In the part 1 of my blog I stressed the importance of writing down your commitment and doing research of plans to get things started.

As you start to look at (good) training plans you will see that they all incorporate a mix of different types of runs. These are important to ensure you are improving all of your energy systems over time.

Note – the summary below represents how I see the world having digested a plethora of reading material over time – it should not be seen as a scientific guide!

Types of run:

Easy run or recovery run (<70% of maximum HR) these will tend to be short runs to keep your body ticking over and to encourage the flushing out of lactic acid if you have done a tough session previously. Generally I would say 30mins is a good length for an easy run – you really need to focus on going slow so add an extra layer if it’s cold as it will make you run faster!

Long run (70-80% of maximum HR): once a week you should incorporate a run which stresses your aerobic system for an extended period of time. Generally I think this should be around 1.5 – 2 times the length of a normal run. You should keep your heart rate down to be able to hold a conversation, which I think is around the 70-80% mark. This is a great run to do with a friend as there is plenty of time to chat, and no pressure to run fast.

Tempo run (80-90% of maximum HR): tempo runs are about training your body to operate at a higher level of effort for extended periods of time. These may be a series of longer intervals with short jogging recovery (e.g. 3 x 10mins effort with 2mins jog recovery) or a single effort for a longer period (e.g. 30mins at half marathon pace).

Threshold run (85-95% of maximum HR): these are about training your body to operate to increase the effort it can operate at, while burning readily available fuel supplies and without producing lots of lactic acid which is what creates the burning feeling in your muscles and eventually forces you to stop. They are shorter efforts than tempo runs. It is considered that the body can only operate anaerobically (i.e. operating without oxygen) for up to 3 mins so intervals should be less than that, and you will need longer relative recovery times or walking / static rest to bring your HR down between intervals. An example could be 6 repetitions of 60 seconds up a (runnable) hill with walking recovery.

Fartlek run (variation on a tempo run): This is a continuous run where you incorporate short periods of increased speed at either random intervals (e.g. called by a coach) or based on landmarks (e.g. between lampposts). A key difference from the threshold runs above are that you will carry on running at a base speed between intervals so your body is having to operate at a higher intensity overall for longer. As a result your intervals will be less intense than for threshold. A run like this will help your body to adapt to surges of effort required through mimicking changes in terrain (if you don’t have any nearby!) and also to practice tactics for when racing.

Progression run: this was an unfamiliar run to me before I discovered TheRunExperience.com. They use it as a way of combining a high aerobic workout (e.g. via a 20-minute tempo run) with some short intervals (threshold run) at the end (e.g. 6 repetitions of a 30-second hill).

Pure speed session (>95% of maximum HR): this is probably the most neglected type of run. I confess I don’t think I have done a proper speed session in the last few years. I only really “discovered” it while doing my recent English Athletics qualification. The focus here is to train your body to be able to operate at higher speeds. It exercises our alactic system which uses fuel stored up in our body but which lasts for a maximum of 10 seconds and takes a relatively long time to replenish (4-6mins). A popular speed session is the “flying 30s” which gives athletes 30metres to get up to full speed, 30metres at full speed, and 30metres to slow down, for a total of 90metres with a slow walk back to the start and sufficient rest before the next one. You need to make sure your body is well warmed up for this!

How to incorporate them

You should be sure to include a combination of these runs. Depending on what other training you do I think a good starting point is to commit to four runs a week incorporating:

  • easy run – helps your body to recover and gives you time on your feet
  • long run – builds muscular and aerobic endurance
  • tempo run – gets your body used to operating at desired speed
  • threshold run – increases your VO2 max and also encourages good running form

The trick then is to make sure that other cross-training elements are structured so that they don’t place additional stress on the body. For instance if you wanted to incorporate a weekly endurance bike ride and a weights session, I would make sure I gave myself sufficient time between the tempo run, threshold run and weights so my body had time to recover (and adapt). The low impact bike ride could fit almost anywhere I would say.

You can mix things up periodically by swapping the threshold run for a speed session, or the tempo run for a fartlek.

This of course can also change over the course of a year based on your event calendar, weather and other factors. For instance, a happy balance for me would be:

  • Autumn / winter: greater focus on indoor rowing and callisthenics / weights and drop runs to 3 x per week
  • Spring / summer: greater focus on road cycling for endurance, and shorter and faster runs,