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Speedwork Drills, Adaptation, and Perspective (Marathon Training)

Marathon training is all about the right combination of endurance and effort, adaptation and perspective. Get a great speedwork drill in the Caterpillar run interval workout–and find out why it works!

Caterpillar Run Interval / Speedwork Drill Workout

This Caterpillar Speedwork Drill will help you increase your running efficiency while having having fun with friends! Great for marathon training or general fitness! @Suzlyfe

On Tuesday, we (at Chicago Endurance Sports) took our marathon training participants out for a speedwork workout that we refer to as the “Caterpillar Run.” What this means is that we split them up into groups, put the groups in a line, and have the caboose of the line surge up to the lead, creating a new caboose who then does the same thing when the former caboose reaches the front. Many of you many know this as an “Indian Run,” but we try to be a littttttle bit more sensitive. 

The is a great interval or drill workout for several reasons (just naming a few here):

  • rapid increase of energy expenditure and heart rate
  • teaching muscular and motor recruitment
  • increase of the efficiency of your body as it learns to push even when tired as well as regulation of heart rate and breath rate
  • each recovery interval (when you are not surging forward) provides you a chance to let your heart rate decrease in a moment of active recovery
  • breaks up the run and goes really fast!

Furthermore, it is just fun to think about, and a great team building exercise as everyone cheers the next runner on! Though a bit difficult to do without dying on the Lake Front Path during runner/cyclist rush hour. Particularly for coaches running backwards while watching their recruits. 

A few considerations to keep in mind during this workout:

  • the push forward should be more of a surge forward than an all out sprint–think of trying to pass someone in a race, particularly as you are only running forward for 30 or so feet. This is not a 50 yard dash or 400m repeats. Don’t give it everything–you are still going to keep running, and for far longer than you are surging!
  • RECOVER during your recovery interval. Relish in it. Savor it. LOVE IT. Really pull back–like how you pull back during your long slow runs vs a tempo. You want to be able to do this workout for about 25-30 minutes, so make it sustainable. 

Thoughts on Speedwork Difficulty throughout Marathon (or other) Training

I realized as I was coaching this workout on Tuesday that many of the trainees didn’t exactly understand the concept of how speedwork works throughout the entirety of training. What I mean by this is that some were under the impression that they would be working harder during their intervals later on in the training process. In short, they perceived that running faster or longer at a later date correlated to working harder. 

Miss that kid (Jenni at Fizala)

Miss that kid (Jenni at Fizala)

This is a misnomer.

The whole point of what we are working to accomplish with training is to (safely) force your body to adapt to greater stressors so that it can handle greater and greater load. As a result, what previously felt like an 8 out of 10 on the intensity and energy expenditure scale will later feel easier, while you should still be operating at an 8 out of 10 on the intensity or energy expenditure scale. Your body adapts, you are able to do more. In the same way, as we gradually increase the length of the runs, your body continues to adapt, and (theoretically), you should finish that 18 miler feeling as you did during the first 8 miler. Now, as I have mentioned before, even 8 milers can feel impossible at times to marathoners–every day, every body, is unique; progress isn’t always linear.

Don't discount your own will power. Instead, strengthen it like a muscle. Your brain will adapt like your muscles to stress.

But if you are ever feeling discouraged or a bit anxious while looking at the grand scale of your training plan (cough OR YOUR LIFE), remember that you can adapt to stressors. And one day, that insurmountable task that scared the ever-loving crap our of you in the beginning? It’ll just be a “easy” run (though sometimes you will rue the day with every step, lol). 

Life is a marathon. Training with intelligence, determination, and perspective. 

What seemingly obvious epiphany have you had recently?

What type of speedwork do you do, if any? I like tempos and progressions the most, but I definitely liked this caterpillar run!

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  • Reply Run Colby run

    Thank you, Coach. You said just what I needed to hear at the moment I needed to hear it. I sat in a panic on Wednesday night looking over my training plan. Then Thursday am came and I woke up at Zero Dark Bullshit and banged out a rather long (before work) tempo run. My point is that by the day’s end, I had come to terms with the fact that, though I was padding around like a Zombie, I did it. I have a goal. And as such, I’ve gotta get uncomfortable and ADAPT. πŸ™‚ Words of wisdom, Suze. Thank you. ️Xoxo

    June 26, 2015 at 5:50 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      And you know what, you will get better at being a zombie! VICTORY! lol <3

      June 29, 2015 at 10:17 am
  • Reply Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine

    I remember hating those kinds of workouts in high school! But now they sound kind of fun. I’ve never heard of it called a Caterpillar run but I like that name:)
    Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine recently posted…June Runfessions & 5 Things I Was Doing 10 Years AgoMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 7:07 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It seems way more approachable, no?

      June 29, 2015 at 10:16 am
  • Reply Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    So much truth!
    I do some progressive runs and speed work with intervals, but haven’t done any very specific workouts like this in a while. Right now I’m focusing on loving the 3 miler again! haha!
    Julie @ Running in a Skirt recently posted…Fashion Friday – Lace Overlay DressMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 7:16 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Girl, you gettin yo’ mojo back. That is enough of a battle!

      June 29, 2015 at 10:13 am
  • Reply Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs

    I love Indian, er, caterpillar runs! I’m such a doofus I never even though of how rude that was. Well, I’m not coaching high school anymore, so who knows if I’ll have the chance to torture anyone with this workout, which is a whole lot harder than it sounds. With kids, they tend to get faster and faster, so it’s really hard for the caboose to pass them. Kind of funny really :-).

    I love this post. Your point about how we adapt is so true. It’s like the person who says, “I could never run 26 miles!!!” Well, duh, you don’t just go out and do it.
    Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs recently posted…How to Pack for BlogfestMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 7:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      EXACTLY. And you are so right–I’m sure that high schoolers take this WAY too seriously, haha. A huge part of the difficulty is really pulling back and NOT getting competitive.
      And I love “blowing” people’s minds by pointing out what they already know!

      June 29, 2015 at 10:15 am
  • Reply Sara @ lifebetweenthemiles

    I love the name of the workout! I really like speed work (well as much as you can like it) but I didn’t do much of it during my last marathon training because my PT was worried the added stress on my calves wouldn’t be good. When I do speed work, I like to do repeats (400s, etc) or do it by time. I like doing it on the track best, but since I don’t live or work near a track anymore, it usually happens on my treadmill. I like progression and tempo runs too but I have to do them on the treadmill bc I am TERRIBLE at keeping a consistent pace on the pavement by myself.

    June 26, 2015 at 8:18 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      OMG I know. The struggle is so real. I’m good at consistent paces overall, but not when I’m pushing myself, thus I am right with you on the Tmill tempos/etc

      June 29, 2015 at 10:16 am
  • Reply Jamie

    Haha I remember those workouts for cross country. I was more of a fan when we’d play ultimate frisbee as a sprint workout : ) I’ve finally gotten to a place in my life where I’m like “I need to do me” and do what makes me the happiest. Even if it’s hard in the short term, I need to think about my future. I love tempo runs, but I tend to avoid track workouts…. I think this caterpillar workout will be the closest I get to that : ) Hope you have a fab weekend girl!
    Jamie recently posted…Friday Faves – NakdMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 8:22 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Is it funny that if I do it as part of a work out, I am more likely to be able to stick with it? But if I am playing a game, I really think about the fact that I am moving WAY TOO FAST

      June 29, 2015 at 10:12 am
  • Reply Maddie @ Dixie Runs

    Remembering that nothing is set in stone and that you can adapt/adjust as you go is soooooo important. I think that is what has kept me from doing a lot of things in life… thinking it’s all or nothing instead of “all” with a few adjustments.
    Maddie @ Dixie Runs recently posted…Treats from the Suz and I’m really hotMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 8:35 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You can’t forget about the gray area. A lot happens there!

      June 29, 2015 at 10:11 am
  • Reply Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    Tempos will always be my favorite speed work, although I do enjoy some mile repeats or threshold intervals more and more lately. I love just getting into that comfortably hard pace and going for several miles.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…Red Wine Brown Rice RisottoMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 8:54 am
    • Reply suzlyfe


      June 29, 2015 at 10:10 am
  • Reply Jen @ Pretty Little Grub

    I’ve never been good enough at sticking to my speed work during training to see the gains. I’m just always dying. ha ha I think I need a group or something like you are doing that would keep me motivated and force me to run those speed intervals.
    Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…FYI Friday – Tips for Staying HydratedMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 9:11 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’m definitely pretty crap at sticking to speedwork as well–and then usually I get all paranoid that something is going to happen to me and I chicken out. I did a lot of “speedwork” on the tmill without knowing it or phoenix, though. I need to get on that again.

      June 29, 2015 at 10:10 am
  • Reply Suzy

    We used to do those runs when I played varsity soccer. Everybody hated it when I got to the front. LOL. I was training for my first marathon back then and I had some serious endurance. And what you said is so true about how we adapt to the stress that we put on our body and that we just keep getting stronger and stronger. ROAR.
    Suzy recently posted…Blended Family Friday: Then and NowMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 9:15 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Katy Perry ain’t got nothing on us!

      June 29, 2015 at 10:08 am
  • Reply Lauren @ The Bikini Experiment

    Good advice! Sometimes I look at life as a sprint – every single aspect of it. But it truly is a marathon! Thanks for the reminder. Have a good weekend!
    Lauren @ The Bikini Experiment recently posted…4th of July Quinoa SaladMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 9:27 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Always here to provide some perspective via a hilarious metaphor πŸ˜€

      June 29, 2015 at 10:08 am
  • Reply Bri

    I have a love/hate relationship with speed workouts. This one looks kind of fun though!
    Bri recently posted…{Friday Favourites} The best articles in health, fitness & life from around the web this weekMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 9:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’ll do one if you do one!

      June 29, 2015 at 10:03 am
  • Reply Shawna

    errrrr i don’t do speedwork but i wanted to say HI and have a great wknd, friend! πŸ™‚
    Shawna recently posted…Grand Banks: the classy NYC boat barMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 10:51 am
    • Reply suzlyfe


      June 29, 2015 at 10:02 am
  • Reply Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy

    Caterpillar runs are a new one to me, but I like things with strange name.
    Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy recently posted…Comment on Honey and Chipotle Salmon with Chunky Avocado Salsa by MiraMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 11:12 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hahaha you would.

      June 29, 2015 at 10:03 am
  • Reply Jill

    I’ve never heard of this drill but it looks FUN! I rarely if ever do speed work! So bad. Sometimes I’ll add sprints into my runs or every once in a blue moon I will go to the track and do 400/800 repeats. But pretty much never. That’s why I’m kinda slow I guess?!?
    Jill recently posted…Fitness Friday: Why I Work OutMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I need to do some speedwork again–seriously time. I liked this because it was like a party and surges are pretty short and doable.

      June 29, 2015 at 10:02 am
  • Reply Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner

    We did this same drill with our girls on the run team last spring and they just loved it. Surprisingly they kept asking to do it over and over again. It’s like doing speed work without knowing that you are!
    Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner recently posted…Summer Skin Care Tips & GiveawayMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Precisely! And it is a great team building exercise as well!

      June 29, 2015 at 10:02 am
  • Reply Tess

    Super cute name for this. lol I love learning more about training for running.
    Tess recently posted…Friday Favorites: Fitness, Fashion, Dogs and MoreMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 1:01 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      And it’s even more fun because it can apply to any sport! Just like plyo helps with running.

      June 29, 2015 at 9:59 am
  • Reply Salt

    Sometimes I think I might be the only person on the planet who likes intervals haha. I love pushing myself to the point of complete exhaustion and seeing the results. Excellent post, my friend! I might need you to coach me when I figure out what marathon I’ll be doing next. πŸ™‚
    Salt recently posted…Back to the Future Part 2…that’s the one where they go to the past, right? {The Friday Five}My Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 1:15 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I would love to! Always here to help πŸ˜€

      June 29, 2015 at 10:01 am
  • Reply Eric

    I remember doing “catepillar” runs back in middle school track. We would run the border of a soccer field doing them. I remember when it was my turn and I tried to jet to the front since I was a sprinter. Unfortunately the field was uneven and I stepped in a crater and messed up my quadriceps for awhile. I’m doing a crazy marathon training plan this year and my speedwork is actually pretty minimal. It’s just some marathon pace miles as well as sets of 100m gliders to work on stride efficiency. Last year interval workouts were my bread and butter speed workouts and I eventually got up to 10x800m Yasso style workout.
    Eric recently posted…The Cycle Begins AgainMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 2:34 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Oh god…. this is why I don’t do trails and running in grass–I hate not seeing my terrain. And you are indeed doing some crazy training, so it is smart to not try to overdo it with speed work. And 10 x800 Yasso? No wonder you were on fire at Ragnar!

      June 29, 2015 at 10:01 am
  • Reply Sam @ PancakeWarriors

    Awesome tips Suz! I missed out on these concepts when I trained for my half and completely ignored speed work or intervals. And let me tell you 13 miles never felt like 5 lol! This is definitely something I want to work on, I might get brave enough to run long distances again πŸ™‚
    Sam @ PancakeWarriors recently posted…Blueberry Coconut Frozen YogurtMy Profile

    June 26, 2015 at 3:14 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      WHAT. DO IT.

      June 29, 2015 at 9:58 am
  • Reply Linda @ Veganosity

    We do caterpillars in the boot camp class that I take, only we hold a ten pound ball over our heads and pass it as we go. It’s a great workout!

    June 26, 2015 at 5:59 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Holy cow, now THAT is a workout!

      June 29, 2015 at 9:56 am
  • Reply jill conyers

    Awesome post Suz, for running and life. I’ve been studying about adaptations and it’s fascinating. I love any speedwork that I can run at the high school track. Thanks for sharing with Fitness Friday!

    June 27, 2015 at 4:17 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Adaptations is one of my favorite subjects with regards to training. It is amazing what we can learn to withstand!

      June 29, 2015 at 9:57 am
  • Reply Jess @hellotofit

    This drill sounds like lots of fun πŸ™‚ and super tough. I don’t do a lot of speedwork anymore, but vividly remember hating/loving hill sprints back when I first started personal training.

    June 27, 2015 at 11:39 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I have a love/hate relationship as well. I feel so damn accomplished after but I hate if I can’t hit my speeds or whatever. This takes some of the pressure off.

      June 29, 2015 at 9:58 am
  • Reply Farrah

    I don’t do any speedwork (sigh), although I used to incorporate intervals into my workouts! (I will hopefully get back into that at some point.) I like the idea of the caterpillar run interval! πŸ˜€ Such a cute name, hehehe.
    Farrah recently posted…Foodie Friday: Cinnamon PB Protein BallsMy Profile

    June 27, 2015 at 1:57 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      So nice and fuzzy and happy. Even while you are doing speedwork

      June 29, 2015 at 9:56 am
  • Reply Beth @ Running with the Sunrise

    Aw, your cartoon caterpillar is so cute! My speedwork lately has been intervals, but of no particular length or duration. I just see how I’m feeling that day and go with it. πŸ™‚ One of the advantages of not really training for anything in particular is that you can change up what you’re doing based on your personal whims. πŸ˜€
    Beth @ Running with the Sunrise recently posted…5 Clean Eating HacksMy Profile

    June 27, 2015 at 8:30 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      And I do that regardless haha

      June 29, 2015 at 9:55 am
  • Reply Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes

    I have never done a caterpillar run but it sounds fun. I love repeats on the track, but I might suggest this at our next track workout!
    Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes recently posted…Thinking Out Loud….Life Lately….My Profile

    June 27, 2015 at 9:05 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Definitely! Switch it up a bit!

      June 29, 2015 at 9:54 am
  • Reply Rae

    I actually dig speed work, but it’s been a while since I’ve done any. My go-to’s are hill repeats and 400 repeats. They always make me feel like a badass πŸ˜€
    Rae recently posted…Prague In PicturesMy Profile

    June 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Ooooo yeah. you dig into that πŸ˜€

      June 30, 2015 at 2:32 pm
  • Reply Annmarie

    Great info, Suz! Not sure how I missed this post the other day! Thanks so much for linking up <3
    Annmarie recently posted…Wild Workout Wednesday: Dirty 30 Sandbag Workout!My Profile

    July 1, 2015 at 6:22 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      No worries, and thanks for hosting!

      July 1, 2015 at 2:12 pm
  • Reply Sarah@creatingbettertomorrow

    Love that last line there…life is a marahon…I’m needing that reminder today – pace myself, be patient πŸ™‚
    Sarah@creatingbettertomorrow recently posted…Total Body CircuitMy Profile

    July 1, 2015 at 6:26 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It can be hard to remember, but you just gotta know that you gotta be in it for the long haul.

      July 1, 2015 at 2:13 pm
  • Reply Michelle

    Speed work is such an important part of marathon training…I’m loving my running groups track workouts lately! We will actually be having relay races this week as a fun workout! I’m prepping to amp up my marathon training this month! Thanks for linking up!
    Michelle recently posted…How I Create My Marathon Training PlanMy Profile

    July 1, 2015 at 8:19 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Well, I’m totally down with relays (particularly if they are ragnar, lol). Good luck with training!

      July 1, 2015 at 2:13 pm
  • Reply Lauren

    Great post. Sometimes I have those runs where everything feels like crap and I’m slow and i’m like how the hell did a run a whole marathon faster than I’m running now. Or a crappy workout. Our bodies rock and not everyday is going to be our day
    Lauren recently posted…Chicago Marathon 2015 Kickoff with Momentum Jewelry {Weeks 1 & 2 Recap}My Profile

    July 3, 2015 at 8:47 pm
  • Reply The Ultimate Running Workout Round Up - Fitful Focus

    […] Field Speed Workout for Runners – Flex of Lex Caterpillar Speedwork Drill – Suzlyfe Need For Speed Workout – Fitful Focus 3 Tempo Running Workouts – This Runner’s […]

    June 1, 2016 at 5:00 am
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