‘Speed is the most important variable. Period.’ – Those are the words that stuck in my head after talking to Jeffrey Nkrumah over the phone for the first time.

I love running long distances, and for me, the longer the better. Racing on track in the Summer was still enjoyable for me, but not so much anymore because I could feel I was being left behind almost instantly. Speed is what I lacked (and am working on) so even in the first 100m I would lose ground on my rivals easily. Perhaps it was because I preferred and was better at the longer distances that I kept away from extremely short reps in track sessions. Anything less than 200m seemed pretty pointless and even then, surely 400m was better I thought. Well after that conversation with Jeffrey Nkrumah, I realised that I needed the raw speed. It would give me what I required to run a sub 60 second 400m which would help me run a faster 800m which would help cut down my 1500m and 3000m times.

How many times do you ever go all out on a run or sprint or interval session?

Me (on the right) trying to catch speeeeed

I can tell you, that this was very rare for me to do, especially when I only had one minute recovery between my 300m and 400m reps, I could not get the mindset to go all out – but this is important, because it is by going as fast as you can and faster that you give your body the stimulus to – guess – run even faster!

If you plan on doing ultra marathons or running recreationally for enjoyment, then maybe speed is not so important but for any competitive runner doing longer distances, it is something that should not be neglected. Speed is harder to obtain as you get older which is why many elite runners start out as track athletes before progressing onto the longer distances as they get older – they are simply maintaining most of that speed whilst going longer at a slightly slower pace.

My suggestion would be to try and get at least one speed session in every fortnight and to do some speedwork over winter in the cross country season. If you go to doing longer reps or runs at a slightly slower pace and quickest your going is 70 seconds per 400m, how do you expect to go back to doing sub 60 seconds per 400m when track season comes immediately? It’s going to take sometime and that speed is pretty useful over the last agonising stretch of a cross country race.

If you need ideas for sessions try:

  • 8 x 150m (easy jog recovery back to 150m start)
  • 2 x 7 x 100m (60 – 90 secs between reps and 3 – 5 minutes between sets)

How much do you work on your speed?