Mary Baum

My Favorite Running Speed Workouts

Whenever I am looking to train for a new race, I am working on a new training plan. I am to the point now where I am very capable of making my own schedule, with many different types of workouts. When I first started racing, I wasn’t so lucky – I was confused by all of the workouts out there and needed some guidance from my coaches. Here is a quick guide to running speed workouts!

Tempo run

These are fantastic for marathon and half marathon training! Usually I do tempo runs about once a week, and it is supposed to be about 30 seconds faster than race pace. If you can hold the pace for an 8-10 mile tempo, you should be able to hold you marathon pace for a whole 26.2 miles. There are no recovery breaks in the tempo run.


Fartleks are pickups on a run. The easiest way to do this on an everyday road it to pick out light posts. From one light post to the next, run a quick pace. Then, slow it down for the next rep for recovery. Your hard effort and recovery effort should be the same distance. Then do it all over again. You can always double it up, by running two or three light posts at a time, and then jogging in between.

Pace run

This is exactly what it sounds like. Run at your perceived race pace for a predetermined set of miles. I like pace runs because it mimics what you will be doing on race day. These can be done for everything from a marathon down to a 5k. There is no recovery time in pace runs.

Progression Runs

These are great to work on a negative split for your race (aka, a faster second half of the race). Start out with a mildly faster pace than an easy run, and then drop your pace by 10 to 15 seconds per mile for each mile that you run. If you are training for something shorter like a 5k, break the run into half miles instead of miles. The last rep that you do should be very challenging. It shouldn’t be an all out sprint, but you should be using about 90% of your effort. There is no recovery time in progression runs.


With a ladder, start with a mile at marathon pace, then do a 1200m at half marathon pace, an 800m at 10k pace, and a 400m at 5k pace. Depending on your conditioning, climb right back up the ladder after you hit that 400m (aka, run 800m, then 1200m, then 1600m). With this work out, recovery is key, so be sure to jog 400m in between each repeat. This workout is great to work on knowing your pace for different distances. Oh, and it is incredibly tough!

Yasso 800’s

If you have a running track near you, try to do your 800’s there. It makes it a lot easier to determine your speed.  The goal is to build up to the number of 800′s you want to do in your marathon goal time. So if you are looking run a 4 hour marathon, you should be running a 4:00 minute 800 – a 3 hour marathon calls for 3 minutes 800′s and so on. Jog 400m in between your 800’s. The max number of Yasso 800’s that I have done in my marathon training topped out around 8.

Mile repeats

With mile repeats, run about a minute quicker than race pace for a mile, then jog 800m for recovery. Repeat as many times as necessary. For a marathon workout, I wouldn’t run any more than 6 mile repeats, so that your entire workout doesn’t eclipse 12 miles. This is an awesome workouts for 5k’s and 10k’s too. However, for those distances, you really do not need to do any more than 3-4 repeats.

Be sure to warm up and cool down for every workout that you do. I usually warmup for about 2 miles, stretch, and then get into my workout. I like to follow it up with a 1-2 mile cooldown, depending on the workout that I just completed.

Which of these do I think is best? I completely believe that it depends on the person. Some runners respond better to tempo runs while others can handle Yasso 800’s. Try out a few different exercises a few different times, and see what your body responds best too. Just like everyone needs specific shoes, tailored workouts are also necessary.

What are your favorite running workouts? If you have never run a workout before, which one looks like one that you would like to try?

14 Responses

  1. Amanda @RunToTheFinish
    Amanda @RunToTheFinish October 26, 2012 at 8:34 am |

    I actually really love ladders! I think they are what gets me to do a lot of speed sessions because it mixes things up… also a fan of the progression run though!

    next round I’m going to do more Yasso’s…hmm I think I’m getting over my aversion to speed work.

  2. genna
    genna October 26, 2012 at 10:56 am |

    This came at the perfect time! After NY, my plan is to begin working on speed. At some point I should be able to run faster than a 12 min mine for a longer distance. (maybe)
    Have you started planning upcoming races?

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  4. Chuck Feerick
    Chuck Feerick October 26, 2012 at 10:51 pm |

    My favorite are definitely progression runs! It just works for me as the more I warm up and get into it, the more fun it is to go fast!

  5. Carrie @ Fitness and Frozen Grapes
    Carrie @ Fitness and Frozen Grapes October 27, 2012 at 7:08 am |

    I usually default to pace and progression runs, and I’m pretty good about forcing myself to do a tempo run once every week. ;) In terms of track work, I love 400m repeats, specifically sprinting the straightaways and jogging the curves; I like ladders too, but I’ve never tried Yasso 800–I’ve heard they’re killer!

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  7. Melissa
    Melissa October 29, 2012 at 9:35 am |

    Wow! Thank you for posting – very helpful! :)

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