Speed Workout: It’s the Form!

Speed workouts are designed to increase your speed capability while also increasing your endurance.  During a speed workout, you run a fast pace for a short distance (say 0.5 mile) and then jog a slower pace for half that distance for recovery, then repeat. Your body learns to go faster and recover, helping increase your endurance and speed.

The Data Set

While speed workouts have been in my triathlon training plan for sometime, I always seem to miss them for one reason of another. On Saturday,  I shook things up and replaced a dork short run with a speed workout at the track.  Since training with metrics helps us understand the effectiveness of workouts, I present the data set below:


3x800 Speed workout with 1-mile on either end.

In the image above, the dark purple shading denotes an 800 run whereas the light purple denotes a 400 recovery jog and on either side is the 1-mile warm-up/cool down.  The thing that surprised me when I first saw this data set was how the 800s and 400s blended together.  I had to turn the smoothing feature way up before I could start to see the intervals. Here are some of the highlights that I see:

  1. The first interval got off to a slow start as I transitioned from the mile.
  2. The second 800 had somewhat of a sporadic pace.
  3. The third 800 was much more consistent at a faster pace.
  4. The second mile run was much slower than the first.

Challenges in Raw Data

One of the challenges with the above chart is that it is hard to compare averages for each of the intervals.  It is difficult to pinpoint how each interval performed relative to the other within the raw data.  This is why we need to look at averages of our key training metrics. To do this, I built a more specific view in Excel, focusing on the three training metrics that really matter for this post: Heart rate, Pace, and Distance.  The results are below:

Example of Training with Metrics

The three metrics, distance, heart rate and pace in plain English.

There is interesting thing that really jumps out at me looking at this chart.  Look at the heart rates and pace of the three intervals:

  1. 9:42 @ 165
  2. 9:54 @ 168
  3. 9:23 @ 167

Notice that the heart rate for the third and fastest 800 is 167, whereas the second, slowest 800 has the highest heart rate at 168. What I hypothesize is that we are seeing a difference in form.  The second interval I really started to fatigue and I think this was caused by lack of form.  For the third 800, I really tried to use good form for the run, pick up the knees, push off with the toe (thank you FiveFingers!), and swing the arms. This paid off quite well.


This being my first speed workout, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  In the end, I was sad to see the workout end.  By the third 800 I had finally found my groove and was able to perform.  If there is one thing I have learned from this, it is that form really is the key to efficient speed.  The other thing I learned is that the speed workouts can be more enjoyable than the dork endurance runs.

In addition, you should do more than just review the data that you collect.  In the above example, it pays to know when you need a different view by interacting with the data and visualizing the workout.  In this case, I found it difficult to make an exact comparison of each of the intervals.  With a little fun in Excel, I produced an awesome graphic that tells me a story.

What story does you data tell you?

This entry was posted in analysis, barefoot running, Fitness, Goals, Running, Training With Metrics, Workout Logs and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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