The 6 Basic Runs Every Runner Should Do

I started running roughly a decade ago, and throughout these years, I’ve noticed that nearly every runner, especially beginners, stick to the same running plan.  They do the same distance workouts…in the same shoes…on the same roads …. with the same warm-up and cooldowns…etc.

Here’s the sad truth. Getting trapped in the similarity pattern will only get you stuck in your ways. Don’t get me wrong… Running isn’t bad. But when you perform the same runs day in, day out, it can set your fitness back.

Variety is not only the spice of life, but it’s also the spice of a driven, well-balanced, fit, and injury-free runner’s life.

The Reasons You Should Care

As a runner, you should vary your training routine for two fundamental reasons:

(1) To prevent the boredom that comes with repeating the same session over and over again, and

(2) To prevent or postpone reaching a plateau in running performance and, therefore, running results.

In today’s article, you’ll learn about the six essential running sessions. The workouts shared within this article cover the whole range of sessions you need to do as a runner. Each workout has a unique set of qualities that contribute to the whole of your running growth.

The information is also applicable to beginners and veterans, the young and the elderly, men and women—as long as you’re willing to listen to your body and remain within your fitness skill the entire time.

1. The Recovery Run

Recovery runs are short sessions performed at a relatively easy pace. Distance and pace depend mainly on your fitness level, training goals, and schedule.

But, as a rule of thumb, these sessions are the easiest of all runs. Do them as slowly as possible to feel relatively comfortably despite any lingering soreness or fatigue from a previous hard workout.

Recovery runs, as the name implies, may help speed up recovery as well as build proper form, increase endurance, and build mileage.

When To Do Them

Whenever you run again  24 hours following a high-intensity session or a long run, your next run should be a recovery workout. Keep in mind that these sessions are only a must if you run more than three times a week. If it’s not the case, then make each session “quality workout.”

A Workout Example

Recovery runs can last for three to five miles (or 25 to 40 minutes), preferably on the shorter end, even if you’re an established endurance athlete running a 40+ mile per week.

Start the session with a 5-minute warm-up, then keep a steady and easy pace throughout. Once you reach the end of the session, reduce your pace into an effortless jog/walk, then performs this stretching routine.

Your Training Pace

Perform your recovery runs at a relatively leisurely pace, which is  90 to 120 seconds per mile slower than your current 5K pace.

Got no idea what’s a 5K pace? Then do the talk test. If you can keep a conversation going, speaking in full sentences, without gasping for air with every step you take. If it’s not the case, then slow down.

2. The Tempo Run

Tempo runs consist of sustained workouts at a challenging, but controlled pace, lasting for 30to 60 minutes.

Tempo training, when done right, can produce some immense benefits. Mainly, it can increase anaerobic threshold levels, the point at which the body produces lactic acid faster than it can clear, switching from the aerobic system to its anaerobic system.

A Workout Example

After a 10 to 15 minutes warm-up, pick up your speed to a level you can keep for the preset tempo segment. Sustain the pace for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your fitness level and training goals. Then wrap up the session with a 5-minute easy jog as cool down.

Your Training Pace

The ideal tempo pace is a comfortably hard pace that can be maintained for a prolonged period. The pace is hard enough to require pushing, but not too challenging to where one can no longer sustain the pace.

For most runners, the ideal temp space translates to 80 to 90 percent of max. That’s slightly slower than your 10K race pace, or at least 30 seconds per mile slower than your current 5k pace.

3. The Interval Run

Interval training involves running—or sprinting—for a set distance, repeated for a fixed number of times, at the same pace. The distance can be as short as 100 meters and may stretch to as far as a mile.

The all-out effort is followed by a period of recovery. This could be walking, jogging, or low intensity running.

This type of training can help you increase endurance burns mad calories, improves stride rate, and strengthens fast-twitch muscles. The list is long.

A Workout Example

After a dynamic warm-up, perform eight to ten 400m repeats, taking two to three minutes to recover between each set. Wrap up the session with a 10-minute slow jog as cool-down.

Your Training Pace

Mainly depends on the length of the intervals you’re doing. The shorter the sprinting segments, the harder you push. As a general rule,  perform the high-intensity segment at 90 to  98 percent maximum effort. You’re going too slow if you can keep a conversation going.

4. The Hill Workout

Hill runs are repeated short or long bursts of intense effort up a hill, and they got a lot to offer.

Tackling the hills turns your regular runs into a complete endurance and strength workout, which, in turn, helps you run with a more efficient stride. It builds explosive strength and power, which can help you improve your speed and running economy. Uphill training also improves aerobic power, pain tolerance, and fatigue resistance.

What goes up must come down. The downhill portion targets the quads like nothing else, and increase strength and endurance in your joints and tendons.

A Workout Example

First, find a proper hill that features a stable, moderate gradient of 4 to 7 percent. It should take you up 30 to 45 seconds to run up at a challenging effort.

Then, after a 10-minute jog on a flat surface, perform 8 to 10 30-second hill repeats at hard effort with 90-seconds jogging recovery break. Last up, cool down for 5 minutes. Then stretch afterward.

Your Training Pace

Ideally, your hill reps should be hard to sustain, especially near the top. Focus on short strides and push as fast as you can while keeping good form.

5. The Fartlek Workout

Swedish for “speed play,” fartlek training is one of my favorite workouts in this list.

Fartlek training involves varying your running pace without a specific plan or goal. It involves intermixing fast running intervals with low-to-moderate efforts while changing the distance, duration, and speed of each interval.

The objective is to have fun and be creative with your training.

A Workout Example

Start, like usual, with a 10-minute warm-up, then pick an object in the distance, whether it’s a stop sign, a house, a parked car, or any other landmark, then run to it as fast as possible.

Once you reach it, slow down, and recover by jogging /walking to the next landmark. Next, sight the next object and repeat for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Finish the workout with a decent cooldown.

Your Training Pace

The intensity and length of each interval depend on your preference and terrain, and you can mix and mash them as you like throughout the session. You can sprint, or run at a tempo pace to reach the object. It’s up to you how fast or slow you can go.

6. The Long Run 

Long runs are the bread and butter of endurance training.

The long run, as the name implies, is a sustained run effort at a smooth and steady pace. For some runners, long runs are the most important session of the week. These sessions build endurance, improve form, and increase lung power like nothing else.

Long is a relative term. Most experts recommend devoting about 20 to 30 percent of weekly volume for the long run. For instance, a recreational runner running less than 20 miles a week might do an 8-mile long run. On the other hand, an elite athlete logging 80 miles per week may do a 16-mile long run.

A Workout Example

Start with a very slow 10-minute warm-up jog, then run for 45 to 60 minutes (or longer) at a comfortable and conversational pace. You should feel relatively tired, but not completely exhausted, at the of the run.

For more on long run workouts, check my full guide here.

Your Training Pace

Perform your long runs at about one minute slower than marathon pace, or around 90 to 120 seconds per mile slower than current 10K speed. Also, keep your heart rate within 65 to 75 percent of maximum power.

To err on the side of caution, do not go over the fast end of that range because that will put you at a higher risk of injury, excessive fatigue, and burnouts.

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Please, don’t take this the wrong way as  I’m not suggesting that you should start a well-rounded and challenging training program next week, with lots of sprints, hill reps, and long runs. That’s just the recipe for disaster

The main purpose of today’s post is to sell you on the importance of variety. So, add it gradually to your training program. If you like where you’re heading, then add more challenging workouts once you’re ready for it. The rest is just detail.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

Thank you for dropping by.

Keep Running Strong

David D.