The 3 Types of Runs Every Runner Should Do

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The 3 Types of Runs Every Runner Should Do

At first glance, running is a simple discipline that requires minimal gear. But anyone who wants to get a bit more serious about running knows that training requires strategy and structure. If you slog through a 45–60-minute run a few days a week, run sporadically at random distances or pound the pavement every single day, it’s nearly impossible to take your running the next level.

If your goal is to improve, you can make it happen by simply adding these three specific run days into your week. Also, it’s worth noting that these runs work in harmony with one another. One study showed that high intensity is improved by endurance, and you can’t go long without proper recovery.

1. SPEED WORK

Why? A 2007 study verified what professional athletes have known for years — training at high intensities improves performance more than training at moderate intensities. Too many people fall into the camp of training just a bit too hard for the run to be considered endurance, but they also fail to push themselves hard enough to actually see any progress. Instead, they stay stagnant or run the risk of injury. Adding speed work in some form — structured intervals or casual fartlek-style runs — will pick up your pace and improve your overall running ability.

How? Start simply with some fartlek intervals. Named after the Swedish word for “speed play,” these intervals are random bursts of speed and can vary in distance. Start your run at an endurance pace, and, after you’re warmed up, simply pick a spot (like a street sign) that’s anywhere from 10–30 seconds away and sprint to it. Recover at endurance pace for a few minutes, then repeat.

Another alternative is to do hill sprints. Warm up at a slow pace, then find a hill and run up it for 30 seconds as hard as you can. Jog or walk back down, and run for five minutes to recover, then sprint up again. Do this a few times: As you get fitter, add more repetitions or simply go harder. Find a segment to time if you want to track your progress.

2. LONG SLOW DISTANCE

Why? The long slow distance (LSD to the running nerd community) is a classic training tool for a reason. Coined decades ago by the famed Dr. Van Aaken, the LSD concept is simple: Run long, but don’t run hard. You can increase volume, or you can increase intensity, but you can’t do both at the same time. Fellow running guru Phil Maffetone has long championed the idea of running at an aerobic pace, keeping your heart rate steady as you build up mileage. It worked for Mark Allen, who won the Ironman World Championship after switching to this style of training, and it could work for you.

How? First, think about what your longest run is right now. If you’re a new runner and even that first mile is torturous, then run that first mile, but tack on a few extra minutes of walking before and after. If you’re a 45 minutes-and-done person, aim for 46 minutes of running this week, but again, add 5–10 minutes of walking before and after. Keep slowly increasing the run time, but keep the walking (the warmup helps ramp your heart rate to a nice aerobic level rather than jumping up too fast, and the cooldown lets your body adapt to the added time and avoid cramping and stiffness). Remember: You don’t need to go from 30-minute runs to 3-hour runs this week. It’s a process.

3. RECOVERY RUN

Why? Prevent overtraining by recovering properly. A recovery run is (strangely enough) a fantastic indicator of progress in your training. If a recovery run pace is super easy to maintain, you’re getting fitter and stronger as a runner. If it feels difficult, you feel sore or you end it feeling extremely unhappy, you’re either taking your other workouts too aggressively and at risk of being overtrained, or you’re not actually doing distance slowly, or speed work quickly and you’re still stuck in that middle zone. This is also a good time to check in with your body: How are your calves feeling, is your stomach cramping, are your feet sore? You might not notice these things during your harder workouts, but a recovery run might give you the insight you need into how your body is truly feeling.

How? If you’re new to running, a recovery run might almost feel painfully slow, barely a jogging pace. But make sure your heart rate stays low — keep it hovering below your aerobic zone. Walk if you need to. Keep this run short: If you’re new to running, a 15-minute walk might be enough for you (though walking longer is never a bad idea). For seasoned runners, 45–60 minutes can be done at a recovery pace, but if you see your heart rate start to creep up, you start to feel tired or you feel any soreness, cut it short and start walking.


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  • Good stuff!

  • Douglas Kelly

    so if I’m running 4 – 5 days / week (currently in slogging mode as described in the first paragraph), I’d still retain the 1 – 2 days at a similar moderate pace that I’m doing and vary the other 3 days with the runs described here?

    • Stephen Woodrow

      I use the BUPA running programs, they are a very good guide

  • Paul

    Or ask the question…Why run at all?….after reaching adulthood, unless you are a professional athlete of some nature, there is no reason to run…One can obtain all the cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise from walking (using same technique mentioned in article)…. walking is much less stressful on joints and the body in general….

    • Kim Kremer

      Some of us enjoy it.

    • Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos

      Walking is definitely not the same as running. The physiological changes produced by running simply can’t be replicated by walking. Also, sure, you can hurt yourself if you are obese. But if you are looking to burn some fat/shed some pounds, why not run instead of walk? It makes total sense if you factor in time needed to burn x amount of calories, which can be half to one third or even more compared to walking. Plus, running is a great gateway to so many other sports, once you build stamina/endurance. So, “No reason to run” is a bit of a stretch.

    • Jason Woodward

      No offense that might be the laziest, dumb comment I’ve ever heard about running . I love the challenge of upping my game against competition. Stress reliever also . Not sure why your even on this page since running is a wAste of time in your words .

    • Julie

      I disagree, there are many reasons to run and every runner has their own reason. For me, I started running at the age of 38. I was in the middle of battling alcoholism. I am sober now. Running became my healthy addiction. I plan to grow old with running.

  • steve

    Be nice to your bodies, breakdown and replacement parts suck! I am 61 YO and have been an endurance athlete all of my adult life, now I am paying the price. Arthritis in my legs, tendon breakdown, and AFIB are all connected with my overuse and abuse by running and cycling over the last 45 years. I envy the older folks who have been blessed with superior genetics and have had their bodies hold up well. I loved running and cycling and know that if I had cut back when I was younger, I could still enjoy it today. Always said ‘better to burn out than to fade away’ and now wish I had moderated my training because it’s easy to burn out early and then fade away over a long, extended period
    .

  • John

    I do my recovery runs a bit different. It will generally be a 3 mile run the day after a longer run and I’ll pace myself at 10:00/mile. It does help me to find out how my body is reacting to the longer runs too. If I’m sore in a specific area then I’ll know that I’m not stretching right or not enough. Sometimes I find a need to change my cadence or get new shoes.

  • Johnny Love

    At 62 I’ve been working out all my life and have learned a lot along the way about what exercises and recovery work best for me. I stopped long runs because of the cortisol release and wear and tear on the body. I switched several years ago to sprints. I researched why Olympic sprinters were far more muscular than marathoners and found out the body creates HGH during High Intensity Interval Training. I give myself plenty of recovery time, 4-5 days because my muscles get pumped by these sprints. The distance should takes 25-30 seconds running hard and then walk back to start. It will take time but I’m up to 6-8 sets. I break it up once and awhile by doing leg lunges or squats. My joints and ligaments are actually stronger and feel great. My friend of the same age has sore joints everywhere and doesn’t work out at all. I’ve explained to him for years if you don’t use your muscles and joints they’ll be weak and sore.
    At my age I take more recovery time and do only body weight or band exercises. When those body areas feel good and strong again, I’ll do my next workout.