Speed training for ultra-runners- Part 2

The difference between speed work and speed development.

Training theory continues to evolve, exercise scientists are uncovering more efficient ways to train and improve our speed and performance level. Now we know how important speed training is even for long-distance runners, who race at much slower pace than their top speed. Lately, the focus has been on the importance of speed development versus speed work. Speed development consists of recruiting maximum muscle fibers per stride, developing neuromuscular coordination and improving efficiency. For long-distance runners, speed development training is even more important than we might think.

The ideal training plan for long-distance runners is to include long runs at a sustainable pace, but also including some very beneficial speed development training runs. To alternate between speed work and speed development will increase your speed, performance and muscle power.

Difference between Speed Work and Speed Development:

Traditional speed work (400m or 1K repeats) is all about improving our VO2max or anaerobic threshold. When doing speed work, we are recruiting a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers, this training should also focus on improving our metabolic system. Traditional speed work can be quite challenging, because it involves pushing hard, running fast with minimal rest. This type of training is very efficient to improve our VO2max, we feel the burning in our lungs when we push hard to finish each interval, and start the next interval with minimal rest.

Speed development is training at our fastest speed, the absolute fastest pace we can run, at a short distance (50m-100m) with enough recovery between each interval. Speed development is not about improving the VO2max, the focus is on increasing the maximum amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers recruited for each stride and improving the speed at which our brain sends signals to the muscles to fire up. This training method focuses on the neuromuscular system. Speed development workouts are alactic, which means that we don’t need oxygen for energy and don’t produce lactic acid. With this type of training, our body won’t be crashing as it would during traditional speed work. The reason why speed development training includes full recovery between each interval is that in order to recruit maximum fast-twitch muscle fibers, we need to fully recover between each interval.

Benefits of Speed Development training:

The goal of speed development training is to improve our running economy and efficiency, which means to be able to run faster and farther with less effort while using less energy. For long-distance runners, this means that race pace will require less effort and our body will be able to conserve valuable carbohydrates during the longer runs. Also, each running stride will be more explosive and generate more muscle power without increasing the effort.

Speed Development training schedule:

Adding a speed development workout once every 14 days in our yearly training schedule is ideal, we just need to replace a speed workout or hill repeats session. Another option is to add it to a 4-6-week training block, focusing on speed development instead of speed work sessions, which is a great approach to recover from an ultra-marathon.

Speed Development workouts:

We have to remember that speed development workouts won’t feel as hard as a traditional speed work session. We won’t be struggling to breathe or feel nauseous after we’re done. It takes 2-3 mins to fully recover from a 50m sprint, we have to make sure we follow that rule.


-Start with a 3K-4K warm up
– 3 X 150m at 90% effort (90 secs recovery between each rep)
– 6 X 50m at 100% effort (2-3 mins recovery between each rep)
– 3 X 200m at 85% effort (90 secs recovery between each rep)
– 3K at 10K pace
– 3K Cooldown
The warm up and the first 150m reps at 90% are essential to prevent any muscle injury.
Train Hard, Eat Right, and Feel Great!