Imagine reading your favorite book or watching your favorite TV show over and over again and for days on end.
After a few weeks, the entertainment value would vanish, and you’d start to dread what was once a gratifying activity, yet that’s what many of us do with our running. Most runners log nearly all of their runs at the same general distance and intensity, usually around 60 to 70 percent of their max effort.
Doing the same workout day in day out is a recipe for boredom and plateaus. It’s the kind of a mistake that keeps you from reaching your full running potential. Therefore, if you’re serious about reaching your running goals, you need to change your ways.
You Need Variety, Period
The following sessions cover the gamut of running sessions you need to do as a runner. Each workout has a unique set of traits that contribute to the entirety of your running performance.
Here are the building blocks of a well-rounded running program
- Easy runs
- Tempo runs
- Interval runs
- Pyramid runs
- Hill runs
- Fartlek runs
- Long runs
Let’s break down each session.
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1. The Recovery Run
Recovery runs are short sessions done at a relatively easy pace.
As you probably guessed from the name, recovery runs speed your recovery from the previous hard training workout. That’s the theory, anyway. I’m not aware of any scientific evidence that supports this claim, but going easy does build proper form, increases endurance, and builds mileage.
How far and/or easy you go depends on a slew of factors including fitness level, training goals, and schedule. As a general rule, your recovery sessions should be easier and shorter than your other workouts.
Do a recovery workout after a hard training session, such as when you do interval workouts, hill reps, or long runs
Between 3 and 5 miles is a pretty standard distance and you should shoot for between 20 and 40 minutes per session. Start the workout at an easy pace, then keep it up at 60 to 70 percent of maximum effort.
Recovery runs are performed at a relatively easy pace, with the typical pace between 90 and 120 seconds slower per mile than your current 5K race pace.
To gauge your pace, check to see if you can comfortably carry on a conversation without much huffing and puffing. If that’s out of reach, you’re doing it wrong. Slow down and catch your breath.
You should feel pretty relaxed despite lingering fatigue from the previous day’s rigorous workout.
2. The Tempo Run
Tempo runs are sustained sessions at a challenging but controlled pace. These can last 45 minutes or longer.
Tempo running increases lactate threshold, which is the point at which the human body produces greater amounts of lactate than it can clear from the muscles and bloodstream.
What does this mean? When you increase your lactate threshold, you’ll be able to sustain a faster pace for longer.
The ideal pace is often described as comfortably hard.
Most experts recommend sticking to 80 to 90 percent of max heart rate during tempo running. That’s at least 30 seconds per mile slower than your current 5k pace, a speed you can maintain without gasping.
Start your run with a 10-minute warm-up jog, then gradually increase your speed until you’re running at tempo pace. Sustain that pace for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your fitness level and training goals.
Finish your workout with a decent cool-down. Stretch afterward.
3. The Interval Workout
When it comes to speedwork training, interval training is the way to go.
Interval running consists of short bouts of fast running separated by low-intensity recovery. It involves running—or sprinting—for a set distance, repeated for a set number of times, at the same pace.
A typical distance can be as short as 100 meters but can stretch to as far as a mile depending on the runner’s fitness level and training (or racing) goals.
This all-out effort should be followed by a period of recovery, which can consist of low-intensity jogging or walking.
Research has shown that interval training increases endurance, burns mad calories, and improves stride rate.
Interval runs are hard on your joints and muscles, as you’re pounding them with a force of up to 6 to 8 times of your body weight on each foot strike. If you’re a beginner, work on building a solid form before you give this type of training a shot. Otherwise, you’re asking for trouble in the form of premature fatigue, injury, or even a painful burnout.
Make sure to run the all-out-effort portions of your workout at a controlled 92 to 98 percent maximum effort. If you can keep a conversation going, you’re going too slow. Ramp up the speed!
After a thorough dynamic warm-up, perform eight 400m repeats, following each rep with a 2-minute walk/jog recovery period.
Finish the session with a 5-minute slow jog as cool down.
4. The Ladder Run
If you’re bored with doing classic intervals, the ladder variation is an excellent way to challenge yourself and mix things up.
Ladder workouts involve climbing up, down, or both, all in a single workout. The runner slows down and recovers fully between each interval.
This is a 6-4-2-1-2-4-6 pyramid run workout.
Begin by performing a 10-minute dynamic warm-up.
Then, do the following:
- Run for 6 minutes at your current 5K pace. Recover for three minutes.
- Run for 4 minutes at 85 to 90 percent of maximum effort. Recover for two minutes.
- Run for 2 minutes at 90 percent of max effort. Recover for one minute.
- Run for 1 minute at maximum effort. Recover for one minute.
- Run for 2 minutes at 90 percent of max effort. Recover for one minute.
- Run for 4 minutes at 85 to 90 percent of maximum effort. Recover for 2 minutes.
- Run for 6 minutes at your current 5K pace.
Finish your workout with a 5-minute slow jog as a cool down.
Please keep in mind that this is a demanding workout that tests both your speed and endurance. Be careful, and remember to stay within your fitness level the entire time.
5. The Fartlek Workout
Fartlek training is my favorite workout on this list. It combines fast running intervals with low-to-moderate efforts. Each interval varies in distance, duration, and speed.
Fartlek is an excellent introduction to the world of speedwork training. It’s ideal for beginners looking to get a taste of speedwork before taking the full plunge.
After a warm-up, pick an object in the distance, whether it’s a street corner, a stationary car, a tree, or a signpost. Run to it as hard as you can, then slow down and recover by jogging /walking to another landmark. Sight your next target and do it again, repeating the process for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
Finish the workout with a decent cooldown.
There are no rules. You choose how fast or slow you go.
6. The Hill Workout
Once you’ve developed enough cardio power and stamina, hills runs are the next frontier. They consist of repeated short or long bursts of intense effort up a hill, and have plenty to offer.
Uphill running builds explosive strength and power, which helps you improve your speed and running economy. It also boosts aerobic power, improves pain tolerance, and builds proper form.
One of the best things about hill training is that what goes up must come down. The downhill part of your run will increase strength and endurance in your joints and tendons, plus it works the quads like nothing else.
The ideal pace should be difficult to sustain, especially near the top. To make sure you’re doing it right, focus on taking short strides and go as fast as you can while keeping good form.
Find a good hill that features a stable, moderate gradient of 4 to 7 percent. It should take you 30 to 45 seconds to run up your chosen hill at a challenging level of effort.
Start with a 10-minute jog on a flat surface, then perform 8 to 10 30-second hill climbs with 90-second jogging recovery breaks between each rep.
When you’re done, cool down for 5 minutes.
7. The Long Run Workout
The long run is just what it sounds like – a sustained running effort at an easy and steady pace.
Long runs are one of the most important sessions of the week. They develop endurance, improve form, increase lung power, and get your body ready for any distance.
You should feel moderately fatigued at the end of your session. If you’re completely exhausted, you’re doing it wrong. Leave something in the tank.
As a rule of thumb, do not increase your long run length—duration, distance, or both—by no more than 10 to 15 percent per week.
Putting it All Together
By now you should understand what makes up a well-rounded running routine. Your next step is to put your newfound knowledge into action.
Let’s assume you’re a recreational runner looking to improve your running fitness. Maybe you’re thinking of participating in a 5K, or want to take your running to the next level.
Here’s a Weekly Training Schedule Sample to get you started on the right foot.
- Monday – Speed Workout – 8 X 200m with a 30-second recovery period
- Tuesday – Recovery run – 30 minutes at a conversational pace
- Wednesday – Hill reps – 10 X 30-seconds uphills with one-minute recovery periods
- Thursday – Fartlek Workout – 30 minutes of unstructured speed work
- Friday – Rest
- Saturday – Long run– 10-miles at a relaxed pace
- Sunday—Rest or Cross-train
Rome Was Not Built In A Day, and Your Running Program Shouldn’t Be Either
I want to be perfectly clear. I’m not saying that you should start a challenging program next week, filled with lots of sprints, hill work and long distance running. That’s a recipe for disaster.
What I’m trying to do here is sell you on the importance of variety. Add these new workouts to your training program gradually. You like where you’re heading? Do a little more. You always have a choice.
Before you jump in and give these workouts a shot, keep tabs on your training and progress in a workout log.
What should you be keeping track of? Any or all of the following:
- Running duration
- Running distance
- Running intensity
- Recovery length between intervals
- How you felt both during and after training
- Your training load (which is intensity and volume)
- Pains, aches, and nagging injuries
- Motivation level
- Whatever else you think is important
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There you have it! The above running sessions are all you need to build a well-rounded running program that will not only help improve your running performance, but get you into the best shape of your life, too.
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Feel free to leave your comments and questions below, and as always, thanks for stopping by. Keep running strong!