During the "good old days" of speed workouts on the PJC or UWF track, before the rise to coach-dom (coach-dumb?) I gave little or no thought to the ratio or hard efforts to recovery. Well, it wasn't necessarily my job to think about it. That's why I had a coach, right? Over time, as I started to look at stuff like total mileage per workout, relative intensities, and my (decreasing as a result of the aging process) ability to recover from the workout, I began to ask "what is the right ratio of 'fresh,' 'good build-up,' 'good,' and even 'hard' efforts to recovery running?"
Of course, the ratio of each type of effort isn't etched in stone, but dependent on the individual runner's level of fitness - or tendency toward injury, their ability to recover from hard efforts - a function of fitness level, and race focus. Some coaches, like Arthur Lydiard, were all about the base training first, then adding speed. Others feel the other way around is best; work on speed once the initial race fitness is built, a fast short distance runner can become a fast long-distance runner over time. Once again, each runner is an experiment of one. I like the structure of base-building followed over time with a modicum of speedwork.
Still the question presents itself: How much speedwork is a good thing?
I first went back to my books to see what Jack Daniels' had to say. Daniels earlier plans in his first edition of the Running Formula broke things down into four cycles, for which I won't go into detail. If you want to read it I recommend a copy of his book, either in paperback or on e-reader.
I borrowed from his four sets of six-week training cycles to draw up my training for the next six months leading into a half marathon in late May. The first six weeks were mostly easy aerobic-paced runs. Once the second six-week cycle began, I plugged in runs at threshhold (what I used to call "fresh") pace, either as 400-meter, kilometer, or mile repeats with brief recovery periods, or as something Daniels called "cruise intervals," another nice term for tempo runs. Threshhold running, Daniels recommends, should be no more than about ten percent of the training volume. At this point that's only one speed workout a week.
The faster paces Daniels uses to work on VO2max, his "interval" and "repeat" paces, are also only small portions of the total training volume, that of eight percent and five percent, respectively. So, an experienced runner using any of Daniels' training plans would be doing not much more than ten miles a week in speedwork. Three-quarters of the time is spent running at either "easy," "long," or "marathon" pace.
I guess where I'm heading to with this is this:
There's a time and a place for the speed, but it's probably not as much as wethink we need.