Many endurance athletes, after having successfully tackled their first endurance race, are motivated to improve their performance in the next race. Whether you're a triathlete, ultramarathoner, or marathoner, doing informal or more prescribed speedwork is sure to improve your speed, endurance, and overall fitness level.
If you're new to speedwork and reluctant to try anything too regimented, simply start with "fartleks," which, despite how silly it sounds to the English speaking world, means "speed play" in Swedish. It can literally mean playing with speed for the beginner. Sound complicated? Not at all. Here's what to do.
You can be swimming, running, biking, or anything else. When you feel inspired, simply speed up past what is a comfortable pace for a certain amount of time. If you're running or biking, you can pick a tree in the distance and race to it. If you're swimming, you could turn on the heat for a couple of laps. As long as you pick up your speed, it counts. Then slow down to your comfortable speed once again, wait a few minutes, and pick a different tree towards which to accelerate. Start with three accelerations and work your way up. Not only will it improve your speed and endurance, you'll love how doing something different will make your miles go by more quickly.
If you've tried fartleks and are ready for something more, try this workout of speed intervals. It can work for any cardiovascular activity:
Warm up at a slow pace for about 10-20 minutes.
Increase your speed to about a 75-80% effort for 2 minutes, then go slowly to rest for 2 minutes.
Next, increase your speed for 3 minutes at the same effort level. Rest (don't stop) for 2 minutes.
Try the same speed and effot level for 4 minutes, then go slowly for 2 minutes.
Repeat the same speed and effort for 3 minutes again, then actively rest (don't stop) for 2 minutes
Try the final 2-minute speed interval at slightly faster than you were going - perhaps 85% effort
Cool down actively for about 10-20 minutes.
Including a speed session in your workout weekly will undoubtedly yield results you'll like.
A great place for runners to do speedwork is a track, with its flat, forgiving surface. In Baltimore county, the NCR trail is flat enough for all kinds of speedwork and has water fountains along the way in the spring, summer and fall.
Go faster, Baltimore!