Running uphill

10 Simple Speed Sessions For Beginners

Mastering a 10k is as much about speeding up as it is about going the distance. Try these beginner-friendly speed workouts to quicken up in time for Race Day – and to avoid injury make sure each session is preceded by a thorough warm-up.

1. Introduction to intervals

Running at speed is tough at first, especially if you’re used to one-paced runs that keep your heart rate relatively low. With that in mind, it’s best to ease your way into the world of intervals – classic speed sessions that combine high-intensity running with periods of rest – with some shorter efforts. If you’re completely new to speed work, try the following:

  • 20secs fast, 60secs walk, repeat x 10.

The 20-second efforts should be quick, but controlled – maintain good running form, and if you’re completely spent after the first one, you need to slow down.

2. Fast-finish 5k

In any race, the ‘negative split’ is a sign of good pacing (or a very slow start, but usually the former). All this means is that you run the second half quicker than the first, and it’s desirable because it protects against running out of steam early on in a race. To get used to a faster finish, give the following session a go:

  • Run 1.5 miles at a steady, conversational pace (try to find a route free of traffic); turn around and aim to complete the return journey 10 to 20 seconds quicker.

3. Minute on, minute off

Once you’re a bit more used to the intensity of intervals, you can begin to increase the duration for improved speed endurance. A simple, but effective, session is as follows:

  • 60secs quick, 60secs walk, repeat x 6-10.

The quick minutes should be run at your 5k pace or slightly quicker, but make sure you leave enough in the tank to complete the session. Aim for six reps to begin with and work your way up to 10 in total.

4. Two minutes on, one minute off

To improve your ability to get up to speed, and stay there, you can increase the duration of intervals even further:

  • 2mins quick, 60-90secs walk, repeat x 4-8.

Running at pace for two minutes is likely to feel tough at first, so aim for four or five repetitions to start with, then work up to six to eight.

5. Pyramid session

So-called because you start at a shorter duration, and build your way up to the longest (the peak of the pyramid), before working back down again. Pyramid sessions are great because they help you work on your all-out speed, as well as your speed endurance, in one 20 to 30-minute window. The following session is guaranteed to get you race ready:

  • 30secs quick (60secs rest), 45secs quick (60secs rest), 60secs quick (60secs rest), 75secs quick (60secs rest), 90secs quick (60secs rest).

Once you’ve run the 90-second effort, rest 60 seconds and work your way back down until you reach the 30-second effort.

6. Fartlek

Fartlek training is less structured and more continuous than intervals. It will test your speed endurance, as well as your mental strength and ability to pick up the pace on cue. To begin with, simply go for a four to six-mile run at steady, conversational pace. On that run, aim to include four ‘surges’ of three to five minutes. These should be between 10k and half marathon pace, and make sure you continue running rather than coming to a standstill at the end of each effort.

7. 20-minute tempo

Tempo runs build speed, strength and, crucially, get you used to the effort required for your 10k race. Your tempo pace should be the pace you hope to run on Race Day – or if that feels too quick to begin with, slow it down slightly. The point is, you should be running at a controlled intensity that’s quicker than your go-to pace. Start with a 10 to 15-minute effort, followed by a light jog for five minutes, and progress to 20 minutes at tempo.

8. Hill sprints

Mention of hill sprints is enough to strike fear into even the most experienced runners, but they’re so effective precisely because they’re so tough. Regularly including inclines will boost your all-round fitness and strengthen your leg muscles so they fatigue less easily. There’s a psychological benefit to be had, too: on Race Day the flat course will feel a lot more manageable when you compare it to the hills you’ve been training on. The following session is a good place to start:

  • 60secs quick, walk back to the start, repeat x 5-10.

Find a hill that you can run continuously up for 60 seconds. Take care not to set off too quickly – you don’t want to make this session any harder than it already is.

9. Tired-legs test

Learning to pick up the pace even when your legs are tired will prove highly useful for the closing stages of your 10k. The following session will get you used to the feeling of fatigue, and enable you to push on regardless:

  • 2 x 800m at slightly quicker than 5k pace (2min rest between efforts); 5k at steady, conversational pace (2min rest); 2 x 800m (2min rest); 2 x 400m at one-mile pace (90secs rest).

10. 800m intervals

Once you’ve conquered the above session, you can have a go at one devoted entirely to 800m intervals: a true test of your speed and ability to stick to a set pace even when your legs and lungs are on fire. Aim to complete each interval at a pace that’s somewhere between your one-mile and 5k pace:

  • 800m x 6-10, rest 2mins between efforts.