A staple component of my Team Over The Top running clinics is speed endurance. I set up the sessions to coincide with the hill training and tempo-pace drop-down runs that my team do as part of the plan. The speed endurance sessions are traditionally the toughest – my rule of thumb is the 200, 400 and 900 metre reps are done at a 7/10 maximum pace with a 200 metre slow run recovery between reps whilst the 1400 and 1800 metre reps are done at 7/10 maximum pace with a 400 metre slow run recovery.
Is this easy? Hell no. Is this fun? Hell no. Then why in God’s name would I have my runners DO this? I will list a few of the reasons:
- it helps to build fatigue tolerance – as you get deeper into a race, there is still energy and power left to go faster
- it helps build confidence in your ability to push physically as you let go mentally. You have been in the dark places – thus, going there when you race is less intimidating
- it helps build speed endurance (surprise, surprise!). This simply means you can go at or slightly below your race pace goal longer – and that’s what racing is all about
I often use the Elmwood-Wanita streets in our home area of Port Credit, Ontario, Canada for the speed endurance sessions.This is a 900 metre straight stretch one way of flat asphalt road – a perfect track for us! There are stop signs at 3 major intersections that serve as turn-around points for the 1400, 900 and 400 metre repeats of the training session.
My team always do the Cross-Crawl (extensor chain activation) warm-up drill for 3 minutes. It’s not easy to do but they ARE getting better at it.From there, I have them do a 200 metre slow run warm-up where the focus is on a tight, light, compact, forward squat-scoot to lock in perfect practice. The team are also getting better at this (and thus, they have no avoidable running injuries!).The 1st repeat is always 400 metres at 8/10 maximum pace (200 metres out and back). As you can see, most of my runners stay low with bent knees throughout the running cycle. They easily increase their foot speed with only a minor increase in effort. They knee drive forward, heel flick and paw-back on the support phase – with virtually NO ground impact noise. Beautiful!!!One of my top marathon runners (a Boston qualifier of 3:21 followed up by a Boston of 2:18!!) has been fighting to activate from her gluteus medius to avoid flailing out with her feet – especially her left (as you can see below finishing a fast 400 metre repeat). Her other challenge is avoiding a heel strike as she increases her pace. Just think how fast she will be when this all gets figured out! We are working on gluteal isolation drills along with paw-back practice to lock in the squat-scoot. This will come in time.
In doing a 900 metre repeat, you can see the same efficient, powerful, balanced running technique even as thefatigue of a difficult session sets in. The mental toughness to do so is impressive.
This was followed by a slow 400 metre recovery run where it is CRITICAL to maintain perfect squat-scoot technique. This prevents bad running habits that can lead to avoidable ‘itis’ injuries from developing. It is often harder for my runners to do this than maintain proper form at race pace. Strange but true!!Another challenge for some of my runners (and most runners in general) is landing too flat on impact. Doing this causes energy to be lost downward into the surface instead of being transferred forward from the body. I call this giving into gravity instead of bracing against its downward pull. Learning how to land forward and light allows you to transfer power forward.The 1800 metre and 1400 metre 7/10 maximum pace repeats were done about 25 minutes into the session. Physical AND mental fatigue was setting in BUT you would never know it by the speed and power of my runners. The top picture below shows my runners locked in and balanced at an intense pace. In the second photo below, my runner shows almost perfect squat-scoot technique. She is still hitting a tad flat BUT this will be eliminated within 1 week.At the end of her final 1800 metre 7/10 maximum pace repeat, you will notice one of my top runners not only landing flat but also flailing out with her right foot, both signs of not recruiting all 3 main gluteal muscles during the firing phase of the run motion. The end result over the years has been IT Band syndrome and runner’s knee injuries. They are in the process of being permanently eliminated! The solution includes regularly doing a series of drills to specifically recruit the gluteal muscles whilst also bracing from the major leg muscles to keep the the knee from buckling in and the foot from turning out. One-legged knee drops are demonstrated in the photo below as one of the keys to improved alignment. You can see the difference with my runner in the photo below. The knee lines up over the foot and beneath the hip – perfect alignment for injury-free running.Doing speed endurance is critically important to improve overall running performance. Even MORE important is doing it PERFECTLY!!