This excerpt is from SpeedRunner: 4 Weeks to Your Fastest Leg Speed in Any Sport by legendary running coach Pete Magill. In SpeedRunner, Magill reveals his 4-week training plan to make any athlete a faster runner. With Magill’s championship-winning workouts, athletes will focus on strength, agility, and acceleration to find a performance edge in any sport: running, triathlon, football, soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, and other team sports.
Speed for Distance Runners
In my decades of coaching, writing about running, and competing in races from 400 meters to the half-marathon, I’ve noticed one universal characteristic of distance runners: We can turn any workout—I mean any workout—into a distance run. Tell distance runners to do hill sprints, and we’ll jog 400 yards between reps. Ask us to train in the weight room, and we’ll tag 5 miles on afterward. And that’s a problem. Because turning those workouts into distance runs negates most of their value, and because speedwork and resistance training are essential for running your best.
Exercise scientist Tim Noakes, MD, in his Lore of Running (considered the bible of distance running research), notes that “the ability to produce force rapidly when the foot is on the ground, thereby maintaining a short ground contact time, is a factor predicting 5-km running time,” and that “explosive-type strength training may improve running performance as a result of neuromuscular adaptations.” He later concludes that “the fastest athletes in endurance events of 5 km or longer tend also to be faster over the short distances from 100 m to 1500 m.” A 2016 meta-analysis looked at studies involving high-level middle- and long-distance runners whose training included lower-body resistance exercises, plyometrics, and short sprints. The study’s authors concluded that this high-intensity training “showed a large, beneficial effect.” They recommended a “strength training program including low to high intensity resistance exercises and plyometric exercises performed 2 to 3 times per week.”
I’ve personally used resistance training, plyometrics, hills, drills, and sprints since I began competing as a masters distance runner in 2002. In the interim, I’ve set American 5K age group records for men’s 45–49 (14:34), 50–54 (15:02), plus 55–59 (15:42), as well as accumulating age-group records at other distances and six USA masters XC overall individual titles.
Bottom line: If you’re a distance runner who isn’t training strength and speed, you’re getting beaten by a distance runner who is.
SpeedRunner offers distance runners a once-per-week schedule for four weeks to improve their speed. The sample week below highlights the exercises and drills you’ll do in one session. Refer to the book for detailed instruction and photos.
Week 1 of the Distance Runner Once-Per-Week Schedule
Jogging, 10–15 min.
After each drill, jog back to the start, stride at 90% effort the same distance as the drill, then walk back to the start.
Standing Starts (forward sprints only), 1 rep each leg
Hill Sprints and Stadium Steps, 2 reps
1–2 min. rest after each rep, 3 min. rest before strength circuit
Heel Dips, 10 reps each side
Leg Lifts, 10–20 reps
Nordic Curls, 5 reps (or Single-Leg Deadlifts, 5 reps each side)
30 sec. rest between exercises, 1 min. rest between circuits
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In SpeedRunner, celebrated running coach Pete Magill reveals his 4-week training plan to make any athlete a faster runner—no matter the sport, age, gender, experience, or goals. In SpeedRunner, Magill reveals his 4-week training plan to make any athlete a faster runner. With Magill’s championship-winning workouts, athletes will focus on strength, agility, and acceleration to find a performance edge in any sport: running, triathlon, football, soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, and other team sports.