Speed Work for Half Marathon Training

My first 2015 half marathon is NEXT WEEKEND.

Training hasn’t been very specific, just kind of what I’ve felt like doing/could fit in each morning before the girls woke… on the treadmill.  Always.  Ideally, I’d be out running the streets or looping the track, but these two are worth it.

In order to get faster, you MUST include speed work in your training.  Just going out and running at a steady state all the time is not going to cut it AND your body will adapt to these conditions, making your overall cardiovascular gain as well as calorie expenditure less and less.

Here are a few ways to incorporate speed work into your training.

1.   Tempo Runs: A  faster-paced workout known as a lactate-threshold run. Tempo pace is “comfortably hard.”  It improves our metabolic fitness.  According to Runner’s World

During tempo runs, lactate and hydrogen ions—by-products of metabolism—are released into the muscles. The ions make the muscles acidic, eventually leading to fatigue. The better trained you become, the higher you push your “threshold,” meaning your muscles become better at using these by-products. The result is less-acidic muscles (that is, muscles that haven’t reached their new “threshold”), so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster.

They recommend using these 4 strategies to find your tempo “pace.”

  • Recent Race: Add 30 to 40 seconds to your current 5-K pace or 15 to 20 seconds to your 10-K pace.
  • Heart Rate: 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate.
  • Perceived Exertion: An 8 on a 1-to-10 scale (a comfortable effort would be a 5; racing would be close to a 10).
  • Talk Test: A question like “Pace okay?” should be possible, but conversation won’t be.


It’s important… I found my pace. but how should I fit it in?

Gradually—start with five to eight 6-12 second repeats, taking 30 seconds to recover between each.  Sounds like a short and ineffective workout, but by sprinting more than 12 seconds, you start to tap into a different energy system.  Isolate these sprints or incorporate them into a steady state run depending on your ability level.  For example, on a 3-mile run, add a 6-12 second burst every half a mile.

Once this has developed, use a work-to-rest ratio of 1:3-5 and over the course of several weeks, work your way up to more repeats and adding longer sprints.  Don’t totally ditch those quick 6-12 second bursts, as they will work your anaerobic fitness.  A longer sprint will tap into your aerobic fitness and help you hold a faster pace for longer.  For example, on that same 3-mile run, add a 20-30 second burst every mile marker and a 6-12 second burst every 1/2 mile marker.


If that sounds like too much thinking while you’re out running, just tell yourself that every few minutes you are going to sprint from one telephone pole to the next.  Not as official, but will still get the job done.

My favorite treadmill workouts involving speed:

Warm-up for 1 mile

Quick 10 second burst

Back to warm-up pace for 20 seconds

20 second burst (not quite as fast)

Back to warm-up pace for 40 seconds

30 second burst (even slower)

Back to warm up pace for 1 minute

40 second burst

Back to warm-up pace for 80 seconds… you get the point.

I usually work my way up to a 3-4 minute burst… which is obviously a lot slower than my 10 second one!

Another, when I don’t feel like thinking THAT much…

1 mile warm-up

1/2 mile at 5K pace

1/2 mile at warm-up pace

and continue for the remainder of my miles that day.  Some times I will even make that 5K pace and that warm-up pace .1 faster each time.

This post is a part of a series with Race 13.1.  Check them out and schedule your race today!

How do you incorporate speed work into your training plan?

5 thoughts on “Speed Work for Half Marathon Training

  1. Change of Pace says:

    Good luck with your race!!
    I haven’t done speed work since track over 10 years ago! I’ve said that the next running race i train for will include speed. we’ll see! but i like your workouts and they don’t seem as daunting as some i see!

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