Updated: Jul 23, 2021
Getting started in running can be an intimidating experience. I remember many years ago in my late twenties (2007 in fact) I, along with a few mates decided to run a 10 kilometre race on the Gold Coast as part of the Gold Coast Marathon festival. Without any knowledge of running training or history, we decided the best approach to training was to run our heart out for 10 kilometres three times per week.
I'd start from my front door in a tiny 1 bedroom flat we were renting in East Brisbane, strap on some cheap trainers and go for it towards and over the iconic Story Bridge. Turning around at a rough 5 kilometre mark in New Farm (mapped manually) I'd run as fast as I could back home, gasping for air as I ran looking like I'm being chased by someone and about to collapse. I'd arrive at the front door exhausted and wet, being denied entry until I could bee line to the bathroom without leaving a pool of sweat where I walked.
As I write this I cringe and wonder how I didn't injure myself during this period. Thanks to technology and our friend google, my results have been archived and after a brief online search I ran a 42 minute race. I actually think I ran a quicker 10 kilometre in training than the race itself, that's how hard I pushed in training!
I was a fit and strong late twenty year old male who frequented the gym regularly. Looking back, I can only imagine what I could have achieved with proper training, nutrition and guidance in the lead up to race. Qualifying for the olympic team maybe? Ok maybe not, but I have no doubt my experience would have been more enjoyable during training and the race itself would of resulted in a better performance if I followed some basic principles as outlined below into the lead up.
Running training has five key principles which I outline in my 14 steps to running like a pro guide here . Specificity, Progressive Overload, Individualisation, Variation and Reversibility.
Bringing all of these principles together takes some patience and strategy which ultimately produces a high performing athlete ready to tackle their race or game.
In this article we look at various run and training sessions and their names which all play a part in generating a fitter-faster-stronger you. So what does Fartlek, Tempo, Base runs and other running terminology really mean? Never fear as I explain them all below.
Base run's are the meat of your training. They are usually peppered throughout your week and short to medium in length. They are run at an aerobic pace (low heart rate) and benefit your aerobic capacity and running economy.
Base runs shouldn't fatigue a runner and are run anywhere from around 30 minutes to an hour. I tend to treat base runs as a zone out session to relieve stress and enjoy the surroundings and my time on feet.
Example: 30 minute low heart rate base run after a strength workout or first thing in the morning. Your breathing is easy and controlled and a conversation can be easily had.
Long runs as well as base and recovery runs should make up the bulk of your running week. At RVP we prescribe these as 'easy' runs. The type of run that's enjoyable and you look forward to. For endurance athletes, this is your bread and butter to training and is your road to a successful relationship in the marathon + distances. Running these sessions too hard in training will only prolong your recovery and risk injury.
Run at a pace with controlled breathing and can easily hold a conversation.
Example: 90 minute easy run at a comfortable, low heart rate pace
Heart Rate? A general rule is running at no more than 80% of your max heart rate (220 less age). Another and more accurate way to measure this is by conducting a Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR) test. For runners this can be as simple as a 5k race or time trial or a 30 minute hard run and measure the heart rate average for the last 20 minutes. I outline this test here in this article.
Tempo Run (Threshold Run)
Running at your threshold pace helps build running at speed over a sustained time. You are running at a pace whereby oxygen alone is not enough as fuel, rather the body is tapping into glycogen to propel you. This is helping to increase your lactate threshold.
At your tempo pace, your breath should be heavy but not to the point where you are struggling to breathe. A conversation would be in broken sentences. It takes some time to find the sweet spot and when done right, adequate recovery would be needed before your next session.
Example: 10-15 minute easy warm up jog, followed by 5-8km of a moderate to fast pace that you can comfortably sustain for 1 hour, followed by 10-15 minute easy cool down jog
Fartlek is Swedish for 'speed play'. Fartlek sessions come in many forms and are one of the hardest and fun sessions you would do in a training week, These sessions give the Athlete and Coach freedom to play with the interval sets whether on the flat or on an incline with no set distance or time.
The speed work may be sprinting to the next intersection or light pole before pulling the speed back to an easy jog for a minute or two then repeating.
Example: Although relatively structured, one of our favourite Fartlek sessions is the Mona Fartlek, named after the champion marathon runner Steve Monaghetti.
10-15 minute easy warm up jog, followed by
90 seconds hard, 90 seconds easy x 2
60 seconds hard, 60 seconds easy x 4
30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy x 4
15 seconds hard, 15 seconds easy x 4
10-15 minute easy cool down jog
Sometimes I like to maintain a consistent and intense pace on the speed set in a fartlek session, while other times I progressively build speed as I move through the workout. It really depends on how I'm feeling on the day!
As you become more experienced with this, count your strides in the speed work, it will help you keep focus on your running instead of glancing at your watch every few seconds.
Intervals are similar to fartlek but are run more structured with a set distance or time, Intervals also come in many forms and are one of the hardest sessions you would do in a training week, so adequate preparation before the session along with planned recovery is required. Interval training is a staple in any serious runners training as you can get 'more bang for buck' out of your training if you are limited with time.
For inexperienced runners and ones new to speed training, we may start out with strides or run throughs, whereby the runner will gradually pick up their pace for 20-30 seconds then float (easy jog or walk) for a minute or two before repeating the process 4-6 times.
Example: 10-15 minute easy warm up jog, followed by
8 x 200 metre sprints with a 60-90 second recovery
10-15 minute easy cool down jog
A progression run may be prescribed in a structured plan in lieu of or in addition to a speed session, depending on the athlete and their training plan. Traditionally these runs begin at the runners easy pace and their speed increases over a set time or distance until the end.
I usually prescribe progression runs closer to an event as it also helps the athlete visualise a race with a fast finish.
Example: 10-15 minute easy running, followed by 20-30 minute Threshold pace followed by a 400 metre all out to finish.
An important session of any running program. Hill work incorporating speed build significant strength in the legs, improves the runners aerobic capacity and pain tolerance. The length of the hill and gradient may vary depending on the runner and event training for. Generally look for a hill that has a modest gradient and can easily be run with form. If you have to hike the hill it's too steep. If your pace on the hill is as fast as your threshold or 5k race pace it's too flat.
Example: 10 - 15 minute easy warm up jog followed by 8 x 100-150 metre hill sprints. Turn around between each hill sprint and jog back down.
As the name suggests, this run is all about recovery from a heavy training set the day before or even that morning. These are run at an easy pace and can help aid to expedite your recovery time during training to stay on track. Recovery runs are also used as a run after a race.
Example: 30 -60 minute easy to very easy jog. This pace may be the same as your base runs, however often they are slightly slower as you are generally fatigued.
We weren't going to wrap up this article without mentioning strength sessions! Strength training is often the most neglected part of a runners training but exceptionally important for overall health, performance and injury prevention, Especially as we age to combat illnesses such as osteoporosis and arthritis.
The posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, traps, deltoids) is basically a string of muscles that propel you forward. Your body is put through thousands of repetitive steps per week and tightening of these muscles along with a heightened risk of injury will occur without adequate strength training.
If you want to run faster and for longer, jump higher, twist and pivot without fear of injury it's important you strengthen and develop this connection of muscles.
An example of a strength session I prescribe will have exercises such as :
Deadlifts or Squats
Single leg box steps or jumps
Single leg Romanian dead lift
Bulgarian Split Squat
Committed runners would have variety in the training week incorporating some or all of these sessions.
Now your question probably is, how do I piece it all together? I agree it can be a task in itself fitting in training let alone structuring the sessions. Every single one of the sessions above play a key role in any distance or type of running, however here are some basic rules:
1. What is your race focus? Are you training for a fast flat 10km or an undulating ultra trail race? Speed and tempo work will benefit your shorter distance fast runs whereby 1-2 hour hilly trail runs will complete the bigger distance events.
2. Avoid heavy sessions back to back. Your body needs time to recover from fast speed work or hill repeats. This does depend also on your experience and what stage you are at in periodised training. Try and allow at least 48 hours between sessions that fatigue you physically as well as aerobically.
3. Set a weekly routine and stick to it. This routine may look very different to the next person, depending on life commitments, goals and responsibilities. The specifics of the workout will change each week but fundamentally it is the same, whether it be speed work, tempo or a long run.
A typical routine for a recreational Trail Runner may look a bit like the below:
Do you need some help or want to chat? Contact me obligation free - firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss you and your goals.
I hope you get some benefit and new found running lingo out of this article to help you towards your running success.