Training Run Purpose

Do you ever hear your coaches or fellow runners talking about different types of runs but you’re not quite sure why they’re doing these sessions and the purpose of them

Sometimes it’s as important to run slow as it is to run fast! It’s important to vary the types of running workouts you do. Variety in your running workouts helps strengthen your cardiovascular system and your muscles. It will also help with your endurance, running economy, efficiency and aerobic capacity and reduce your chance of injury and boredom.

To get technical on the physiological effects for a minute, if you want to run further, faster or more comfortably, you need to challenge your body so that it can adapt and get stronger. The main systems which put the limits on your performance are:

Aerobic power – measured by something called the VO2 max, this is the maximum volume of oxygen the muscles can consume per minute. The more oxygen that’s available to your muscles, the better you’ll perform.

Lactate threshold – Lactate threshold is the speed at which lactic acid (a waste product of exercise and the thing which really causes fatigue) accumulates in the muscles and blood. If you can reduce your rate of production or improve the amount your body can absorb, you’ll be able to run faster and farther.

Aerobic capacity – this is your body’s ability to produce energy to be used during exercise or running, improve this and it mean greater endurance.

These all work together, but these aspects respond most effectively to different types of training. That is why most training programmes offer a mix of different types of runs. Some of these are hard, and you need to have a reasonable basic level of running fitness before doing the harder speed and hill work.

Base runs

A comfortable run, anything up to, say, around 5 miles at your natural pace.

Tempo run

Also known as threshold runs. An example would be 1 mile of jogging to warm up, followed by 3 miles at the fastest pace that can be sustained, followed by 1 mile of jogging to cool down. To test whether you are doing this at the right pace, you should be able to talk in broken sentences but not be able to carry on a full conversation or be gasping for air. Tempo runs will help you increase your speed (lactate threshold) and the amount of time you can sustain it for (aerobic capacity).

Hill reps

Short segments of uphill running that you’ll repeat to help increase aerobic power, endurance and strength. The best type of hill to run these on has a moderate gradient of about 4 – 6 percent.

For example, if the hill takes 45 seconds to run up, then your recovery should be around 1-2 minutes. Repeat 8-10 times.

Interval training

Short or long bursts of intense effort separated by equal or slightly longer segments of slower running, jogging or walking. The intense segments should have you pushing yourself to a point where you are gasping for air and counting the seconds until you can stop. Interval training is fantastic for improving your aerobic power and speed (even over much longer runs) and boost running economy, efficiency and fatigue resistance. Try doing: 1 mile of jogging to warm up, followed by 5 sets of 1000 metre runs at 5k pace with light jogging between intervals, followed by 1 mile of jogging to cool down.


A less structured run than your interval session, but with the same effects. After warming up, try 30-60 seconds bursts of effort perhaps using lamp posts, trees or target the end of a road. You can play around with these and have a bit of fun!

Long, slow run

Whether you are building up to a new distance, 10k, 10 miles, half marathon, marathon or ultra, your main goal is to increase the distance over what you can comfortably cover on your base runs. By increasing your endurance, you won’t feel limited going the distance during a race. You don’t need to run faster than your normal, comfortable pace during long runs. (These are generally the most effective for burning calories – you will do so at a slower rate than more intense runs but you will be able to keep it going for a lot longer).

Recovery run

Just a nice easy run, usually just 3-4 miles, which are generally short done at a relatively easy pace. They are best done after a hard workout, such as interval or tempo runs, so you can still add some mileage to your training routine without pushing your body too much. They will also help to overcome any tiredness.

Bringing variety into your running will help you improve and provide more interest. There are many different schools of thought on how best to use different types of run to train (and how long and hard, or not, they should be). Different approaches work better for different people so when you have some objectives in mind, look at different ideas and ask your coaches for suggestions. The most effective type of training is what you enjoy and feels right to you so you are prepared to stick with it.