I’ve been fortunate to have grown up on the track surrounded by runners (many more talented than me) and experienced coaches. From a young age, I knew how about training paces and how to race. Coaches could tell me almost any time and distance, within my ability, and I would achieve that goal within a few seconds.
Eventually, my days of competitive team running came to an end. However, finding myself on my own to train was not as scary as I thought it would be. I was equipped with the right knowledge and tools for success. Knowing how to incorporate my proper training paces was much of the reason why I progressed quickly from 800-meters to marathons and beyond.
Unfortunately, the majority of runners did not grow up with the experience in running as I did. Most have not had someone work closely with them to develop the correct skills to train and race. Whether it is out of convenience or lack of knowledge, most runners complete all their runs close to the same pace.
If this describes you as a runner, that is okay. It may be the right fit for you and your goals. However, if your goals are to get faster, run longer, build more muscle, or even to lose weight, you may want to consider adding some variety to your training paces.
In this article, I give an easy to understand overview of the different training paces that can be added to a runners routine.
Training Paces for Runners
Probably the easiest of training paces to describe, but one of the most difficult for us to realistically define for ourselves. Your goal pace is the overall pace you are working to achieve in your upcoming race. This pace should be based on recent similar performances and not the fastest goal pace you wish to achieve.
Set a realistic goal race pace based on actual recent performances.
For example, if you have recently run a half marathon in 1:30 and a 5K in 18-minutes, then a realistic goal pace for a marathon would be 7:45/mile. That is the equivalent to a 3:22 marathon. In many cases, a runner would say their marathon goal is sub-3:00. However, the recent performances show that the fitness and experience are not quite to that level yet.
When establishing a realistic goal pace, it is important to note that paces may change during a structured training plan. In fact, you should almost expect them to change. If you have laid out a structured training plan, then you likely have built in several training races. These training races leading up to your goal race allow you to make proper adjustments in goal pace and other aspects of your plan.
Endurance runs are broken down into three distinctly different types of runs. Recovery runs, long runs, and easy runs. The majority of your running miles will be done in one of these endurance paced zones. These runs improve your ability to run longer with less fatigue and increase the delivery of oxygen to your muscles.
Endurance runs are important for improving strength of muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments, which will reduce the risk of injury. If you are training for long distance races, such as a half marathon or longer, your endurance paced runs will be where you build the mental toughness to know you can cover the goal distance.
Recovery runs will last between 15 to 60-minutes in total duration. These are very slow and easy runs to allow time to recover between the more challenging training or racing days in your schedule. The emphasis with recovery runs is on a very, very easy pace! I’m talking about a pace that is 60 to 90-seconds per mile slower than your goal pace.
The first few times you complete a run at this pace, it is going to feel to slow. Don’t give up on it though! With more time spent at actual recovery pace, you will start to notice a positive difference on your harder training days.
Easy runs make up the majority of running time and distance in any training plan. These runs are potentially going to be longer and slightly faster than your recovery runs. Most will find training plans with easy runs lasting between 15 to 90-minutes at a pace that is 15 to 60-seconds slower per mile than goal pace.
The long run is where you build your endurance and mental strength for your longer races. The total duration of your long run will depend on your goal race distance. These runs will last at least one hour to several hours for marathon and ultra-marathon runners. The overall effort should almost always be kept easy (approximately 60-seconds slower than race pace). However, there are several long run variations that you can be added into your training. These variations will improve your confidence and ability to race.
RELATED: 4 Proven Long Run Variations
Adding stamina runs to your training plan can improve your ability to run at a fast pace for a longer amount of time. These are very important runs if your goal is to get faster! Stamina runs alter the point in which lactic acid production no longer outpaces your bodies ability to remove it at a specific pace. This is known as your lactate threshold. The more efficient your body is at removing lactic acid the faster you will be able to train and race!
Lactic acid is produced when glucose is broken down and oxidized. With strenuous exercise, the level of oxygen to our muscles is reduced and more lactic acid is produced. This is often associated with the burning sensation in your muscles during intense exercise.
Stamina runs will teach your body how to judge effort and the difference between fast and too fast. I breakdown stamina runs into three different workouts and explain each below…
STEADY STATE RUNS:
Steady state runs will last between 25 to 90-minutes and are run at the same pace from start to finish. These types of runs improve stamina and confidence in your fitness. Steady state runs are done at an easy to medium effort, around 10 to 30 seconds faster than goal pace.
The tempo run will challenge lactate threshold and be a critical part of training for a 10K or half marathon. The idea is to practice running just below or at your anaerobic level (lactate threshold). Tempo runs will last between 10 to 40-minutes. You will always want to start a tempo run with a period of easy running before accelerating the pace for the prescribed amount of time.
EXAMPLE TEMPO RUN
Warm-up: 15 to 20-minutes easy
Tempo run: 15 to 30-minutes of continuous running at threshold pace (heart rate zones 3 and 4).
Cool-down: 10 to 15-minutes easy
Tempo intervals will further develop your stamina and prepare you for times of harder efforts during distance racing. Intervals differ from tempo runs. With intervals, you will have a recovery run between each repetition (interval). In addition, your pace during intervals is going to be quicker than when running a tempo run. Tempo intervals can be a great way to increase your speed endurance, running form, and ability to respond to different challenges during a race.
EXAMPLE TEMPO INTERVAL
Warm-up: 10 to 15-minutes easy + running drills
Intervals: 5x 3-minutes at medium to hard effort with 2-minutes of active recovery between repetitions.
Cool-down: 10 to 15-minutes easy
Speed runs are best done on a track to help gauge distance and effort. These workouts are made up of intervals between 400-meters and 1600-meters in length. Speed workouts will improve your ability to run fast and increase oxygen delivery to your muscles. The result will be an increase in your bodies ability to remove lactic acid.
These workouts force you to continue to strive for and achieve a difficult pace when the breathing is labored and the muscles are heavy. You are sure to improve mental toughness when faced with fatigue during these training sessions. There are too many combinations of speed runs to list here, but it could be as simple as 10x 400-meters. You can also do more complex workout such as a ladder consisting of 400-800-1200-800-400 meter repeats.
Sprint paced workouts are often forgotten about as distance runners. These near all-out efforts can be helpful in improving coordination and running form. Similar to tempo intervals, sprint runs can improve your ability to respond to challenges faced during a race. It is a great confidence builder to know you can run faster when there are surges from the competition or changes in the terrain. With more sprint training, you will be able to make the most of your finishing kick. From 50-meters through 400-meters, sprint paced workouts will make you feel like a kid all over again.
Try adding these different training paces into your workout routine and see how they work for you. Keep in mind, more beginner runners will want to stay away from or limit the amount of time spent doing stamina, speed, and sprint paces. Take the time to build a solid base of endurance and strength before progressing your training to the next level.
For runners who are ready for faster workouts, remember that one or two of these workouts per week is most likely enough. Make sure you keep a solid day of rest or recovery in between hard efforts as well. Always listen to your body, and run easy, or take additional rest when needed.