Written By: Bill Reifsnyder — Superfeet Wellness Panel Member. Bill Reifsnyder is the founder of Camp Runabout, the only adult summer camp for runners on the planet, and is committed to helping runners of all ages and abilities achieve their goals and get the most out of their training plans. Bill is a former professional runner and holds the thrid fastest time ever run by an American for 10 miles (46:32).
Whether you are new to the sport of running or you have been running for years and are stuck in a rut, understanding the different types of running workouts and their purposes are essential. As a coach, I have had many, many folks come to me in a quandary, “I run five miles every day, and I never get faster!” These runners typically think I am a magician when I incorporate interval workouts and tempo runs (see below) into their program and all of a sudden they are setting PRs.
Here are six different types of running workouts that serve different purposes. All of these workouts are important and will help you achieve your running goals.
Purpose: Build aerobic capacity and endurance
Base runs are going to make up the majority of your training regimen. They are “maintenance workouts”; short-to-medium length runs done at a comfortable pace — your base aggregates day after day, week after week, year after year. Your base training is essential because it is upon it that the rest of your training sits. Picture your training program as a pyramid, and the broader your base, the higher the peak you can achieve.
Purpose: Build strength and power
A form of interval training run over hill and dale, hill repeats are performed early in the season to create strength and power. I look for a hill that is approximately a quarter mile in length and has a 5-degree grade. Your hill can be shorter, but keep the grade around 5%. After your warm-up, begin your workout by sprinting up the hill and jogging/walking down. Repeat as many times as desired depending on your fitness level and goal. Oh, and don’t forget to warm-down afterward.
Purpose: Build speed and running efficiency
For many, speed workouts, or interval training, are not the “fun part” of running. They will hurt a little (or a lot), but the benefits are well worth the pain. Intervals are meant to build speed and running efficiency. Typically, interval training is performed on the track, but if you don’t have access to a track, or it’s snow-covered, these runs can be done almost anywhere. Heck, I have done speed workouts in the mall parking lot and the halls of our local elementary school after hours (you have to know someone for this one).
Interval training consists of short bursts of high-intensity running followed by periods of recovery (jog or walk). Here is a speed workout example:
2-mile warm-up • 8 x 400 meters with 2:00 recovery between each • 2-mile cool-down
Interval training will vary depending on your fitness level (early season versus late season), and the race distance for which you are training. If you are preparing for a 5K then your intervals will be shorter in length and faster. If you are training for a half marathon, your intervals will be longer, and pace will slow accordingly. Check out the Superfeet training programs for guidance. And remember, as my old coach used to say, “If you wanna run fast, you gotta run fast.”
Purpose: Build lactic acid tolerance
Tempo runs, also known as threshold runs, or anaerobic threshold runs, prepare you to run faster, farther without the sudden onset of fatigue. In other words, as you run faster and faster, you will eventually get to your anaerobic threshold, the point where your body can no longer supply your muscles with enough oxygen to maintain your effort, and lactic acid will begin to accumulate in your blood. You have seen this in your local race when your buddy goes out way too hard and crashes. It looks like a 300-pound bear jumped on his back, and he is attempting to carry him to the finish line. The good news is that you can improve your body’s ability to tolerate lactic acid with tempo runs.
A tempo run is typically 20 to 30 minutes in duration. The goal is to train right at, or as close to your anaerobic threshold as possible. This workout has a specific purpose and running faster than the predetermined pace will not get the job done. So how do you figure out your tempo run pace? You could have it measured in a lab where you run on a treadmill and they prick your finger over and over, measuring the lactic acid in your blood, as your run faster. But let’s be honest, how many people have a lab at their disposal, right? Alternatively, here are a couple of more practical methods to hone in on your tempo run pace:
- Your tempo run pace should be comfortably hard. You should be able to talk in short bursts, but you should not be able to speak in complete sentences.
- Add 25-30 seconds per mile to your 5K pace.
- If you have an HR monitor, your tempo run should be between 85% and 90% of your maximum heart rate.
The goal of a tempo run is to lock in on the pace that coincides with your anaerobic threshold and keep it there for 20-30 minutes. With this in mind, I like to run tempo runs on a flat surface. It is hard to keep your pace and effort consistent when you are going up and down hills.
Purpose: Build endurance and mental confidence.
A weekly long run will improve your overall endurance and give you the mental confidence necessary on race day to complete the distance. Typically done on the weekend when you have a little more time to go out and pound the pavement, your long runs should be run at the same pace as your base runs. The length of your weekly long run will increase, as you get deeper into your training cycle. And your single longest run will vary depending on the distance of the race for which you are preparing. When possible, I like to get folks to do at least one run that covers the distance of your targeted race. This is not always possible when preparing for a marathon, but I would still like to see runners get up to the 22-24 mile range. Since you are going to be out on the roads or trails for an extended period, you’ll need to put a little more preparation into these workouts. It is essential to stay hydrated so carry some water (Camelbacks are great), have a friend ride a bike alongside you with water (my wife likes when I do this for her), or just know where the water fountains are along the way. You may also need a little energy while out on the course to prevent the dreaded bonk. Energy packets that come in a multitude of flavors are easily be stowed for consumption during your runs.
Purpose: Build speed and running efficiency in less structured format
The Swedish word for “speed play,” fartlek is a less-structured form of interval training done on the roads. Fartlek involves alternating faster and slower periods of running during a base training session or long run. This is an excellent choice for runners who don’t have access to a track, newer runners who may be intimidated by the thought of running on a track, or runners who want the convenience of stepping out their front door to do some quality running. Here are a few examples of fartlek workouts.
- 5-mile warm up
- 2:00 minute hard/2:00 easy (repeat 10 times)
- 5-mile cool down
- 5-mile warm up
- 3-4 miles of fartlek varying the distances. Pick a landmark in the distance (a telephone pole, a stop sign, etc. and run hard until you reach it. Then jog until you feel recovered and pick your next landmark.
- 5-mile cool down
- 5-mile warm up
- 3-4 miles of fartlek, running hard on all uphills and easy on everything else. Obviously, you should choose a rolling course for this workout.
- 5-mile cool down
There are no hard rules for fartlek running. Feel free to vary your workout to fit your specific training goals. If you are training for a 5K, your faster sections should be shorter in duration. If you are preparing for a half marathon or marathon, they should be longer.