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WHY SPEED WORK IS IMPORTANT FOR AN ULTRA

by Derick Marcisz
15 May 2018


At this time of year many runners – especially those training for the Comrades Marathon - ask the same question: Why do speed work and/or tempo running when training for an Ultra? Running coach and 2:17 marathoner Derick Marcisz explains.
 
Why do any faster running than the pace you will be running the Ultra? Surely there is no benefit in running 5min/km when you will be running Comrades at 7min/km? It is a known fact that elite ultra marathoners have always done speed work. The King of Comrades himself and 9 times Comrades winner Bruce Fordyce used to do a session that is one of my favourites in our Jeppe training program: 4 x 1km repeats at faster than 5km race pace with 3 minutes recovery jog.
 
I personally believe all ultra athletes can benefit from tempo/speed sessions, especially during the longer taper that are needed for an Ultra. Speed/fast training allows us to overload our body for short periods of time, and because this is shorter than running long, the recovery is quick, and that’s also why it is a good fitness builder during the sharpening and taper phase of training.

The main benefits I believe are:
1. Increases your aerobic pace  – Simply put the faster you can run over the short distances the faster you will run a marathon or ultra. I see this often in our training: when runners improves their 21km time, they also mange to run faster marathons and faster ultras soon after.
2. Increases your max aerobic capacity – Running faster also improves your VO2 max which is your maximum aerobic capacity, which is largely genetic. Many runners will note that their Garmin watches show this improvement after high intensity sessions like the 1km repeat session.
3. Improves your running form – Running fast forces you to run as economically as possible both from a form perspective and oxygen usage ability. The more economically you run the further you will be able to run at a faster pace.
4. Improves leg muscle strength and flexibility – Running faster means our muscles go through a greater range of movement. Having a greater range of movement and muscle strength will help greatly as you tire in the second half of an ultra.
5. Running fast is fun – We all like to run “fast” and it is fun. The fact that the sessions are short means there is no long-term fatigue.
 
For me there was always something really satisfying going out and running fast for a short period of time and feeling great afterwards, as opposed to doing a longer run which often leaves you fatigued needing a few days to recover.
 
So lets see you all out there doing the speed sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next 3 weeks leading up to Comrades.
 
The author Derick Marcisz has been coaching for more than 20 years and has been an athlete for 47 years. He has excelled as a runner, cyclist and triathlete and has a marathon PB of 02:17.17.



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