How to Add Pacing and Speed Drills to Your Run Workout

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A Marine executes a 25-yard sprint at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, June 27, 2018.
FILE PHOTO -- A Marine executes a 25-yard sprint at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, June 27, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Noah Rudash)

Here's a workout that's very difficult for everyone at all levels of fitness because running 400 meters (one lap around the track) at progressively faster paces requires significant effort. This workout may seem easy at first, because it requires you to run slower than you typically jog.

The beauty of this pacing pyramid is that it can be adjusted for beginners, intermediate and advanced runners. You will want to spend some time warming up, even though the progressive nature of the reverse time pyramid is a partial warmup.

See below for the full workout with warmup, a progressive-max out and cooldown.

Warmup

Warm up the legs with a short jog, mixed with dynamic stretches between levels of a squat pyramid from 1-10.

1 squat, jog 50 meters with 10-15 meters being a variety of dynamic stretches (see ideas)

2 squats, jog 50 meters with 10-15 meters being a variety of dynamic stretches

3 squats, jog 50 meters with 10-15 meters being a variety of of dynamic stretches

Continue this ladder up until you reach 10 squats.

This warmup yields a total of 55 squats. If that volume is difficult for you, try stopping at level 5. After the half pyramid (or ladder) to five or 10, jog one mile or bike 10 minutes to complete the warmup phase. Mix in some static or dynamic leg stretches if you are feeling tight.

Pacing Drills

Do the first 400-meter run at your typical jogging pace. Let's say your normal pace is an eight-minute mile. Do the first set of 400-meter timed pyramid runs in two minutes and continue to get faster by 10 seconds each set until you fail to meet that standard. This workout is scalable. You can also start this at 2:30 for your first 400 meters if your jog pace is a 10-minute mile.

  • Set 1: 400 meters at two minutes
  • Set 2: 400 meters at 1:50
  • Set 3: 400 meters at 1:40
  • Set 4: 400 meters at 1:30
  • Set 5: 400 meters at 1:20
  • Set 6: 400 meters at 1:10
  • Set 7: 400 meters as fast as you can (one minute?).

Repeat this set in reverse order from the point where you failed to meet the time. If you failed to get 1:20 on the fifth set, you can try one more time, but after that, return in reverse order to 1:30, 1:40, 1:50 and two minutes.

Rest is important during this workout. You need to take at least a one-minute breather between sets. If you need more than one minute to recover, make it an active recovery by doing core or abs exercises, like crunches, sit-ups, plank pose, flutter kicks or hip raises, for another minute or so.

By the way, it is rare to see anyone manage a 60-second, 400-meter run after this volume of fast running, so do not feel bad if you fail at any level. Keep adding to this workout once a week and see how you progress in the next month.

You will learn how to pace yourself to run slower in the earlier sets and learn how to drop an eight-minute mile pace to a six-minute or faster mile pace.

Cooldown

After the progressive timing pyramid above, do the squat pyramid you did as a warmup in reverse. Start where you left off (five or 10) and mix in some stretches between decreasing your reps until you're back to one squat.

Try this workout weekly for a month and notice how quickly it gets easier, as well as how your timed runs improve. You'll have a better ability to run faster and learn how to pace properly. This will make goal-pace running, as well as negative splitting options, easier during testing for your next timed run.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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