There are many types of training runs out there - tempo, intervals, repeats, fartlek, strides, long, easy, recovery, etc. Many casual runners enjoy doing easy runs most of the time, and that is totally ok! However, variety can be key to keeping runners challenged and engaged both physically and mentally. If you want to improve, you have to mix it up and that doesn't mean going medium-hard all the time. You have to learn how to pace yourself through different workouts and teach your body how to respond to different stimuli. If you are a serious athlete, a coach can really help with your day-to-day planning. For those who are looking for something less structured or not as intense, learning about different types of workouts to try on any given day can be fun.
Here are a few of my recent runs that I've really enjoyed and would highly encourage you to try. It is important to note that these don't have to be for runners only. Any endurance athlete including cyclists, cross-country skiers, or even walkers can do these!
1. Fast Finish: complete the first part of the workout at an easy pace and then accelerate to a faster pace towards the end. You can vary the length of the hard segment at the end as much as you want. For example, the faster portion could be the last 10-15 minutes if you prefer time or the last 1-2 miles if you prefer distance.
Below is a 75 minute run with the last 15 minutes (2 miles) at a harder pace. The easy portion is circled in blue, and the harder portion is circled in green. The "Splits" column refers to number of miles, and the "Time" column refers to pace in minutes per mile.
For a greater challenge, you can perform this workout at the end of a long run and/or extend the length of time or distance. Here is a 16 mile run with the last 4 miles at a harder pace.
2. Thirds Progression: break the workout into three segments and perform the first third at an easy effort, the second third at a medium effort, and the last third at a hard effort.
Below is a 12 mile run that I recently performed as a thirds progression workouts. The first 4 miles were easy (blue), the second 4 were medium (green), and the last 4 miles were hard (purple).
Here is a 15 mile run that I also recently performed as a thirds progression run. The first 5 were easy, miles 5 to 10 were moderate, and the last 5 miles were hard.
It is important to not "cheat" on these runs by making the last portion of the run completely flat or downhill. That defeats the purpose. Below is the elevation map for the 15 mile thirds progression run shown above to demonstrate the hills incorporated into the last few miles. The scale on the left is 600-800 feet.
Fast finish runs and progression runs are great not only for mixing up your regular routine, but they are also helpful for those of us that race because they encourage negative splits and a kick before the finish line. Professional athletes almost never finish the second half of a race slower than the first half, so it's important to practice speeding up throughout the duration of your workout. If you notice you tend to slow down at the end of your workouts and have nothing left to give, try doing the first portion a little bit slower so you have a little reserve when the going gets tough.
What is your favorite workout?