Local Options for Speed Training


If you ask coaches around the Chicago area about one of the biggest benefits of speed training, their answer may surprise you: it’s fun.

“Speed training has a social component to it,” Bill Leach, a coach with the Chicago Area Runners Association, says. “You’re on a track running with other people. It returns you to a childlike type of fun.”

“From a running perspective, it’s probably the greatest bonding workout for us because it incorporates everyone from the 14-minute miler to the six-minute miler,” Mike Brunette, who heads up the Libertyville Running Club, says. “They’re all out on the track encouraging each other.”

Of course, speed training also yields important physical benefits. For 5K runners all the way through marathoners, repetitive bursts at a faster pace help to build critical strength for race conditions.

“Endurance comes before speed, but I think speed is a very important component because it builds confidence in the runner,” Brendan Cournane, a Chicago-based running coach, says. “Speed is an important part of endurance. You learn what it’s like to run on tired legs.”

Several groups and coaches organize speed training in Chicagoland. Here are some local organizations with speed training programs:

CARA | cararuns.org

Runners competing at a variety of distances come to CARA for speed training to, as Leach puts it, develop a “more efficient form of running. [Speed training] tends to neutralize the negative effects of running more slowly. Having something that returns you to a more efficient, mechanical element is very useful.”

Leach’s speed workouts involve, among other things, doing repeats at various distances, such as 10 200-meter runs followed by recovery intervals. His 5K, half marathon and marathon runners typically have one speed workout per week, either at the newly built track at Wilson and Lake Shore Drive or at Diversey Harbor, where he marks out distances.

CARA attracts sizable groups for its speed training, anywhere from about 20 to 75 people depending on the time of year. CARA training program members have free access to Leach’s speed training. Otherwise, training costs $150 for CARA members and $200 for non-members.

Brendan Cournane | coachbrendan.com

Cournane views speed training as an important part of developing good form. His workouts take place at Cricket Hill at Wilson and Lake Shore Drive, the running track at Wilson and Lake Shore Drive or North Avenue Beach, and for sound reasons.

“I divide speed training into roughly three pieces,” he says. “The first is base and strength buildup, where we run at a slower pace but do most of our hill and beach runs. Then we move into sharpening things, which is mostly on the track. Those are mostly time intervals. The third phase is where we focus on having the runners recognize what their full or half-marathon pace is by running one-, two- or three-mile intervals at their projected race pace.”

In the summertime, he attracts some fairly serious marathoners, those who are going for sub-four hour and even sub-three hour times. An 18-week speed training program costs $175.

Dick Pond Fast Track | fasttrackracingteam.com

This program operates out of several different Dick Pond store locations, including in Carol Stream, Hoffman Estates, Lisle, Park Ridge and St. Charles. The groups draw a variety of runners—from the young to the old, the recreational to the super fast and the 5K to the marathon competitors.

Christine Bell, a volunteer with the Lisle outlet, says her team primarily focuses on training for fall marathons. As with many organizations, her team meets once a week at Benet Academy in Lisle for workouts that involve repeats at various distances.

“The biggest benefit to the speed training workouts is that you’re making your body go at a faster pace than what you do all week long,” she says. “It’s a good contrast, and it’s also social and supportive.”

Any runner can join the Fast Track Racing Team for $20, which includes weekly speed training. Non-members can also join Fast Track on speed workouts for $1 per night.

Best Foot Forward | bestfootforwardrunners.tumblr.com

Drawing runners primarily from Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, Best Foot Forward is a women-only organization. The group ranges from beginners who simply want to make running part of their exercise routine to those who are looking to gain a competitive edge.

Nevertheless, the speed workouts remain similar for almost everyone. “We don’t tailor it to specific groups of people,” Liz Stetson, the club’s vice president and the person who helps to coordinate the speed training, says. “We do anywhere from 400-meter to 1,500-meter repeats. For newbies, I give them shorter repeats to get them conditioned.”

Best Foot Forward’s season runs from around April to late September, and the speed workouts are staged every Tuesday at the track at Concordia University in River Forest. It costs $10 to join the club.

Libertyville Running Club | facebook.com/groups/LibertyvilleRunningClub

The Libertyville Running Club, now in its second year, prides itself on its relatively laidback approach. For example, the club provides snacks such as watermelon and chicken wings for runners to munch on following their speed workouts.

“I think the social aspect is huge,” Brunette, whose club meets on Tuesdays from June through August at the Libertyville High School track, says. “There are certainly some clubs that are focused more on getting the most out of their athletes, but our whole goal is to get people in the community to come out and meet people whom maybe they haven’t met.”

Between the snacking and chitchat, members have real opportunities to improve, undergoing repeats that range from 800 meters for runners preparing for shorter races to one-milers for those training for full marathons. Club membership is free.


Speed Training Warm Ups

The most important part of speed training takes place before the workout even begins. We’re talking, of course, about warming up.

“I really emphasize warming up during our track workouts,” Stetson says. “It takes about 20 minutes. It’s really important to be warmed up. You don’t want to pull a muscle or injure yourself in some other way.”

The warmup process for most clubs typically begins with an easygoing jog of about 10 minutes. From there, coaches utilize exercises targeting the various muscles runners will use during the workout

For Brunette, this involves, “100-meter strides, a little light stretching and walking lunges.”

Stetson, meanwhile, prescribes dynamic stretching drills such as butt kicks and hamstring stretches. “Afterward,” she says, “we do at least two strides to get your fast-twitch muscles ready to work.”

Leach incorporates various drills that help to produce optimal running mechanics on the track.

Whatever the course of action, warmups have the same goal: to build the foundation for a workout that is both productive and injury-free.