How to Increase Race Pace: Sprint Training

How to increase race pace - sprint training | 5 of 26 Marathon Series

Thankfully there is hope! If you break the goal down into simple facts, then it can give you more motivation and make the seemingly impossible much more achievable.

The concept is fairly simple. You need to increase your cadence (number of strides per period of time) and/or your stride length. However, whilst this is simple in theory, actually doing it takes a lot of training, hard work and dedication. The trick is to take it a step at a time.

There are several training methods to help develop your speed, but in this article we are going to look at sprint training because it is an extremely effective way of improving your race pace.

Spring Training - Marathon Series

What is Sprint Training?

Sprint training involves running multiple short intervals at a faster much pace than you’d normally run. Whilst you can do this anywhere, if you do have access to a 400m running track then it’s definitely preferable as it’s easier to judge distances and, therefore, your progression. Not to mention that tracks have a slight spring to them which can help improve your cadence.

Why do Sprint Training?

Let’s discuss the science behind it. There are two main types of muscle fibres in the body:

  1. Slow twitch (type I) – these muscles are used when there is a good supply of Oxygen and the individual has great endurance but a lack of pace of power
  2. Fast twitch (type II) – alternatively, these are very powerful and work anaerobically (without Oxygen), but will only work for a few seconds before they burn out. Type IIa fibres are in between the two; they are relatively powerful and can work for sustained periods of time

Sprint interval training will work the type II muscle fibres, which are exactly the fibres that need to be developed in order to increase your speed over an endurance event such as a marathon.

Muscle Fibre

How to start Sprint Training

If you haven’t done any sprint training before then starting slowly is of course the best approach; sprinting is very intensive on the muscles, tendons and joints so building up slowly is very important to avoiding injury. A comprehensive warm up is essential. Always start with at least a mile or two of steady paced running and some gentle stretching before you start. Your sprint training shouldn’t makes up any more than a 1/10 of your overall mileage, until you have been doing it for at least a few months.

The general principle is to mix up reps of full pace sprinting with short periods of rest, while also incorporating reps of running at a higher than normal (but not full on sprint) pace with short rest intervals. There are way too many possible sessions to list here but here are a couple of good examples to get you started:

Session One (short/beginners session)

  • 1500 meters at less than usual long distance training pace as a warm up.
  • 5 minutes of gentle (non dynamic stretching).
  • 400 meters at about 70% of your best.
  • 400m reps at 80% of your best with 1 minute rest; 8 times over.
  • 2 minute rest.
  • Finish by alternating 100m reps at 95-100% with 1 minute rest intervals 6 times over.
  • 400m jog followed by 10 minutes stretching as a warm down.
  • As a weekly progression reduce each of the the rest reps by 5 seconds each week.

Session Two (speed endurance)

  • 3k at your usual long distance training pace.
  • 10 minutes of gentle (non dynamic stretching).
  • 6 x 800m reps at race pace with 1-2 minutes rest in-between each rep.
  • 4 x 1500m reps at just below race pace with 2 minutes rest in-between each rep.
  • 400m jog followed by 10 minutes stretching as a warm down.
  • As a weekly progression reduce each of the the rest reps by 5-10 seconds each week.

Session Three (time-based fartlek) – Ideal if you don’t have access to a 400m track

  • 10 minute light jog, 1 minute max effort run, 5 minute walk.
  • 8 minute light jog, 2 minute max effort run, 4 minute walk.
  • 6 minute light jog, 3 minute max effort run, 3 minute walk.
  • 4 minute light jog , 4 minute max effort run, 2 minute walk.
  • 2 minute light jog, 5 minute max effort run, 1 minute walk.
  • 1 minute light jog, 1 minute sprint finish, 1 minute walk.
  • 10 minutes stretching.

A more advanced version of this session involves removing the walking reps and reducing the jogging reps down in 1 minute increments whilst increasing the max effort increments up by a minute each set. Don’t forget to add in a warm down at the end.

As with any new training session listen to your body and if you are feeling run down or heavily fatigued then reduce your training load to avoid injuries. Also, bear in mind there are so many possible sessions that you can adopt as part of your speed/sprint training routine that’d be impossible to list them all here; however, if you speak to a track and field coach at your local athletics club, they will be able to give you even more ideas for interesting new sprint/speed sessions. We hope this article has given you a bit of inspiration on your path to faster distance running!

Here is the next blog article in the marathon series:

6. How to Increase My Race Pace: Hill Running



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Ryan has worked in the sports industry since 1999 and has a wealth of experience across most subjects. Ryan holds a BSc in microbiology and has studied sports physiology in great detail in his own time. His main areas of specialisation are: footwear construction, footwear technology, strength & conditioning and anatomy & physiology. He splits his 13 hours a week exercise between, Kickboxing, MMA, Crossfit, Rock Climbing and Running.