If you’re following a good training schedule, you should be doing a variety of different types of runs. Most often, you’ll see 8 kinds of runs in your training program in order to give you the most well-rounded training experience.
Your training plan might not use all of these. But it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with each kind of run.
In this article, we’ll give you a quick summary of each run, what exactly it is, why you need it in your training program, and an example of how to include it.
You don’t need to restructure your entire training program. It’s a simple case of adjusting a few of your weekly runs to fit the criteria of a particular type of run.
But you may be surprised at how much your performance improves when you begin to incorporate various runs!
Why Are There Different Types of Runs in a Training Program?
Incorporating different types of runs into your training is the best way to build strength and stamina, improving your pace and distance for whatever race you are training for.
Switching between runs helps to prevent your body from “getting bored” and plateauing. When you run the same route, the same pace, and the same distance every time, your body is no longer challenged.
Soon it’s just going through the motions, with no incentive to improve. Throw in a few different runs, though, and suddenly it’s got something new and exciting to work on, which helps to keep you on your toes and keep you improving.
Let’s check out the 8 types of runs in your training program and why they’re all important.
1. Base Run
What Is It?
If you’re following your own training program or simply “going for a run” a few times a week, this is the run you’re doing.
It’s the normal, naturally-paced, comfortable run that generally makes up the majority of your training plan. Typically, these kinds of runs vary in length from 3 to 9 miles, and they’re run at an easy, comfortable pace. Usually, this is about 30% slower than your race pace.
This kind of run is important, because, as its name suggests, it’s the baseline against which you measure everything. As you improve, you’ll notice that your base runs become faster and longer.
These kinds of runs can fill up to 50% of your training program (including warm-up miles). They’re not hugely tiring or stressful on the body, but they’re also not so easy that they could count as a recovery run.
Regular base runs can help to push improvements in endurance, running economy, and your aerobic capacity. Add some challenge by doing your base on runs on a variety of different terrains and elevations!
Base runs are the most frequent type of run you’ll be doing, so chances are you’ll chop and change between different terrains, routes, and elevations through the week. This is a great idea to keep things fresh!
Here are a few examples of a good base run:
- 5-mile run at normal pace; park terrain
- 9-mile run at normal pace; road terrain
- 4-mile run at normal pace; hilly terrain
2. Recovery Run
What Is It?
Recovery runs might sound like a waste of time, but trust us – they’re an essential part of every training program. A recovery run is an easy-paced jog, about 50% of your average race pace.
These kinds of runs should make up about 10% of your training volume. A good distance for a recovery run is between 2 and 6 miles. Nothing too far, but a decent enough run to add some miles.
Recovery runs are a form of active recovery. They aren’t meant for hitting PRs or pushing yourself. They’re a way of staying active, burning a few calories, and loosening up your muscles, but they aren’t meant to be a serious exercise.
If you can, do your recovery runs on a softer, more forgiving surface. Grass, softer trails, or even a track are good options. Flat surfaces are also best – the hills take it from a recovery run to a more intense exercise!
You can do a recovery run on any forgiving surface near you. Aim for a shorter run rather than a longer one. An easy-paced 3-mile run on a flat, grassy surface is ideal.
3. Progression Run
What Is It?
As its name suggests, this kind of run begins slow and speeds up until you are running the faster portion at the end. Progression runs serve the purpose of helping you practice race pacing. They also add a bit of variety and challenge to your training!
The ideal progression run is between 3 and 5 miles long. You should begin at around 30% slower than your race pace, just like a normal base run. By the end, you’ll have progressed up to your normal race pace.
Depending on which race you’re actually training for, “race pace” could be your 10K pace or your marathon pace. It really depends on your training.
The surface you choose to run on is entirely up to you. If you’re just starting out with progression runs, a flat surface may be best. Once you’re used to them, you can do them on more challenging terrain.
We suggest trying out your first few progression runs on a 400m track. It’s easier to keep track of your distance and progress uniformly. When you’ve got a good feel for them, you can move on to your normal routes.
- 1-mile warm-up at a light, easy pace
- 1 mile at 30% slower than race pace
- Next mile at 20% slower than race pace
- Next mile at 10% slower than race pace
- 1 mile at your race pace
- 1-mile cool-down at an easy pace
4. Tempo Run
What Is It?
A tempo run is paced at the fastest speed you can sustain for an hour. That may sound complicated, but in its easiest form, it’s a medium-intensity run that’s more than an easy run but less than going all-out.
Regularly doing tempo runs can help improve your stamina over time, eventually leading to an increase in performance over longer distances.
An effective tempo run should be of 3 to 6 miles in distance, at a pace that’s about 5 to 10% slower than race pace.
It’s important to note that although your tempo pace is the fastest pace you can keep up for an hour, it doesn’t mean your tempo runs need to be an hour long. Stick to between 20 and 40 minutes.
Try to do your tempo runs on a flat surface. A track is ideal, as there’s no elevation change and you can easily keep up with your distance.
- 1-mile warm-up at an easy pace
- 5 miles at 5 to 10% of your race pace
- 1-mile cool-down
What Is It?
Interval runs are probably the one type of run that will give the biggest performance boost.
Just a few advantages of including interval runs in your training schedule include: an increase in speed, an improved running economy, and an increase in stamina and pain resistance at higher speeds.
Interval runs are intense. They can range in distance between 100 and 1600 meters (1/16th-mile to 1 mile) and are done in sets.
You can choose between time intervals or distance intervals. It depends on your preference, but we recommend including both in your training.
For example, you may choose to do 10 distance sets of 400 meters (once around the track) with a 200-meter, easy-paced break in between each. Or, 6 sets of 800 meters (two laps) with an easygoing lap in between each set.
On the other hand, you may decide to do time intervals. In this case, you can do something like running at your +20% pace for 1 minute, with a 1-minute break in between, for 15 sets. Or, run for 2 to 3 minutes at pace, with a 1 to 2-minute break between each set.
The most important part of interval training is keeping up that intensity. You should be going at 20 to 30% faster than your usual race pace for the full interval, and kicking it down a few notches for the recovery interval.
Because they’re based on intensity and a higher speed, intervals are best done on flat, firm surfaces. Elevation changes will lower the effectiveness of this workout.
Warm-up for a mile or two to get those muscles nice and limber. Then, get straight into your intervals. Try one of the following, depending on your ability:
- 20 x 100-meter intervals, with a 50-meter recovery between each
- 12 x 400-meter intervals, with 200-meter recovery between each
- 8 x 1000-meter intervals with 400-meter recovery between each
- 15 x 1-minute intervals, with a minute recovery between each
- 12 x 2-minute intervals, with a minute recovery between each
- 8 x 3-minute intervals, with a minute or2 between each
Don’t forget to do a 1-mile cool-down after your workout. You can tweak these intervals to any length or time that really suits you.
The important thing is that you give it your all for the required distance or time, and then allow enough time for your heart rate to stabilize before the next one.
What Is It?
Yep, its name induces fits of laughter, but a fartlek run is a fun workout to add to your training schedule. It’s a kind of interval that’s a bit less structured than your traditional intervals.
Basically, a fartlek is a base run with a variety of intervals thrown into it. Instead of doing a certain amount of x-mile intervals, or x-minute intervals, the interval sessions throughout the base run are varied in pace, time, and distance.
Fartleks are more of a “free run”. You get to decide on your own intervals. You can record them if you like, or you can simply change them up on the fly. This helps you to adjust to differences in competitive runs, and trains you to run harder when you’re already fatigued.
These types of runs should be between 3 and 7 miles in length and should make up about 10% of your total training volume. You can do fartleks on any surface. Hilly and unpredictable just add to the challenge and the fun!
Aim for a normal base run, starting off with a 1-mile warm-up. For the duration of your run, throw in various intervals. For example, a 30-second fast-paced interval before going back to your normal pace for a few minutes. Then increase your speed for a minute, and go back to easy pace for a few minutes.
Or, speed up until you reach a landmark that’s ahead of you. Then move to the next landmark at a different pace.
You can really get creative here! Don’t forget to do a 1-mile cool-down at the end.
7. Hill Repeats
What Is It?
Exactly as the name suggests, this type of run is all about going up and down hills. You can’t only stick to races on flat surfaces, so training to climb hills is important!
Uphill running helps you develop aerobic power, stamina, pain tolerance, and builds strength in the legs. Running downhill does the same, as well as helping you develop control over your pace and stride.
You can do hill repeats in any hilly area nearby, or indoors on a treadmill with an incline/decline function. Aim for 2 to 4 miles in total of hill runs, at about 20% faster than your race pace.
If you can, do hill repeats on a variety of differently-surfaced hills. This will keep things fresh and keep building those leg muscles and strength!
Head for the hills and do a 1-mile warm-up with 2 to 3 easy hill climbs. Once you’ve found your hill, aim for 8 to 12 high-intensity uphill runs of 100 to 200 meters in distance.
Your recovery time is the downhill jog back to the starting point. This gives you time to rest the muscles and allow your heart rate to come down before your next uphill push.
Do a chilled 1-mile cool-down before finishing up.
8. Long Run
What Is It?
Long runs are typically between 10 and 20 miles in distance. Of course, it depends on your goals. For long-distance runners, this can be a short run! But for the majority of runners, this is a “long run” distance.
You should be fairly fatigued by the end of a long run. Ultimately, they’ll help to improve your endurance and up your mileage.
Take these runs at a normal, natural pace. There’s no need to push yourself hard unless you’re specifically training for it, but if you take it at a natural pace you should be decently fatigued by the end of the run.
Long runs are similar to base runs. You should include at least one per week! Here are a few examples of a good long run:
- 20-mile run at normal pace; park terrain
- 15-mile run at normal pace; road terrain
- 10-mile run at normal pace; hilly terrain