-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Running Terminology Series — Types of Long Distance Workouts

running-advice-bugWhether you are new to running or just confused by terms like “speed workouts” and “tempo runs”, this series of articles is for you. We’ve distilled some of the most important terms related to running workouts, paces and lingo related to the track into a series of three short articles. Here in part I we tackle the different types of long-distance running workouts.

Long-distance Running Terminology Part I — Types of Workouts

By Coach Joe English
with Coach Dean Hebert
(C) 2010 Running Advice and News

Runners build fitness by doing a variety of different workouts. No matter whether they are training for their first 5K or to trying to qualify for the Olympic Marathon, a workout plan built on a variety of different types of workouts makes runners faster, more efficient and keeps them progressing toward their fitness goals.

Just like a diet built of many different foods will help provide the many different kinds of nutrients that we need to stay healthy, providing the body with a variety of different running workouts helps make a stronger and healthier runner. And, to take the analogy one step further, doing the same workouts over and over leads runners down a path toward diminishing returns. Too many runners force-feed themselves with a steady diet of slow miles run every day and this is like eating junk food for lunch every day – it yields little in the way of nutrition or happiness in the long-run.

What follows below is a description of several types of run workouts and their place among the “diet” of the healthy runner. Building a training plan should be viewed like putting together a puzzle. As you place each workout into the puzzle, eventually the picture of a runner comes into place. What that runner looks like depends on the puzzle pieces – which are the number, length and intensity of the workouts themselves.

Types of Running Workouts
There are eight types of workouts for long-distance runners that we’ve identified in the list below. For the most part, runners should aim their efforts at those workouts that we would classify as “quality” workouts — Quality (or speed workouts), Tempo Runs, Goal Paced Runs, Strength Workouts, and Speed-play or Agility work. These workouts produce the biggest pay-off in terms of fitness and improvements in speed.

Quality Workouts (AKA: speed workouts) – Quality Workouts (also called “Speed Workouts” by many) are fast running workouts made up of short “intervals” of time spent running with rest periods in between to allow the runner to recover. By keeping the distances short, the runner is able to run faster than they would run over a long distance. These workouts are short and to the point. They should be done at a hard effort to get the most value out of them, but runners should strike a balance on their pace here. The best way to pace speed workouts is to aim for a pace that you can maintain from the start to the finish of the workout without slowing down within the interval itself or between the intervals at the start and end of the workout. (See further notes below on mile, 5K and 10K pace.)

Goal Paced Runs – The goal paced run is perhaps the most important run of the week for those runners who have time goals at a particular distance. As their name implies, this is the workout in which the miles are run at the pace they will be run during the race for which they are training. The pace should be within 10 seconds per mile (plus or minus) of the goal pace for a particular race. Running miles at goal pace builds “muscle memory” through repetition, allowing the runner to feel comfortable at their target goal pace. Typically marathon runners will run up to 18 miles at their goal pace a few weeks before the race and then will come into the race with a confidence that they know their pace and can make it happen on race day.

Long/slow Distance Runs – While many workouts are aimed at improving speed and strength the “long/slow distance” run is intended to do just one thing: log “time on feet”. Take these runs slowly, because the benefit comes from the amount of time spent out practicing running. The pace of these runs should be about 1 minute to 1 ½ minutes per mile slower than goal pace. Rushing through a long/slow distance run takes away time that should be spent lengthening workouts, so these workouts can include rest breaks and even time spent chatting with other runners while running. Prior to a marathon the longest run in this category might be 20 miles for most runners, with some walkers or more advanced runners doing as much as 22 miles. The longest of these runs should be no less than three weeks prior to a marathon to allow adequate recovery time.

Tempo Runs – Tempo runs are perhaps the most uncomfortable running workout, but they yield enormous benefits to a runner’s fitness. The tempo run is a hard effort that is sustained for approximately 20 minutes in most cases. The pace of the tempo run is “comfortably hard”, which translates to something that is slower than a speed workout and faster than a goal paced workout. A tempo run may sound short on paper at 20 minutes, but should leave the runner tested and fatigued if done fast enough. Needless to say, without the proper impetus, runners often don’t push the pace hard enough in a tempo run to get the benefit out of it.

Strength Workouts – Some running workouts are designed to push both the cardio-vascular system and stress the power producing muscles at the same time and these are often referred to as “strength workouts”. This type of workout would include hill repeats, in which a speed workout is done by running up hill. Strength workouts can also include intervals done on a track with a burst of speed up a set of stadium stairs at the end or other similar activities. Think of these workouts as push-ups and sit-ups for the runner (and at times they may include those as well).

Speed-play, Fartlek and Drills – Building athleticism, flexibility and strength can be very beneficial to runners, especially to marathon runners who need strength as they fight the fatigue of late marathon miles. Speed-play and Fartlek workouts are more akin to games played while running. The Fartlek – the funny name is Swedish – is a game in which a group of runners runs together and one runner picks up the pace for a few minutes or seconds and everyone else needs to try to keep up. The pace goes up and down, up and down. These workouts are a lot of fun. Drills on the other hand are usually done at the end of a workout and will include bounding, skipping, leaping and side-to-side running to build athleticism and dexterity.

Recovery – Sometimes an easy run after a particularly punishing workout can help speed the recovery of the runner. These easy paced workouts are meant to be a mental and physical warm-down the day after a tough run. Leave your watch at home and just enjoy the break from more intense workouts on these days, but don’t do them too often. Most runners should have no more than one very easy recovery run per week. They should instead focus on the higher quality of the speed and goal paced workouts that we’ve already described.

Junk Mileage – Miles run with no purpose, time goal and no real intensity can be lumped into what we call “junk mileage”. Unfortunately, many runners do almost exclusively junk miles in their training. The goal for budding runners is to move miles out of the junk column and into the other types of higher intensity runs that we’ve described here. A good test here to ask yourself if the run falls into any of the above categories (quality, tempo, goal paced, etc.) and if the answer is no, the workouts is likely junk mileage.

In the next section of this article, we’ll define the paces at which each type of run should be practiced to get the most benefit from the workout.

To continue to the section 2, click here.

Coach Dean Hebert collaborated on this article as a technical advisor.

Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon USA
Running Advice and News


One response so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. weekendalcoholic March 4th, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    These are very handy articles to read Joe, thanks very much. When you move from someone who just goes out for a run every now and then and aim to run a certain race or distance the amount of info you're suddenly supposed to take in can be quite daunting – articles like this help a great deal with understanding 🙂

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