We crave it.
We dream about it.
We make goals trying to achieve it.
We are amazed by it.
We think about it. Constantly.
We envy it.
We work hard to get it.
We buy all kinds of equipment that we think will increase it freely.
We ingest a multitude of products and supplements to contribute to it.
We read/watch/write about it.
We research it.
We are never satisfied with it.
Speed. Kind of like the object you really want stuck under the couch, way towards the back and you stretch your arm, straining to reach it, fingertips almost touching it...almost.... That's the way I think of it sometimes. If you think back, there were many times you did get it. That blissful race, the one where you felt powerful, strong, fast, where everything came together. It's an amazing feeling, addictive. You want to repeat that performance but faster next time. Such is the life of the competitive athlete and it doesn't matter where you are in the pack, I think it's human nature to want to be faster than we currently are. It's also the beauty of the training program. Done correctly and with proper recovery, a training program can result in significant speed gains. Of course at the beginning the PR's come quickly and the times drop by huge chunks. As we begin to reach our potential, those PR's become a little bit harder to attain, a minute or two, sometimes just a handful of seconds but it's faster and that's what we were after. Time can be speed's friend or foe. It takes time to properly train to achieve speed gains and then it's time that robs us of us of overall speed as we age.
Here is the best piece of advice I can give you concerning speed: you need a proper foundation. Without a solid aerobic base, speed training is like making a sand castle either too close to the water's edge where it completely dissolves in an oncoming wave or without enough water on soft sand and when you turn he bucket over the tower just collapses. In our case it ends up as an overtraining injury or illness. Build your base, make sure you have enough miles in on the bike or on foot. The amount of miles depends on your current fitness but a good rule of thumb is to hold a particular amount of mileage for three to four weeks during base before increasing. Allow the body to make the adaptions necessary. With a solid base, you can tolerate speed training without breaking down. Run or bike at the appropriate speed too. If your marathon PR is a 4:20, you have no business doing repeats at 6 min/mile pace, it's erroneous thinking that such a large increase will automatically make you faster. In fact the only thing it will do is cause tissue damage from recruiting muscle fibers that do not have enough mitochondria to produce the energy needed to sustain such a pace. Once of the major adaptions that occurs with proper aerobic conditioning is an increase in the cell's "powerhouses", the mitochondria that breakdown oxygen, glycogen and fatty acids into the ATP necessary for muscle contraction. The more trained you are, the more mitochondria you have, the more efficiently you use oxygen and the more economical you become. This is the beauty of periodization. Base train first, wisely, and then the speed development can begin.