When you first begin running you probably won’t consider the kind of training you do much beyond simply getting out the door a few times a week. And that’s the right approach. The main thing is not to run so hard that it becomes a chore. To help set a consistent running routine and ensure you don’t go too intense too quickly, you could use a Couch to 5K plan.
But once you’ve got that done, it’s time to start mixing up the type of runs you do. That’s because if you want to improve as a runner, you can’t just stick to the same distances at the same effort level. The good news is that mixing up your training will not only increase your speed, stamina and strength, it’s also fun.
Below you’ll find explanations of eight common types of training run. You don’t need to do all of these every week, but you should build your running routine using these blocks. Start with the first couple listed, which are nice and easy.
Head out the door and run a fairly short distance at a pace that feels comfortable. Base runs are likely to make up the bulk of the distance you cover each week, and they’ll increase your aerobic fitness.
These are similar to base runs, but are done the day after a hard workout or a long run, when you should throttle back and run even slower than you do on base days. The idea here is to help your body recover from a hard effort by keeping your legs moving, and your pace should be comfortable and keep your heart rate low.
There’s no great mystery here: long runs are long! They’re typically done at the end of a training week with the aim of building your endurance, especially when you’re working up to running a half marathon or marathon. Generally you should do long runs at your base pace, but you can mix in faster sections or do them as progression runs, where you get faster throughout the run.
These are also known as threshold runs because they involve running at your threshold pace, which is roughly the pace you can sustain for an hour. Your tempo runs won’t be that long, though – more like 20 to 40 minutes – and they should feel “comfortably hard”. That means you shouldn’t be able to hold a conversation, but you shouldn’t be gasping for air either.
One key benefit of a tempo run is to increase your lactate threshold, which is the point at which your body is able to clear the lactate at the rate it’s producing it. A higher lactate threshold means you’ll be able to hold a faster pace for long-distance events, from 5K to marathon.
Here you’re going to run fast, rest (normally in the active sense which means jogging slowly), then repeat that sequence a set number of times. Interval or speed sessions are a key part of the weekly routine of many runners, often done on a track or a flat stretch of road. How you structure your intervals will determine the benefits you get from them: short, fast sessions doing 400m repeats, for example, will increase your speed and improve your running technique, while longer reps of around 1km will help you build speed endurance so you can hold your target race pace for longer in events.
There are endless ways to vary your interval sessions, but the key is to do them regularly, once a week is standard, so you get used to running hard.
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Another way to get some speed into your routine is do fartlek runs. These are similar to interval runs but involve throwing in faster sections into a continuous base run, either in a structured or unstructured way, rather than running reps on a strict work/rest pattern.
You can do structured fartlek sessions for time or distance, picking up the pace for 500m here and there during a base run, or keep it loose and opt to sprint 200m whenever, say, you see a dog. Fartlek runs can be good for those who aren’t able to use a track for their session, because you can pace your intervals on effort rather than pace and take into account the terrain, which might be hilly or muddy.
They’re nobody’s idea of a fun time, but hill sessions are brilliant for improving your fitness and also your technique and strength. They’re simple to do as well: find yourself a hill and run up it hard, jog back down easy, then run up it hard again. The hill should be long enough that you can run hard up it for about 30-90 seconds, and do eight to ten reps in total.
Some runners practise what’s known as Kenyan hill sessions, where you run hard downhill as well and keep going up and down for ten minutes or longer. These are brilliant for your aerobic fitness, and particularly good for cross-country runners looking to build their speed on the downhills.
A progression run is one that starts slow and finishes fast, so you gradually step up the pace along the way. It’s a good way to ease into running at a fast pace without it feeling as daunting as putting the hammer down as you set off. Long progression runs are also a great way to practise your race pace on tired legs, as well as helping you build stamina and mental strength.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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