Speed – Good or Bad?

Speed – Good or Bad?

Speed – Good or Bad?


Every so often, I discover that a “fact” my clinical experience tells me is true is contradicted by evidence found in the scientific literature. The relationship between speedwork and injuries is a good example of this

Researchers have contended for years, without much controversy, that the great majority of running injuries (60-80%, depending on your source) can be blamed on training errors. The most common interpretation of this term is “too much, too soon.” Most of the time, the emphasis in on the first part, as in too much mileage, too many hills, too much speedwork. (The “too soon” part is not quite as certain, with some investigators finding an inverse relationship between running experience and injuries and others reporting no association at all.) The remainder of injuries is attributed to poor footwear and/or biomechanical problems.

My experience with runners over the years has done nothing to contradict this conventional wisdom. Clearly, those who run mega-miles and monster hills seem more prone to overuse injuries. Additionally, my sense has always been that speedwork – interval training on the track especially – predisposes runners to a variety of injuries, with the tendinitis variety being the most common. A review of the literature of the past 30 years, however, appears to negate this assumption. While almost all studies on the subject confirm the connection between higher mileage and incidence of injury. I could find only one that listed hard interval training as a risk factor. The others actually claim speedwork has no relationship to onset of injuries!

Concocting a rationale to explain how so many scholarly investigators could so obviously be wrong requires some fancy footwork. Here’s my best shot:

A review of my data-banks (i.e., my fading long-term memory) points to an interesting phenomenon: most of what I believe to be speedwork related injuries in Syracuse occur between November and April. I suspect the reason for this can be summed up in one word – Manley Field House! My guesstimate is that 80-90% of speedwork injuries I see during a year occurs during training in this venue as opposed to outdoor tracks. Truly, Manley has been very, very good – to me!

On the one hand, we runners in snowy, cold Central New York can be thankful for the access we enjoy during our six months of winter to this sanctuary from the elements. On the other hand, I believe the track in Manley puts us at greater risk for injury because of several factors:

  • The track surface is old and hard.
  • The 200 meter distance makes for tighter turns than outdoor tracks.
  • The curves are unbanked.
  • The majority of the circuit is on the curves.

Now that spring is at hand, with warmer weather and longer days beckoning us to the Coyne and Sunnycrest outdoor tracks, we can rest a little easier with our decreased risk for injury. For those who will be staying indoors until winter subsides sometime in mid-June, and for all of us next winter, here are some suggestions for minimizing that risk when training in Manley.

  • Limit speedwork sessions to 3 every two weeks.
  • If possible, train on the outside lane. (7 laps to the mile/1600, give or take a few yards/meters – close enough!)
  • If possible, alternate direction every two intervals.
  • Wear training, not racing, flats for training sessions – even tempo runs.
  • When training with partners, run your own cadence and stride. It is easy to unconsciously get caught up in matching someone else’s running pattern when trying to keep up. This is a recipe for injury.

As always, the key to injury prevention is to train smart, train with long-term goals in mind, and listen to your body. If it is telling you that speedwork is hurting you, believe it – nevermind what the “experts” say.

Gabe Yankowitz

Gabe is a long-time runner and physical therapist currently practicing in Manlius. Gabe is a physical therapist in Central New York for the past 35 years, specializing in orthopedic treatment and rehabilitation. His website is www.gaberun.com

  • Physical therapy degree from Upstate Medical Center (1983)
  • Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions  (2007)
  • Board-Certification as Clinical Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy (2009).