Need for Speed / Mill Race Marathon athletes gain edge with speed workouts

Although Usain Bolt-type foot speed isn’t necessary for distance runners, those preparing to run in this year’s Mill Race Marathon still are interested in speed workouts.

Athletes looking to post fast times in the marathon, half marathon or 5K race aren’t training for 10-second 100 meters. However, Jennings County boys cross-country coach Bryant Layman said speed workouts prepare distance runners for the different changes in pace and helps with explosiveness during the middle and end of a longer race.

Depending on the race, local high school cross-county coaches have recommended 400-meter, 800-meter, 1,000-meter or mile repeats for those training for the 5K race up to the full marathon.

Alejandro Contreras heads the Mill Race Marathon training sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Tuesdays being reserved for speedwork on the Central Middle School track. He also leads long runs on Saturday mornings.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Contreras creates different track workouts depending on what he is trying to accomplish with the runners on that day. His go-to workout when focusing on foot speed is fartleks around the track in 200-meter increments. Obviously, the longer training runs are important for distance runners to maintain a strong base, which is why Contreras focuses on that during the Thursday and Saturday sessions. The speed workouts do more than just improve foot speed, though.

“The speedwork helps your body deal with the lactic acid that starts to build up during runs,” said Ryan Burke, the boys cross-country coach at Columbus East, “The more you can experience that during the workouts, the better off you’re going to be in a race.”

Spending time on speed workouts also helps with building the proper running form. Contreras said improving a runner’s form consequently increases the speed, and the track workouts help improve the athlete’s coordination.

The best form is executed when runners focus on using their core when running.

“When you are running with the right form, using your core as a base, the effort is minimal,” Contreras said. “When you are running kind of tired, leaning too much forward (making it) difficult to breathe, it’s a lot of effort and a lot of wasted energy.”

Stephanie McKinney, who will turn 50 next month, just picked up the sport in May and plans on running the 5K on Sept. 22. She also is toying with the idea of running in a half marathon.

McKinney said the agility and strength training to go with the breathing techniques she’s learned during the track workouts have helped her significantly in her overall training. Vresun Bieswess, who will be running the Mill Race half marathon, said he can feel how the track workouts have impacted his long distance runs.

“I can actually feel my stamina growing up vastly, Bieswess said. “It just can’t be the one Saturday of long running. It has to do something with the (workouts) that we are doing in our tempo runs and strength running, the speed running and everything. It’s actually helping me with the muscles and getting used to the breathing when we are getting exhausted.”

Nearly two months still are left for preparation for runners participating in the Mill Race Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K, and the training schedule will involve more than long distance endurance runs for many of them.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

The Sixth Annual Mill Race Marathon, half marathon and 5K will be Sept. 22. The races begin and end on Washington Street just north of downtown Columbus.

Fees are $80 for the marathon, $65 for the half marathon and $25 for the 5K through Aug. 31. From Sept. 1 through Sept. 20, the prices increase to $95 for the marathon, $80 for the half marathon and $30 for the 5K. At packet pickup on Sept. 21 and 22, it’s $110 for the marathon, $95 for the half marathon and $35 for the 5K.

Registration and other info is available at