Teenage training forum: To develop speed, you need to run really fast

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Teenage training forum: To develop speed, you need to run really fast

Ben (LMM 2015)

Alan Maddocks – top coach to international junior athletes Sam Stevens, Ben Dijkstra and Alfie Thompson – continues his series of teenage training articles and shines the spotlight this week on developing speed in teenage distance runners

The focus of the Beacon Hill Striders training model is on the gradual development of three key areas:

  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Stamina

In my last article, I described how we develop strength. In this article, I shall outline the training practices that we use to develop a young athlete’s speed.

I’ll detail some of the key methods used to do so and, in addition, will provide a case study on one of our leading athletes – Ben Dijkstra.

Young athletes aren’t short of natural speed

Most young athletes have a fair measure of natural speed. Witness the first bend scramble of an 800m or the start of a cross country race – most do not appear to be short on natural speed. Reproducing that same speed towards the end of a race where its application is most crucial, however, often becomes more problematic.

If it is speed at the end of a race effort that we are seeking (and it cerasing should be!) then we must recognise that speed is not a concept that is divorced from strength and stamina training. Strength and stamina provide the platform from which an athlete can apply speed when it really matters.

Speed training and race-pace sessions

So, what constitutes effective speed training?

Firstly, let’s consider what many coaches and athletes describe as ‘speed-work’: anaerobic track intervals in the 300m to 600m range (e.g. 8-10 x 400m).

While there are undeniable benefits of this type of training, developing speed is not one of them.

Race-pace work of this kind may well offer a number of benefits: lactate tolerance, pace-judgement and the development of mental fortitude (to name but three). But it does very little to enhance bottom-end speed.

That’s not to say that this type of training should be ignored. There are benefits and occasional work of this type is important – though we would tend to structure sessions so as to break-up the monotony of a 10 x 400m session.

The following is an example of the kind of race-pace session that we might do:

  • Warm-up: 10-15 minutes of easy running
  • Set 1: 4 x 90 seconds at race pace (60 seconds jog recovery)
  • Set 2: 8-10 minutes tempo run
  • Set 3: repeat of set 1 (with 4-5 minutes recovery between each set)
  • Cool-down: 8-12 minutes of very easy running

To develop speed, you need to run really fast

To develop speed, however, we need to fully engage the runners’ fast-twitch muscle fibres. Speed is a product of neuro-muscular training, where the aim is to increase the reactivity of the muscle fibres and the supporting nervous system.

To develop speed, you need to run fast, really fast.

Throughout the autumn and winter months we include each week – as part of our midweek training session – a few minutes of sprint-type work. This may take one of three forms:

  • Accelerations: 5-6 x 60-80 metres fast where the aim is to hit top speed at the end of each run (casual walk-back recovery)
  • Hill Sprints: 6-8 x 50-60 metres fast on a relatively steep incline (walk-back recoveries)
  • Fast Strides: 4-5 x 60 metres, as preparation for a more intense repetition-type stamina session

Given the size of our group, we usually divide the group into two. One group does the above while the other works on speed technique drills before the groups then swap over. This element of the midweek session may take in the region of 20-25 minutes.

Speed endurance during the warmer months

In spring and summer, we develop this further by doing some speed-endurance repetitions. This takes the form of 5 repetitions of a 200m stretch on a slight upward incline in the woods. The aim is to run the 200m stretch quickly and the recovery is a casual walk back down the path.

Runners are grouped with those of similar speed abilities to create a degree of competitiveness. With a generous warm-up and cool-down this often constitutes the midweek session prior to an important weekend race.

In addition, during the summer we often do a speed maintenance training session on grass, involving a mixture of:

  • Striding (in relay format)
  • Progressively paced long repetitions (e.g. 2 x 6 minutes with progressive pace increases throughout the duration of each effort ending in a sprint towards the end)
  • 2-3 handicap races over a 150 metres

Case Study: Ben Dijkstra

As a rule, our athletes display good speed and acceleration over the last 200 metres of any race. But one athlete who epitomises this more than any other is our most-decorated group member, Ben Dijkstra.

Ben has won numerous national and international titles, often by displaying a killer finishing kick to secure victory.

In 2013, Ben won the English Schools’ Junior Boys’ 1500m title with a 58 seconds last lap (including a 13 seconds last 100m). In 2014 he used similar tactics to secure victory in the English Schools’ Inter Boys 3000m.

Other notable finishes by Ben include a last 100m dash to win the 2015 London Mini-Marathon title (see image); and a sub 27 seconds last 200m to secure victory in his first ever 5000m race (14-28.03) in 2015.

In the next article, we will look at developing stamina.

Words by Alan Maddocks
Image from Virgin London Marathon (Ben Dijkstra takes the win at the 2015 Mini Marathon in London)
This article originally appeared in the fifth edition of Left Spike from October 2016