There are a number of different types of training run and each has its own benefits and difficulties. It’s vital that you’re aware of these runs and understand what each are for – this will ensure that you keep improving for longer and maximise the benefits that you get from every run that you do.
Before you start adding speed to your running, you need to build a solid base. A base run is a moderate-length run performed at a steady speed. You should not find yourself struggling to continue or very out of breath on these runs and you should be able to complete them 3-4 times a week if needed. Think slow and steady and keep good form throughout.
Benefits: Improvements in your strength, aerobic capacity, endurance, and running form.
How to do it: Run for 40 minutes to an hour at a pace that you could still just about talk to a training partner. Building a base takes time but having a solid base will mean that you can run faster for longer when you add speed work.
This is exactly the same as a base run, but it is longer. After these runs you should feel tired in your muscles. The length of this run of course depends on your ability and what you are training for. Marathon runners generally build up to running around 22 miles for their longest run. This is done by doing a long run every week and increasing the milage over a number of weeks (typically 16 or more).
Benefits: Endurance. It simply trains you to be able to run comfortably for longer.
How to do it: Long runs are anything over an hour at the same pace as your base run, or slightly slower. Do not increase your long runs by more than 10% each week, doing so risks injury.
Start at just below your run base pace but increase the pace towards the end of your run, you’re looking for steady acceleration. This is less comfortable than a base run and at the end you should feel out of breath and like you’ve worked really hard. This type of run was made popular by Paavo Nurmi, an Olympic gold medalist from the 1920’s.
Benefits: This will start to add a bit of speed work to your training and should help to naturally increase you base run pace over time. Starting slowly and increasing pace also means that you won’t shock your body – running pulls blood away from the stomach and into the muscles, starting too fast can cause this to happen too quickly, leaving you feeling light headed or nauseous. Some believe that training in this way will ensure that you don’t finish races slowly and in pain as your body is used to continuing to push hard even when tired.
How to do it: You can vary this as you see fit, but one common method I use is: Run 10 minutes at just below base pace and then increase the pace slightly for 10 minutes and do the same again for the final 10 minutes. Put in a sprint finish if you are comfortable doing so. Your breathing should become heavier and your legs should feel uncomfortable by the end.
Hill runs are short and hard repeated runs up hill, with some recovery jogs in between each up hill burst. This is a safe way to introduce a hard training session once you are happy with your running base – ensure you have been running steadily for at least 6 weeks before introducing a hill run into your training.
Benefits: Former Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter once said that “Hills are speed work in disguise” and he’s right, the benefits are similar, including: Increased strength and power, increased resistance to muscle fatigue and increased pain tolerance. If you are going to run a hilly race, you’ll need to build hill runs into your training otherwise they can really affect your performance on the day.
How to do it: Find a hill with a steady gradient, ensure that you are warmed up by completing 10 minutes jogging on the flat. Then try running uphill for one minute at a pace you could continue for 1km, then jog for 2.5 minutes to recover, repeat five times (you might need to do your jog recovery down the hill if you’re running out of hill!), cool down with 10 minutes of jogging at the end of the session. Of course, once you have completed a few of these sessions you can extend the number of repetitions or the time running up hill. Ensure that your breathing has slowed and become steady before each repetition.
Tempo or Threshold Runs
A tempo / Threshold run normally features one or two bursts of increased effort during the run, each are followed by a recovery period.
Benefits: Tempo runs aim to increase your speed and in combination with other training runs should ensure that you’re able to sustain that speed for longer.
How to do it: 5 minutes at base pace, then 15 minutes at a pace that you could sustain for 20 minutes, then 5 minutes below base pace, then finish. Once you have done this 4 times, try adding in another 15 minutes at pace you could sustain for 20 minutes and finish with a jog to finish.
Interval workouts use the same principle as Tempo runs, but the sections of increased speed are more and shorter. The idea is to fit in more speed work into your session.
Benefits: It’s all about speed. When you find that you want to improve times you must add intervals to your routine. You should find that you can sustain an increased pace for longer.
How to do it: 5 minutes at base pace, then 2 minutes at your 20 minute pace followed by 2 minutes recovery jogging. Repeat 5 times. You can, of course vary this, but it’s important that your recovery jog slows your heart rate and breathing before you attempt to speed up again.
“Fartlek” is Swedish for “speed play” and a fartlek run is very similar to an interval run, only slightly gentler.
Benefits: Because Fartlek running is more gentle than a Tempo run I like to introduce it early on in a training plan and then increase the bursts of speed throughout the weeks of training. This means you can introduce speed and hard running to your training earlier and that means your tempo runs are more rewarding when you add them in.
How to do it: Run for 30 minutes in total and every five minutes run flat out for 30 seconds. In between these flat out sections you should be able to recover and your breathing should be steady before the next burst.
You may also read of ‘recovery runs’ in other books and websites, these are fairly short and slow runs performed a day or two after a long run, in order to actively recover. Personally, I agree with the great Ironman coaches Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn who, in their excellent Triathlon book “Going Long” (see below), argue that there is no such thing as a recovery run. If you are worn out enough to require recovery then running is not a good idea, it is a high impact sport and putting that much pressure and strain on worn out muscles and joints is asking for trouble. If you are feeling worn out consider resting, if you really want to exercise then consider cross training – cycling or swimming would be ideal.