2 x 600 (200) @ 5K effort. Numbers in parentheses are the recoveries; @ signals the pace you’re to run. This is good for building speed/endurance for distances ranging from 800m to 3000m, but it’s a fun change of pace even if you aren’t targeting a virtual mile.

Week 7 (May 10-16). We’ve been building toward a 5K virtual race/time trial and tapered for it last Friday. So now the goal is to do it…and recover. Tuesday: 5K virtual race or time trial. Have fun! And realize that virtual races aren’t the same as real ones, so figure that anything you run in this is a PR. Friday (if recovered): tempo repeats. Keep it simple on this, with 3 x 2K at tempo effort, on 75-90 sec recoveries. High-volume runners can add an extra repeat or two, but only if it feels like fun.

Week 6 (May 3-9). Again, we will be specifically targeting next week’s virtual 5K, though the workouts also work for basic fitness. Tuesday: pseudo-800s. On a track, we’d do these as 800s. On roads or grass, make them 2:45 to 3:15. (Even if you don’t cover a full 800 in 3:15, that’s long enough for today’s purposes.) Recoveries are 2-minute jogs. Target pace is about 5K effort. Do 6 reps unless you are running more than 50 miles a week, then you can do 8. If desired (and your legs feel good enough) you can add up to four 25-sec sprints at the end. Friday: cruise intervals. If you do 8 of them, this is a taper workout. On the track, we’d do 8-11 x 600 on 20-25 sec recovery at tempo effort. (My Podium Runner article on how to find your tempo pace is here.) Off the track, do repeats lasting about the same time as a tempo 600 (there is no need to be super-precise about this). Recovery is a slow jog. The first few reps should feel pretty easy. If you do all 11, you’ll start to notice the short recovery in the last 3-4 of them, but it still shouldn’t be super intense.

Week 5 (April 26 to May 2). Those of you in Portland may be ramping up for the (free) Stumptown Quarantine 5K competition. (Non-Portlanders are invited to join in.) Note that this is a team event, as well as an individual event, so invite your buddies. So, for the next two weeks, we’ll focus on 5K. Tuesday: 2:1 drill. Run hard (5K effort) for two minutes, followed by 1 minute at marathon effort. Then return to the hard pace for 2 minutes, followed by another recovery, etc. Break this into sets of 9-12 minutes each. Do 2-3 sets. This is a great workout on mixed terrain (grass, dirt, asphalt), if you have access to it. Friday: short and speedy. Find a route of about 400 meters, and figure out its midway point. “About” 400 meters is good enough. Run hard (1500m effort) for 6-7 x 400, then 4-6 x 200. I.e., total distance 3200 to 4000 meters. Recovery is back to the start.

Week 4 (April 19-25). Tuesday, seesaw fartlek. This was my favorite treadmill workout, adapted for outdoors. It requires a GPS watch or a good sense of pace/effort, but it’s not rocket science, so don’t obsess about getting it too precisely. Start at a comfortable pace. Every 30 seconds, speed up 6 sec to 12 sec per mile. Continue doing this for several minutes, until the pace gets pretty brisk. Hold peak pace for 60 seconds. Then start easing off each 30 seconds in the reverse of the pattern in which you sped up. The first few reps of this will NOT feel like recoveries, but eventually you’ll be slow enough to start recovering. When you feel ready, start speeding up again. Plan on 30 minutes of this (unless you run less than 20 miles a week). High volume runners can do more–how much more depends on how intense you make it. If terrain is hilly, or wind shifts, don’t worry about pace and substitute effort. Friday, hill cone drill. If you’ve worked with me at Duniway, you probably know this one. Find a hill, at least 400 meters long. Using any markers you like (pavement cracks, trees, cones, telephone poles) pick a starting point and increments about 100m apart. Run hard to the first marker (~100m). Recover back to the start. Run hard to the second marker (~200m). Recover back to the start. Ditto for the third and fourth markers. That makes one set. Do 3-4 sets. (Don’t do 4 if your weekly volume is under 40 miles.)

Week 3 (April 12-18). Tuesday, 4-minute breakdown. Start with an interval lasting 4 minutes, at about 5K effort. Take a 400m jog recovery. Then run an interval lasting 3 1/2 minutes, with another 400m jog recovery. Follow that with 2 1/2 minutes, 2 minutes, etc., all the way down to 30 seconds, all on 400m jog recoveries. As they get shorter, make each one a little faster than the one before. High-volume runners can start at 5 minutes, for an extra 9 1/2 minutes of speed. Friday, predator loops. Find a course about 800m around. Start slow, and with each loop, speed up, thinking of yourself as a predator stalking its prey, preparatory for the final leap. BUT (big but!) be willing to adjust this to avoid close contacts with walkers, other runners, etc. This is not a time to be obsessive about the clock, versus public safety.

Week 2. Tuesday. Precision pacing self-competition. (Can be done as virtual competition with others.) Find a place where you can run hard (5K effort or a bit faster) for about 90 seconds, with convenient landmarks for start and finish. Any terrain. Plan 12 repeats. On the first, use your Garmin as desired, and check your time at the end. That’s the target time. Now, run the next 11, trying to match the effort you did in the first, without looking at your watch. Take a split at the finish, but don’t look at it until later. Recovery is back to the start. When you’re done, compare your times for each rep to your target time. Score 1 point for each second by which you missed. The goal a the lowest score you can get. If you like this, you can repeat it and try to beat that score next time. Friday. Two-one drill. Run 2 minutes hard, one minute medium, for 30 minutes total (more OK for high-volume runners). Take recovery breaks as needed, plus any other breaks needed to avoid congestion. Can be run on mixed terrain (roads, hills, grass)–wherever you can get enough space to social distance appropriately.

Week 1. Thursday or Friday: 3-6 x six-minute tempo repeats. Recovery is 90 sec easy jog.