Much like other sports, running has a wide variety of terminology that goes right over the heads of non-runners, new runners, and even some more experienced runners. What does “tempo” mean? Are you sure “fartlek” is a type of run and not some kind of insult? Aren’t “base runs” and “easy runs” the same?
Below is a list of eight different types of runs that breaks it all down for you – from how it’s done, to how often, the purpose of each, and so on – so that you not only know what your running buddies or running articles are talking about, but also so that you’re more knowledgeable in building your perfect training plan.
Let’s dive in! Here’s our complete list of the 8 different types of runs:
1. Easy Run/Recovery Run
Done usually the day or days following a tough workout, the purpose of an easy run is to get your blood circulating and the soreness worked out of your muscles. Run at a slower pace than your base runs, pace isn’t important on these days. Ideally, you will include two recovery runs a week.
The goal here is to recover, which is vital in rebuilding your broken-down muscle fibers. Many people think that working out harder is the key to getting stronger. While that is an important factor, it means nothing if you aren’t recovering equally as well. Recovery is where your body truly becomes stronger, so recover well and go as easy as your body needs on those days. Slogging/shuffling is your best friend.
2. Base Run
Different from a recovery run, a base run is where you maintain a moderate, steady pace throughout the duration of the run. The pace should feel natural, and you should be able to hold a conversation with a friend throughout the run. Include base runs in your training schedule any day you’re not doing a hard workout, a long run, or a recovery run/cross-training day.
These runs are a great opportunity to focus on maintaining good form: shoulders relaxed and back, neck relaxed, arms swinging easy, drive from your core, etc. It’s easy to let your form fall apart on slower runs, as it may not feel as important to run tall and strong on these days. But since base runs will take up the majority of your runs, it’s important to take advantage and pay attention to your form.
It will translate to your other training days to your benefit!
3. Tempo Run/Threshold Run
This run is best explained as a continuous “moderately hard” effort. Your pace should be about 30 seconds per mile slower than your 5K race pace. A good test to see if you’re doing it right is the talk test: if you can say more than two words at a time, you’re going too slow. If you can’t say more than one word at a time, or you can’t talk at all, you’re going too fast. Consistency in pace should be the goal.
The benefit of a tempo run is how they increase your lactic threshold when performed correctly: you’re essentially teaching your body to go harder, longer. They’re considered one of the most vital elements in increasing your endurance.
If you’re consistent in your pace, they also help to strengthen you as a runner overall, in that where your competitors may fade toward the end of a race, you’ll be maintaining the same pace or faster – which is a recipe for a new personal best!
Tempo runs should be performed at least once a week, and the duration is based on what you’re training for (for a 5K training plan, your tempo runs should be around 20-30 minutes).
These runs, done one or twice a week, are a mix of high-intensity bursts of speed with jogging/standing breaks, dependent on the workout your performing. They tend to be highly structured and geared toward whatever race you’re training for. Intervals allow you to train at a faster pace than a tempo run, effectively teaching your body to run at a faster pace the more you perform these workouts.
Interval workouts look very different for the kind of runner and the event they’re training for. If you’re training for a 5K, for example, an interval workout might look like 6 reps of 800 meters with two minutes of jogging in between each rep. If you’re training for a marathon, you might do two-mile intervals with longer jogging breaks in between each rep.
Though they’re highly structured, they’re the perfect workout to test your fitness and push yourself to the limit.
5. Hill repeats/circuits
Good for teaching proper form, hill repeats/circuits are hard, short efforts up a moderate-grade hill with a jog back down. You can either run hard to the top of the hill, or run up the hill for a certain amount of time. Hill repeats teach aerobic power and increase overall strength and endurance. Introduce hill repeats/circuits after you’ve built your base, but before you’ve introduced hard interval training.
Hill circuits, separate from hill repeats, are great if you’re training for a hilly road race/cross country race. Find a long road with lots of varying hills (some short and steep, some long and gradual), and run at a tempo effort on the flats, hard up the hills, and jog on the downhills.
They better simulate road race conditions and teach fatigue maintenance. The variation also decreases the chance at an overuse injury, which can happen if you run up and down the same hill repeatedly.
Both of these workouts are an effective way to really focus on form and strong propulsion. Uphill running forces you on your toes, makes you drive your knees, and utilizes your glutes and hamstrings for power, which is where your power should come from when you run. The more you can run hills, especially grassy or dirt hills, the better.
6. Progression run
Usually done in conjunction with your long run, a progression run is where the pace at which you end your run is significantly faster than the pace at which you began. Each mile should be slightly faster than the previous, until you’re close to (or at) your tempo run pace.
These runs are a great way to boost stamina and to teach your body to finish faster than you began, which is typically the goal in racing.
If you’re having a “down week” in your training cycle, a week in which your runs are shorter and your workouts are easier/you cut one workout from your normal training schedule, include a progression run in substitution for a hard workout. You won’t feel drained while still getting in a solid session of training.
Form and power are found and maintained with strides, which are done typically before a hard workout and after a base run. Strides are performed usually in bursts of 100-150 meters, or around 20-25 seconds, at around 90% effort, with equal rest. You can do 4-8 strides at a time, three to four times a week. The goal is to focus on form, turnover, and quickly picking up your feet.
Strides should be a staple in every runner’s training schedule, whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned veteran. They’re a great and relatively easy way to increase running efficiency and to turn on your fast-twitch muscles.
Even if you’re distance is the marathon or greater, including strides are important to getting faster.
Make sure to remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and back, to run more on your toes/forefoot, keep your arm swing relaxed (it will be really tempting to pump your arms for more power, but the power should be coming from your legs – pumping your arms hard only uses unnecessary energy!), and to keep your core tight and engaged.
8. Long run
Done once a week, the goal of the long run is to boost your endurance and mental strength. The mileage or duration depends on your fitness levels and fitness goals. A good rule of thumb is to make your long run 20-30% of your overall weekly mileage. If you run 50 miles a week, that range would be 10-15 miles in one long run.
Also read: How Far Should I Run as a Beginner?
A long run should have you feeling fatigued. And a long run should not be run like a recovery run – a long run is essentially a workout. To make your long run more interesting, include some “pickups” – run at a faster pace for a few minutes, then drop back down to your normal long run pace. Do this as many times as you feel comfortable. You can also make your long run a progression run.
Mix Up Your Runs and Become a Stronger Runner!
All of these different types of runs are crucial elements to include in your weekly training schedule. They all serve different purposes, but they all work toward the common goal of becoming a strong, well-rounded runner.
Each different type of run is performed by runners of almost all distances – from 800-meter specialists to repeat 50-mile race finishers. So if you’re wary about trying out an interval workout, or a long run, or any other kind of run, just give it one try! You’ll be surprised at not only how strong you feel afterwards, but also how it benefits you in different areas of running.
Let us know something new you tried this week, or what type of running you found to be the most beneficial in your training plan!
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Emma is a semi-professional runner for the Hoka One One Aggies, based out of beautiful San Luis Obispo, California. She is an NCAA DIII All-American, has made multiple top-10 all-time performance lists for track and field and cross country for her alma mater, Linfield College, and graduated with a degree in creative writing with honors. When she’s not running, working, or in physical therapy, she enjoys going to the beach, fishing, or lazing around watching Netflix with some Ben & Jerry’s chocolate brownie ice cream.