Speed training is just a small component of the entire training program for a runner running a race. The benefits of speed training are as such:
This article is contributed by Mok Ying Ren, founder of the Run To Walk Movement, Singapore. (http://runtowalksg.org) He is currently working as a house officer at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He is a three time winner of the Singapore Marathon local men's category (2009-2011).
1. Neuromuscular development.
Our brain sends down nerve impulses that control our muscles. The conscious movement of putting one foot in front of the other in the running motion requires great amount of coordination by the human body. Not only must it be in sync with the arms, it must also cope with changes in the environment such as the gradient of the ground you are running on. Speed training allows this development by priming your neuromuscular junctions to fire when you need them to.
2. Improves efficiency
Speed work is an exaggeration of our running motion when training for a race that requires you to run at a slower pace such as the 10km. By running at a 5km pace during our speed training for example, we need to open our strides larger and drive our hands harder. This exaggeration of movements will lead to increased efficiency when we go back down to running at a slower pace. It is just like doing Mathematics. If you practice with harder questions, when you go back down to basic Maths, it is so much easier.
3. Training the cardiovascular system
Speed work is a great stimulus to our heart and lungs. Due to its intensity, speed work makes our heart beat harder and lungs to breathe deeper. And in so doing, our heart becomes stronger. This means that one pump by our heart will then be able to deliver a larger amount of blood to our muscles. More blood means more oxygen to create energy to push ourselves further. This is why through regular training, our resting heart rate drops as our heart is able to beat at a slower rate and still be able to deliver enough oxygen to meet our daily requirements.
However, it is important to understand that speed work is a double edged sword. It can really bring your running to the next level but due to its intensity, it can cause injuries to your musculoskeletal system. Every individual is different and you will need to listen to your own body and adjust your training accordingly such that you yield the maximum benefits from speed work. If you are unsure, always start on the conservative side. If you need help, ask your more senior friends who have been running for a longer time or seek help from a qualified coach.