Every one knows the saying in golf, "Drive for show, put for dough"(thank you Isaac). I think you can draw a close parallel in distance running. When I do a training run of 20 or more miles and I'm later talking to someone about what I did earlier in the day, they are often sort of freaked out. People can't easily wrap their heads around 20+ mile runs and consequently, they are amazed. This is indeed the "drive for show" part of running.
On the other hand, if I have a Saturday training day where I run one mile repeats or my fastest 5k...I mean one of those days that hurt, no one is particularly blown away by that effort. In many ways though, it is the speed work that is in parallel with "putting for dough".
I started running when I was 39 years old and I'm now 42. That makes this my fourth marathon season and if my count is right, my next marathon will be my seventh. I've said it before and I'll say it again...speed work hurts and speed work works. And here is the extra good news; you can run faster and stronger than most people in your age class if you are willing to do speed work. Why? Simple, because very few distance runners are willing to do speed work.
This past Saturday I ran the most one mile repeats I have ever run (11). And really, I'm not going to get much attention for running a total of 15 miles. But, this 15 mile workout will be as tough or tougher than any workout I do in preparation for my upcoming marathon. This workout is where the rubber meets the road in running faster marathons and pushing back my lactate threshold.
I should mention that I wrote an article recently titled Improving Running Performance where I linked to an article on improving lactate threshold. This article incorrectly stated that Galloway calls for running mile repeats 20 to 30 seconds slower than your marathon goal time. Don't be fooled, Galloway in fact calls for running mile repeats 20 to 30 seconds faster than your marathon goal pace.
If you are a distance runner and you want to run faster marathons, make speed work part of your routine. It will pay off.