Ultrarunners are used to going long and slow. That’s exactly what most people are doing during ultras anyway. When it comes to training specificity, that’s great, and you’re right, this doesn’t replace long and slow aerobic training and base-building. But this type of work can yield great results when it comes to maximizing your engine.
Speedwork demands a lot from our nervous, musculoskeletal, and cardiopulmonary systems, and in a much different way than endurance or steady-state running. The adaptations that various types of speedwork force on our body cannot be replicated by going long and slow.
Some of the main benefits of speedwork can include but are not limited to:
Improved running economy when running faster and slower.
Decreased relative perceived effort for a given pace.
Improved resistance to fatigue.
Improved overall aerobic capacity.
Improved tissue capacity/load tolerance.
This can be a very deep and complicated topic, one that I plan on elaborating on in the future. But for now, just understand that just because you’re an ultrarunner doesn’t mean you should avoid the track or running really fast in general.
Where to start? A simple place to start practicing running fast and seeing how your body responds to it, is with “surges” or “strides.” These are short bursts of sprints at about ~90-95%. Start with 20-second strides with 2 minutes rest-pace in between, perform x5, once per week towards the end of a midweek run.
Keep in mind that training loads need to stay steady when changing a training parameter. So if you’re adding intensity, something else needs to give. If you continue to increase miles/time, cumulative vertical gain, and intensity altogether, that’s a recipe for overfatigue and injury. I recommend hiring a coach if you’re looking to maximize your training while staying within a safe training volume for what’s right for you.
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