As Hard as 1, 2, 3: Road Speed Work Sets

A running track with numbers painted on it.

If you want to race fast, you need to run fast.

But, not all of us can (or want) to get to a track to do our speed work. When running on the road, measuring exact distances can be tricky, especially when satellites don’t want to cooperate.

This workout helps you adapt your speed work for running on the road by using time-based sets.

In this workout, we feature a ladder-style build in duration. The intensity for these efforts changes slightly with the duration, but all of them are run in what will feel traditionally “hard.”

These sets will work your top-end cardiovascular fitness, and can be implemented into any training plan – from short to long course – as a harder effort day. Additionally, these sets can also offer a great “tune-up” during the taper, to keep your body sharp for race day.

If you have never done speed work before (or it has been a while since you have), you should start on the shorter end of the sets – attempting to do the sequence 1 or 2 times. For those of you who are more experienced and acclimated to speedwork, you can go through the sequence up to 6 times. The number of sets you do should also be relevant to where you are in your training plan and the training demands of your upcoming races.

The key to this workout is to keep the hard truly hard, and the easy truly easy.


  • 10-15 minutes easy, @ about 65-70% of your max effort (or 70-80% of your threshold effort). This should feel like a 5-6 in RPE (out of 10).
  • 5 x 20 second strides, 40 seconds easy. (A stride is a brief acceleration in speed, that focuses on your footwork and prepares your body for the work to come. These are NOT done as sprints. You run the first 1/3 building to about 90% max speed, hold max for middle third, then decelerate in the final third.)


You can do anywhere from 1-6x the following ladder builds. Remember: if this is your first time doing a workout like this – stick to 1 time through! If you have experience doing track work, select the number of sets that matches your experience and training needs.

  • 1 minute @ 95% max effort
  • 1 minute EASY – walk for 30 seconds, then into a super LIGHT jog for remaining 30 seconds
  • 2 minutes @ 90%-95% max effort
  • 2 minutes EASY – walk for 1 minute, then super light jog for the remaining minute
  • 3 minutes @ 90% max effort
  • 3 minutes EASY – walk for 1 minute, then super light jog for the remaining 2 minutes


Easy effort anywhere from 10-30 minutes, as you need for your training.

Enjoy the day long rush of endorphins!

If you have questions about how to apply this workout, or speed work generally, into your training. Contact us! We offer free initial consultations.

As Hard as 1, 2, 3: Road Speed Work Sets
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