Foot Notes

30 04 2011

Are you steps away from injury? Ask your feet.


By Sasha Brown–Worsham
Image by Mitch Mandel
From the March 2009 issue of Runner’s World

The outside of Laurence Socha’s foot had been hurting for months. But the veteran marathoner kept running. “The pain would come and go, so I just ignored it,” says Socha, 27, a teacher who lives in Washington, D.C. On a run one night, his sore foot rolled, and he had to limp home. Turns out, Socha had been disregarding a hairline fracture, and he had broken his fifth metatarsal. He needed surgery and was on crutches for six weeks.

Bad idea to ignore what your feet are trying to tell you. Obvious pains like Socha’s, or merely visible imperfections like black toenails or calluses, often indicate imbalances that can lead to injury. “I like to compare foot care to the foundation of a house,” says Roy DeFrancis, D.P.M., president of the New York State Podiatric Medical Association. “A house without a strong foundation is likely to crumble.”

The Warning: Black Toenail

Black toenails, or “runners’ toes,” frequently plague distance runners. A common culprit? Not keeping your toenails closely clipped, says Dr. DeFrancis. If the end of the toenail jams into the shoe, the base of the nail wiggles enough to cause bleeding just below the surface. Shoes that are too tight can also cause the problem; try a half size larger or a higher toebox. The discoloration can also be a warning that you’re running too many downhills, so keep your runs confined to flats.

The black part will grow out or fall off in a few months, but if you’re in pain, a doctor can relieve the swelling by making a small hole in the nail plate.

The Warning: Calluses

Calluses, areas of thickened skin, form from repetitive pressure. “Calluses are a sign that the feet are getting a lot of force on one spot,” says Leslie Campbell, D.P.M., a podiatrist in Dallas.

Overpronators frequently find calluses on the inside of their big toes or at the ends of their toes. Severe overpronators are susceptible to Achilles tendinitis, runner’s knee, and shinsplints. Calluses that develop on the fifth toe or anywhere along the outside of the foot indicate outward rolling, or supination. Over time, supinators stress the outside of their feet and ankles, which can lead to sprains, tendinitis, and stress fractures.

A pair of stability shoes are the first treatment option for overpronation; cushioned shoes will support a supinator’s high arch. More extreme cases may need an orthotic to correct the foot’s motion.

Runners who have one foot that is more callused than the other may have an imbalance, such as leg–length discrepancy, which can often be fixed with a heel lift. Or it may indicate that you’re simply stronger on one side. A physical therapist can help you develop a stretching and strengthening regimen to balance your gait—and help your feet evenly absorb the impact of each step.

The Warning: Bunions

When the joint at the base of the big toe faces extra pressure, it can swell and form a bunion: a bony protrusion on the side of the foot that may be painful as the big toe moves out of alignment. In extreme cases, the big toe overlaps the second and third toes. “Bunions tend to happen in runners with flat feet that roll in, because the muscles that stabilize the big toes don’t work as well when the foot overpronates,” says Stephen Pribut, D.P.M., a sports podiatrist in Washington, D.C.

Bunions don’t have to hurt. Make sure your sneakers are wide and deep enough at the toebox, and avoid shoes with seams that rub against the problem joint. If you notice changes to your bunions or feel pain, consult a sports podiatrist. Orthotics can correct the pronation and slow the development of bunions—which require surgery to correct severe cases.

The Warning: Neuroma

A neuroma is an enlarged nerve, which most frequently occurs in the interspace between the third and fourth toes. Though neuromas aren’t visible, you can definitely feel them: They can cause toe cramps or a more general pain in the ball of the foot. According to Dr. Campbell, hill running, which puts abnormal pressure on the ball of the foot, is a common cause of neuromas, so stick to the flats until the pain subsides. Your shoes might also be too tight in the toebox. Remove the insert, stand on it, and take a close look: If any portion of your foot is hanging over the insert, your shoes are too small.

The Warning: Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis, which causes pain in the heel or arch, occurs when the connective fibers that run along the bottom of the foot become inflamed at the spot where they attach to the heel bone. The pain most often occurs in one foot, not both, says Dr. Pribut, because of a leg–length discrepancy or strength imbalance.

Runners who suffer from plantar fasciitis often have weak muscles in their feet. So try this exercise to strengthen your toes and feet: Keeping your heel on the floor, curl your toes down against a towel and try to drag it closer to you. Plantar fasciitis can also signal tight calf muscles, so Pribut recommends gentle stretching of those muscles to ease the pain and to prevent a recurrence.


Stretching 2.0

30 04 2011

New ways to gain flexibility, improve performance, and protect against injuries.

     By Beth Dreher
Image by Michael Darter
From the May 2011 issue of Runner’s World

Watch a group of elite runners warming up and you won’t see any of them bending over trying to reach their toes. Instead, you’ll see athletes moving their bodies to improve their range of motion, increase flexibility, and guard against injury. “Stretching has progressed to a more functional, dynamic method,” says physical therapist Chris Frederick, codirector of the Stretch to Win Institute in Tempe, Arizona. “It helps runners of all levels perform better.”

You may be familiar with dynamic warmup moves like butt kicks and high-knee marches. But physical therapists and trainers have developed other ways to stretch your body in a more functional way. Consider the upsides and downsides of these three new methods to decide which works best for you.

Unlike stretching that attempts to isolate and stretch specific muscles, fascial stretch therapy (FST) targets fascia, the connective tissue found in, around, and between joints. To stretch the fascia, a certified FST therapist gently pulls then moves the legs, arms, spine, and neck in a smooth motion at various angles to remove pressure between joints, release joint-lubricating synovial fluid, and improve flexibility of muscles. “The function of muscles cannot be separated from the movement of fascia,” says Frederick, who has worked with Olympic gold-medal sprinter Sanya Richards. After an initial session with a therapist, runners can continue this stretch therapy on their own.
UPSIDES: “Runners tell us that after the first FST session they move with more ease and feel stronger and faster,” Frederick says. Runners using FST also report increased stride length, less pain and tightness, and faster recovery.
DOWNSIDES: You can’t do the initial session on your own. The at-home stretches can take some time to master.
HOW TO: Visit to find an FST therapist. A session with a certified FST therapist costs $60 to $200 per hour. Frederick’s book, Stretch to Win, and DVD, Flexibility for Sports Performance, also offer FST instruction.

Most forms of flexibility training start with relaxing the muscle you’re about to stretch. But with Ki-Hara, you use resistance (by yourself, or with the help of a trainer) to keep the muscle that you’re stretching contracted throughout each movement (see “Leg Warmers,” below). Keeping muscles engaged stabilizes them, which can help prevent injury, says trainer Anne Tierney, cofounder of Ki-Hara. “This method stretches a muscle the way it’s used.” The technique also focuses on training opposing muscle groups together, like hamstring and quads, to address imbalances. During assisted sessions, Ki-Hara trainers use a technique called mashing, where they use their feet to help loosen muscles and release fascia to flush toxins and improve circulation. American steeplechase record holder Jenny Barringer Simpson is a Ki-Hara devotee.
UPSIDES: Ki-Hara’s unique approach builds flexibility and strength at the same time and helps remove lactic acid. “An assisted Ki-Hara session that incorporates resistance stretching and mashing can really aid recovery,” Tierney says. Athletes use Ki-Hara before a run to loosen up, or after to reduce stiffness and tension.
DOWNSIDES: The movements can be difficult to learn to do effectively without one-on-one help from a Ki-Hara trainer.
HOW TO: To buy an instructional DVD or to find a trainer in your area, go to Sessions cost between $75 and $350.

This method of active stretching helps break up scar tissue in injured and chronically tight muscles. By applying pressure with your fingers around a tight or injured area or on a series of points running up and down the muscle while extending and contracting it, you can relieve the pain of current injuries, improve range of motion, and prevent future damage. “In a conventional stretch you’re stretching an entire muscle,” says sports chiropractor Rob DeStefano, creator of the F.A.S.T. technique. “With this method, you focus the movement at a specific area of tightness.”
UPSIDES: You can use this massage and stretching technique to help warm up muscles before a run, or even during a run or race to work out tight spots. “With a little practice, you’ll be able to target specific areas of tightness, making your stretch more effective,” DeStefano says.
DOWNSIDES: The angle and amount of pressure to put on the muscle can take time to get right. DeStefano’s instructional book lacks in-depth descriptions of techniques for helping knee or shoulder pain; if you have those problems, you may need to see an active-stretching therapist.
HOW TO: Go to for details about the technique and DeStefano’s instructional book, Muscle Medicine, or to find an active-stretching therapist skilled in the F.A.S.T. technique. Sessions start at $50/hour.

FEEL BETTER: A dynamic warmup for runners includes walking lunges, leg lifts, and butt kicks. For a video demo, go to

Leg Warmers
Enhance mobility with three Ki-Hara stretches before you run

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Bring your left knee toward your right shoulder and grab your heel (or calf). Press your left heel down toward your glutes as you contract your hamstring. Then lengthen your leg toward your right shoulder. Repeat three times per leg.

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Drop your right knee inward and place your left ankle just above your right knee. Using your left leg for resistance, slowly raise your right knee. Next, push the right knee toward the mat while resisting with your left leg. Repeat three times per leg.

Lie on your back and cross your left foot over your right knee. Clasp your hands around the right leg. Push out with the left leg, contracting your glutes and the outside of your thigh, while using the right leg and your arms to pull the leg toward your chest. Repeat three times per leg.

Get The Runner’s World Guide to Injury Prevention, the must-have guide to staying healthy while training hard.

4 Ways to Build Speed Workouts Into Your Runs

25 04 2011

Don Kardong
Runner’s World

Ease into faster running with these introductory workouts:

1. Easy fartlek. Fartlek, or speed play, is variable-pace running that emphasizes creativity. During a 30-minute run, choose objects to run to telephone poles, trees, buildings, other runners, whatever. Make choices that mark off different distances so your pickups vary in length from 15 to 90 seconds, and modify your pace to match the distance. If you’re with a group, take turns choosing, sometimes revealing your choice ahead of time, sometimes not.

2. Hills. Warm up with a 10-minute run to the base of a hill that has a steady (but not overly steep) slope. Run up at a constant pace for up to 45 seconds, then jog back down and repeat four more times. Move at a speed that allows you to finish each 45-second segment without gasping. The hill will present resistance; your job is to run controlled and steady, focusing on form.

3. Strides. On a track, run quickly for about 15 seconds every time you start a straightaway, then ease off and jog the rest of the straightaway and the turn before beginning another 15-second stride. Do this for a mile or so (eight to 12 strides). You can also do strides after a run (grass fields are nice), striding for 15 seconds one way, then jogging back and repeating eight to 10 times.

4. Races (5- and 10Ks). Entering races now and then will do two things: First, it’ll help you learn to run at a constant pace over a longer period of time. Second, since much training advice is based on a runner’s 5- and 10K times, knowing your personal benchmarks at these distances can help you tailor your speed workouts more effectively.

4 Exercises to Increase Your Running Speed

25 04 2011

American Running Association

Years of studying elite runners in freeze frame video clips have revealed certain truths about optimal form. Both sprinters and distance runners alike can benefit from exercises that duplicate the distinct joint and limb movements, as well as the range of motion, of these athletes.

Try the following exercises using resistance tubing secured to a stationary object such as a post, or secure them with an Active Cord attachment, available at most sporting goods stores. (Resistance tubing comes in varying degrees of tension; be sure to try several in-store before purchasing.) The resulting strength, flexibility and muscle memory will improve your running form, stride length and explosiveness, which will mean faster race times.

Each of the exercises below is preceded by a few words about form. In addition to these tips, avoid rotating your torso or shoulders as you run. This, in turn, will keep your hips square so that your pushoff forces you directly forward.

To run well, great ankle joint extension is necessary, as this increases the power of your pushoff. The more you can extend, the better. During running, keep the knee slightly bent in the pushoff leg to maximize horizontal force. A perfectly straight leg results in more of a leap and is a waste of force.

Heel Raise

Secure the tubing under the balls of your feet. Fasten the ends to an Active Belt around your waist or to a post, or have someone assist you by holding the ends. Stand on the balls of your feet and lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your Achilles tendon (there is no need to push the heel beyond the point where you first feel the stretch).

Rise up as high as possible and hold for one to two seconds. Perform 10 repetitions. This exercise is best achieved standing on a stable board two to four inches from the ground.

Forward thigh drive increases stride length and the power of your pushoff. Hip flexors, located in the front of the hip are largely responsible for this, and you can benefit from strengthening them.

Hip Joint Flexion

Attach the tubing to a stationary object about knee high and attach the other end to your ankle. Stand far enough away so that there is tension with the leg behind the body (as in the thigh position immediately after pushoff).

Inhale and hold your breath as you drive your thigh forward. Keep your knee bent so that your shin remains parallel to the ground until your thigh is past vertical position. Do not drive the thigh all the way parallel to the ground, as this will teach you to drive your thigh upward rather than forward when running. Therefore, it’s also best to add an additional cord for more resistance than to rely on a greater stretch of the tubing as you become stronger.

Turning over, such that your feet are in contact with the ground more often, provides more force-generation, allowing you to go faster. Cutting short your time in the air, however, reduces the extent to which you are using that generated force.

Therefore, during flight phase, do not drop your thigh as it reaches its highest point and the forward leg begins to straighten. Only after straightening should the leg come back and down. Aim to land with your landing leg close to the body’s center of mass–for distance runners, this means only slightly in front of you. For sprinters, your leg should be more or less directly underneath you.

Combined with a full-foot or even ball-of-foot landing, this running technique will generate the least amount of braking force at the point of contact and keep you moving fast. The greater the angle between your legs midflight, the faster the results. The best sprinters open this angle up to as much as 165 degrees; distance runners employ a slower and more economical form, which means a maximum angle of about 100 degrees.

Hip Joint Extension

Attach the tubing to a high stationary object. Stand in front of it and attach the free end to your ankle. Stand with your leg raised, thigh slightly below parallel.

To begin, straighten your leg and pull down until your foot touches the ground beside your other leg. Perform this action vigorously for 10 repetitions. As you become conditioned, try balancing yourself (instead of holding on to a wall or stable object) to achieve even greater results.


The down position of the lunge duplicates the airborne position in sprinting. This exercise will also stretch the hip flexors. With your feet hip-width apart, step forward with a very long stride. Upon landing, slowly lower your upper body straight down. Shift your weight backward and extend your forward leg. Return to your standing position and repeat with the other leg for 10 repetitions each.

In addition to the lower body workouts discussed here, there are a variety of lower-back, abdominal and upper body exercises that will increase your strength and improve your form. Coupling these sport-specific exercises with regular speed work will give you even more dramatic improvements in running speed.

Adapted from Explosive Running by Michael Yessis, PhD, Contemporary Books, Chicago, IL, 2000, 173 pp. $17.95.

© American Running Association, Running & FitNews 2003, Vol. 21, No. 5, p.2

Your Guide to Track Workouts

25 04 2011

By Erin Strout
Runner’s World

Even after she’d run for years and finished a marathon, Alex Gardner was mystified by the track. Which way do you run? How fast? “I didn’t even know what recovery was,” says Gardner, 42, of Lake Lotawana, Missouri. “Do I lie on the ground for two minutes? What do I do?”

When Gardner finally mustered up the nerve to try track workouts, she instantly saw results. She shaved 22 minutes from her marathon PR, for a 3:54, and finished a 5-K in 22: 17. “Before, I didn’t really understand how important proper pacing was,” she says. “And the track taught me how to be more mentally tough.”

For seasoned runners like Gardner—and beginners, too—a track can initially seem like a pretty scary place. Even if you’re able to shake haunting memories of gym class, track can resemble a mysterious subculture, with its own language, code of conduct, and definitions of fast and slow. Not to mention the prospect of pain. “People are afraid of it because they worry it hurts to run hard,” says Vincent Sherry, a Flagstaff, Arizona- based coach for the Run SMART Project, an online coaching service.

The fear factor may be real. But it’s actually not that bad. And whether you’re shooting for a PR or just want to enjoy running more, experts agree that track workouts are the most effective way to improve fitness and lower race times.

Below you’ll find everything you need to get on track. You’ll learn why you need speedwork, how to talk like a trackster, and how to do your first workouts. Like Gardner, you may discover that a little quality time on a 400-meter oval gives you a boost that lasts way longer than a glorious race finish.

“It’s a huge validation,” says Gardner. “Now, I feel like a ‘real’ runner.”

3 Reasons to Love The Oval

On a treadmill, the belt keeps you on pace, even if your energy fades. “You’re just keeping up with what’s moving underneath you,” says Marius Maianu, a clinical exercise physiologist at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. By contrast, hitting a certain pace on the track requires more mental effort.

At a group workout, you’re likely to push harder than you might on your own. You’re also less likely to give up when the going gets tough. Other runners at the workout can spot sloppy form that might be slowing you down.

strong>Track may be about speed, but at most workouts organized by running clubs, the vibe stays social and supportive. The track is a great place to meet new running buddies—the kind who help you get out the door in epic conditions, or tough out a long run.

Before You Go: Pointers for First-Timers

KELLIE STAMM, 47, hit her goal of a 19-minute 5-K after adding track sessions to her training. Now she leads weekly workouts for her local club, the Sayville Running Company team, in New York. Here are her tips for newbies.

If possible, determine beforehand what the workout will be so you can get mentally prepared for what pace you’ll run, who you’ll run with, how much recovery you’ll take, and how long the workout will be.

Trying to run fast without a warmup is a recipe for a pulled muscle or for tiring out early. Be sure to jog at an easy pace for 15 to 20 minutes before the track workout. At the end of the warmup, add some strides to help boost your heart rate and ready your muscles for some quick work.

Start conservatively so you can hold back early and finish strong. As the session goes on and you start to fatigue, it should feel harder to maintain your goal pace. But if you have trouble finishing a fast segment, it’s best to back off your pace instead of adding extra recovery time.


Runner World’s definitive guide to track vernacular

Intervals: Technically, intervals refers to the time you spend recovering between speed segments. But the term commonly refers to track workouts in general, or fast bouts of running.

Recovery: Walking or easy jogging between faster-paced segments. Recovery lets your heart rate return to the point where you’re ready to run fast again, and helps you regain the energy you’ll need for the next burst of speed.

Re peats: The fast segments of running that are repeated during a workout, with recovery in between. If you’re training for a marathon, you might run 1000-meter repeats six times. For shorter races, like 5-Ks, you might do shorter repeats, of 400 meters or so, at your goal race pace.

Split: The time it takes to complete any defined distance. If you’re running 800 meters, or two laps, you might check your split after the first lap to shoot for an even pace.

Strides: Short bursts of speed that increase heart rate and leg turnover. They get your legs ready to run hard. Strides are run near 90 percent of maximum effort for 20 seconds at a time with easy jogging in between.

Circular Logic

Six ways it pays to train in a higher gear

YOU may not have audacious racing goals, but there are still plenty of reasons. to keep a standing date with speed, says exercise physiologist Marius Maianu. He cites these key benefits.

Running a mile burns about 100 calories, but the faster you cover the distance, the sooner you’ll get the burn. An added bonus: High-intensity training keeps your metabolism revved (and calories incinerating) even after the workout is over.

Speedwork gets fast-twitch muscle fibers firing, and recruits more muscles than slow runs do. As you lengthen your stride to sprint, you engage your glutes, hip flexors, and extensors. This improves range of motion and helps alleviate tightness.

When you’re holding a swift pace, your feet turn over at a more rapid rate. So with enough practice, this quicker cadence becomes more natural, which means you’ll need less effort to move faster on any run.

Speed sessions help maximize your aerobic capacity. When you hit a fast pace, you force the heart to pump oxygen through the body at a quicker rate. Over time, that makes your heart stronger, so it can deliver more oxygen to the muscles, and helps your muscles use oxygen more efficiently

By sustaining a comfortably hard effort, you condition your body to hold a faster pace for longer before lactic acid—the waste produced when the body burns glucose—starts accumulating. That helps stave off the burning sensation that’s so often linked with running hard.

Even if you don’t care about getting fast, you’ll enjoy reaping the fitness gains that go along with speedwork. When you’re fitter, you can cover the same miles with less effort and bust through plateaus.

Speedwork in Disguise

25 04 2011

Run hills for more speed

By Amanda McCracken

We demand our muscles to perform at a rate for which they are not conditioned. The truth is, our bodies can’t supply the blood and oxygen that our hip flexors require to meet certain demands. Have you neglected working regular hill drills into your routine? Do you do them but don’t know why? Do you vary the type of workouts you do? How do you approach the hill?

One of the most famous proponents of hill training is Olympic coach Arthur Lydiard. His hill circuit training requires the athlete to bound (focus on horizontal motion) or leap (focus on vertical motion) up the hill. Lydiard concentrated a great deal on hill running form to promote efficiency. Driving the knees, for example, is one aspect on which to focus–as well as toeing-off and slapping the heel to the buttocks.

When done at a slower pace, a runner can focus more on technique and may actually feel more soreness than they expect from drill-like repeats. Consider a weight routine in which you are lifting and lowering the weight more slowly–it hurts more. Gravity is our resistance on the hills.

The first cycle of hill workouts in Lydiard’s ideal season is geared towards strength. It consists of 6-8 repeats on a 1,000-meter moderate incline. As the season progresses and the focus changes to explosive speed, the repeats increase to 8-10 and the length of the hill shrinks to 275 meters. The stride down the hill is always fast but in control.

Before the next hill repeat, Lydiard had his runners run about 250 meters at between 800 and 1,600 pace. For Lydiard, who primarily trained track athletes, hill workouts focused on building mileage after the base phase. However, incorporating hills throughout the season proves an effective way to improve efficiency without peaking too early.
Speed Up
According to Stacy Osborne, an avid runner and podiatrist in the Cincinnati area, many of us don’t address our biomechanics, one of the most controllable aspects of our training and keys to improvement. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the leg on the ground that’s primarily responsible for generating the power for forward velocity.

Rather, it’s the non-weight-bearing leg–the leg in the swing phase–that generates momentum by creating a tug on the runner’s center of gravity as it swings forward. The foot on the ground acts as a lever, and the runner is thus propelled forward. Those muscles responsible for this power stroke, the key hip flexors, are the illiacus, psoas major and psoas minor. These are also some of the most important muscles for cyclists, recruited during the pulling-up phase.

One of the best ways to strengthen those hip flexors and improve the power of our swing phase is with hill repeats. As we gain strength, our chances of getting injured are diminished, and we gain mental confidence. Once you’ve done 15 X 2:00 of a steep hill, 1:00 climbing a similar incline in a race will look like a mole hill. This is because running hills improves speed.

Your effort increases as you run up a hill, even if you reduce your pace. So, in a race, the best way to run a hill is to maintain effort and forget about pace while on the hill–even effort is the surest route to a faster time. Trying to maintain pace on the hill is like surging and varying the body’s perceived effort, which will only tire you prematurely in the long run.

How else can you build tireless, feisty, power strokes using hill workouts? One way to maintain volume is to do hill fartleks (Swedish for “speed play”). Pick a course with hills and focus on surging up the hills. If you’re doing strict hill repeats, try varying the pace. For example, if you are doing four sets of three hills, do the first at 5k pace and the second at 10k pace.

Focus on slow and exaggerated form on the third hill. Instead of varying the pace at which you run, you can vary the hill lengths themselves. If you are working in a group, pair up and run them like a relay such that your rest depends on how long it takes your partner to get up and down the hill.

Should you decide to run hills by time (i.e. 90 seconds on five hills), mark how far you get each time with a rock or little flag. Try to reach or beat that landmark each repeat. It is also good practice to try to surge over and past the crest of the hill.

The mental factor determines how well we run on hills. Many of us see hill repeats as an opportunity to practice conquering or attacking the hill. One tactic is to approach the hill as a friend rather than foe.

Another helpful piece of imagery is to imagine strings attached to your hands–and the string ends tied to a point at the top of the hill. As you pump your arms and thrust your elbows behind you, imagine the strings providing you leverage to pull yourself up more easily. You don’t have to turn your mind off to escape negative, self-defeating talk; instead, recruit your mind to help you.

As runners, triathletes need to recognize the importance of strengthening our hip flexor muscles. Strong flexors help us maintain a grueling pace, attack a hill, kick with speed on the flats, and protect our bodies from injury. They are an integral piece of training year-round and, with variation, can make us more efficient runners and cyclists. Go ahead, be king of the hill!

Amanda McCracken is a USAT Level I certified coach. She can be reached for personal coaching at or D3 Multisport, Inc.

Speedwork: The Bottom Line Is, You Have to Run Fast to Run Fast

25 04 2011

Peter Gambaccini
Metro Sports New York Speedwork. The word itself can send chills down a runner’s spine and cause an aching feeling in the pit of one’s stomach–which is mild compared to what you’ll feel when you actually begin doing speedwork.

Whether you’re a casual runner or looking to come in two hours behind the winners of the New York City Marathon, you should–after achieving a moderate level of fitness–incorporate some kind of rapid, shorter repeats into your training regimen.

If establishing a distance base is the cake, speedwork is the icing. This columnist has interviewed most of the top male and female distance runners in the country, and variations on two pertinent themes repeatedly arise:

  1. The athlete describes a promising, eye-opening early season performance and then adds, “Of course, that was before I had even done any speedwork.”
  2. When asked to explain why they are getting much better results than a year ago, the response will be “I’ve increased my intensity” — which means they’re doing more well-planned and well-executed speed sessions.

The reasons to do speedwork are so simple they almost seem simple-minded. In order to run fast, you have to run fast. Slogging through one slow, long-distance session after another can only help you improve so much. You need to do something as quick, or quicker, than your targeted race pace.

That merely means that an athlete hoping to run 46:00 in the 10K, approximately a 7:30-per-mile average, needs to run something faster than a 7:30 pace in practice. That means half-miles in better than 3:45 or quarters under 1:52. When broken down into those kind of segments, the task of doing speed sounds less daunting, doesn’t it?

Speedwork encourages a runner to focus, to make workouts meaningful, to concentrate in a way that approaches the mindset of a race itself. What’s more notable, and just as important, is the positive effect speedwork will have on your running form. You’ll be purposeful. You’ll have an erect posture, not a slouch. There will be a bounce to your stride, which will itself lengthen.

You’ll find yourself pushing off harder with every step. The prerequisites of speedwork, like the mandate to run hard and in the proper form until the end of each interval, can carry over to race situations and abet athletes who’ve had a tendency to fade in the latter stages.

Speed workouts can be conservative at first. At the end of a regular workout, you might–assuming, for mathematical reasons, that you’re that theoretical 46:00 10K person — try 800 meters on the track or the Central Park Reservoir oval in 3:35, a bit quicker than the 3:45 you average for each 800 of that 10,000.

As you build up slowly, you can do a variety of speed sessions. Try 4×800 in 3:35, with slow recovery jogs of the same 3:35 in between each one. Try 6×400 in 1:40. For strength, try three times a mile in 7:20, with recoveries of equal time in between each interval. It may not be long before these targeted times seem modest, and you’ll adjust them accordingly.

If the image of a track, or even stepping onto a track, is intimidating or not feasible, one alternative is “fartlek.” In Swedish, it means “speed play,” and it involves running sections of a longer workout at a faster than normal pace. A five-mile road workout that is mostly done at an 8:00 pace, for example, could include perhaps four segments of 2:00 each run considerably faster.

Of course, you’ll need a watch for all of that. But some runners prefer an option that doesn’t need to be timed. They’ll stay out on the roads and do their speedier running by counting traffic lights or telephone poles. They’ll sprint for three traffic lights, recover slowly for three, and sprint again for three more. It may be a bit more exhilarating and liberating than conventional track work.

No matter what your favorite distance, speedwork will help you get through it more efficiently and even more enjoyably. Add it to your regimen by small increments; doing too much at once, obviously, can lead to injury.

Not by leaps, but certainly by bounds, you’ll be more buoyant, much stronger. The confidence and preparedness you bring to the starting line will yield results that may even astound you.