Imagine you’re planning your next 100 mile race, you’re writing the training, planning the long runs, figuring weekly mileage, detailing the specifics of the taper and deciding if any shorter tune up races would benefit you. The process is a lot like cooking Thanksgiving dinner–there is a lot to think about, and everything has to be timed perfectly. If you forget something the result will leave a bad taste in your mouth and might make your friends not want to come over again (OK hopefully not). Speed is the salt of any training program. You do not need much, but a little will make a big difference.

Now the words “speed work” might bring to mind blistering 400 meter repeats on the track, pulling out the track spikes, or punishing mile repeats.  Luckily for all of us, and your hamstrings, that’s not what I’m talking about.

If you run 100 miles in 24 hours your average pace will be well over 14 minutes per mile.  No one needs speed work to run a 14 minute mile.  Remember in that 24 hours there is time you are stopped at aid stations, in the bushes for various reasons, crossing rivers, napping in the trail, so maybe your average running pace is actually under 14 minute miles… still no reason to do speed work if you’re running 12-13 minute miles. Speed work for ultras isn’t so much being able to run 6 minute pace, it’s more about making those 8-25 minute miles easier and more efficient.

First off, What does speed work actually do?

Different types of speed create different responses in the body. Essentially this type of training will help you become more efficient, mechanically sound, aid in the ability to better transport oxygen, amd simply make you feel faster.

OK, that sounds reasonable. How do I implement this into my training?

Strides: The most overlooked component of speed.  4-8X100 meters a couple times a week after your run will make you faster and more biomechanically efficient.  You’re not Usain Bolt, keep within yourself. Remember to run fast but smooth and efficient, don’t overdo it. If you are Usain Bolt, Wow! Thanks for reading my blog and you are welcome on the trails anytime.

Hill Repeats: No these aren’t measured in 1000’s of vertical feet, they are measured in seconds… I know for many of you if you can see the top, it isn’t a hill.  You will have to rein in your ultra instincts a bit here.  On these just run 20-45 seconds up a grade of  between 6-12%.  The focus is form, smooth arms, crisp step, head up.  They should feel quick but not particularity taxing.


Intervals: Getting on the track might have been a nightmare for you in the past.  But sitting in an aid station for 6 hours is a bigger nightmare.  Intervals from 400 meters to a mile don’t have to be an all out, gut busting, soul crushing effort to create a benefit. In fact, they shouldn’t be.  Lock into a fast, hard but smooth and efficient effort that is maintainable for the duration of the workout.  It’s always better to go shorter on the recovery intervals than faster on the actual interval.

Threshold and Tempo Training: Tempos are possibly the most important component to trail running because they build massive aerobic strength.  These should be solid efforts but again very, very controlled.  These vary in length depending on ability and training volume but can be between 15 minutes and an hour. Pace again varies on terrain, conditions, and ability, but for most of us should be around marathon race pace.

Just run fast:  Ultrarunners often think they haven’t had a workout unless they have run 4 hours or climbed 8000 vertical feet.  This isn’t the case. Just running a couple warm up miles followed by 3-5 miles pretty hard can make a big difference. Sure, it’s not real specific but getting your heart rate up and your legs turning over faster than normal will make your ultra race pace feel like a jog in the park. The race itself…well probably won’t feel much like a jog in the park, but consistently utilizing faster work in your training plan will make you better in the long run and for the long run.


Radical changes to training usually yield injuries or poor results. But, minor improvements over time will help you become a better runner.  With a little luck and some smart training, these methods can help you spend less time on the trail, and more time enjoying the post race festivities.