Train Smarter: Have a Plan by Mick Wall

In my previous two training posts on the Striders site, ‘How to Build a training plan’ and ‘Strength, Stability, Drills’, they were very much about ‘why’.

So I wanted to create a new post that pulled everything together and was more ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘when’. So here it is, a post that I believe details a balanced but effective training approach and may provide some structure to your training.

I wanted to write some advice and recommendations that would be suitable for Striders members who run around 3 times a week and could use the club training sessions and Parkrun as the core of their training. Too many plans on the internet are too generic, too intense, copied from an ‘elite’ plan or just too ‘out there’. Whilst there are outliers within our club who regularly rack up 60+ miles per week, many of our members only run 2, 3 or 4 times a week and there are rarely any plans or general advice out there to cater for them. Regardless of your current running speeds and level of fitness, the advice in this post is for everyone, even those coming straight from the club’s 5k to 10k courses.

I see many questions on the club’s Facebook group around ‘how should I train’ so I wanted to give some simple, straightforward and balanced advice for the average Jo and Joe in the club. I think of this post as what I’d love to have seen 6 years ago when I started running. Thankfully you don’t have to make all the mistakes that I did getting to this point and you can hopefully fast track your training from my experiences as a runner, leader and now coach.

As much as all of us coaches would absolutely love to work 1:1 with every member of the club, we just don’t have the free time to do so. I’m hoping this post goes a little way to putting people on the sensible track with their training. I feel it’s better to get something out there for people to follow rather than nothing. I hate seeing training that is obviously lacking direction and clarity pop up on my Strava feed each week.

I really hope this post can give everyone the understanding of why they are doing the runs they are doing, the difference between training intensities/paces, what those runs are doing for them, what a good and balanced training plan can look like and in essence be the ammunition to empower people to write their own plans.

I also wanted to intervene and try to stop members from flogging themselves with 3 hard sessions a week if they are only running 3 times a week. Whilst there may be short term gains from it, going to all of Track on a Tuesday, Strength and Speed on Thursday, smashing Parkrun on a Saturday and even racing on a Sunday each and every week is just not viable long term.

No pun intended, but I assume most of us are in this for the ‘long run’ and want to continue running for years to come? Well, hammering yourself into the ground with hard session after a hard session and race after race is not the path to longevity in the sport, especially if you also want to progress and get better/stronger/faster whilst avoiding injury.

In summary, endurance event training (ie 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon) is all about building a strong aerobic base using a foundation of easy runs and then adding faster workouts for leg speed and speed endurance.

The other cornerstone and foundation of endurance running is strength. Strength is not as sexy a topic as actual running, but it’s absolutely key from both an injury prevention point of view as well as performance.

  • 5k race is 85% aerobic and 15% anaerobic
  • 10k race is 90% aerobic and 10% anaerobic
  • Half Marathon is 97% aerobic and 3% anaerobic
  • Marathon is 98% aerobic and 2% anaerobic

Aerobic meaning with oxygen, and Anaerobic meaning without oxygen. So it makes sense to train primarily aerobically for primarily aerobic races.

Long slower aerobic runs are very much at the heart of the advice as these are what grow your aerobic base.  Whilst elite runners and those 60+ mile per week runners who already have a great base need to repeatedly push other boundaries like vo2 max and lactate threshold to improve further, the limiting factor for most club runners (ie why they aren’t faster) is likely their aerobic endurance. So it makes sense to prioritise training towards that.

That said, even 3 times a week runners could still benefit from training at faster speeds, but certainly not all the time. It’s about getting the balance right and training at the right intensity on each run. Making each run count and serving a purpose. So you know when you walk out the door how today’s run is going to improve you.

Note: See my ‘How to Build a Training Plan’ page for more detailed information on what vo2 max and lactate threshold mean and the science behind it all.

Mick’s Training Bungalow, Foundations and Training Fundamentals

In my opinion, the number one and absolutely key thing to understand about run training is pacing and intensity.

To train smart you need to realise that running at different intensities has different physiological effects on the body. Running at different paces and intensities working with different energy systems and muscle fibre types.

So you need to find the correct balance of training between the intensities and supplement them with an appropriate level of recovery for each type.

For example, “just enough” hard training can increase your aerobic capacity, but “too much” hard training can impact and actually reduce your aerobic capacity. So whilst you thought you were getting fitter and faster by hammering all those hard sessions, you could be actually doing the opposite.

The key is finding the right balance of workouts for you and for your chosen goal event. Remember, we are all an experiment of one, so what works for someone else may not work for you.

Throughout your training and perhaps through different phases of your season, you will need to regularly train at all the different intensities.

If you neglect an energy system or muscle fibre type for a period of time there is a good chance you’ll lose that element of fitness.

But the good news is that it doesn’t take as much training to maintain an energy system as it takes to build it. You can keep in touch with all energy systems by training then once every 10-14 days.

Note: I have not really mentioned periodisation (ie building and changing training towards a specific goal event) as I covered this at length in ‘How to build a training plan’.

You can break down the 5 main training paces and intensities like this:

Training Pace Also known as Easy or Hard Talk Test Breathing Test Rate of Perceived Exertion RPE (out of 10) Minimum recovery required before next hard session
Easy Long Easy Hold a full conversation and sing a song Fully through the nose, could run with mouth closed 3 Upto 8hrs
Marathon Steady Easy Can chat (but don’t want to) Deep, but steady 6 Upto 24hrs
Tempo Threshold Hard Utter a few words Deep and somewhat rapid 7 Upto 48hrs
Interval Vo2 Max Hard One word answers Very deep and very rapid 8 Upto 48hrs
Repetition Fast Hard Impossible Breathlessness 9 Upto 48hrs

Really do take note of that final column, ‘minimum recovery time’. This is crucial to get the best out of your hard work, allowing yourself enough time to recover before the next hard session. There is a separate section later on all about recovery.

The other important thing to realise is that these intensities and RPE (rate of perceived exertion) is the same for everyone regardless of whether you’re a 35 minute 10k runner or a 60 minute 10k runner.

Easy is easy relative to YOUR current fitness and ability. Similarly, the only difference between the Vo2 interval pace of a 35 minute 10k runner and a 60 minute 10k runner is that one person will be capable of going much faster because of their current fitness. Both runners will be working ‘hard’ and to both it will feel like 8 out of 10 on the effort scale, but current fitness allows one to go much faster.

Below we will talk about the benefits of each training type, how they fit together to make up your entire running fitness and how best to proportionally carve up your training across the different intensities. We also provide a pace calculator that will give you the correct training paces for each intensity based on YOUR current fitness and ability.

Think of your entire running fitness as a bungalow. In simplistic terms you can break the bungalow down into three elements; the main body of the bungalow is your aerobic capacity, the ceiling above your head is your lactate/anaerobic threshold and the tip of the roof is your vo2 max.

A fourth element, Repetition pace, sits above them all as training at this pace allows you to run more economically at all paces. See my Bungalow diagram below.

There are little returns from hammering vo2 max and tempo sessions if you have no underlying base of the bungalow.  All you’d be doing is creating a tall, but not very wide building with little long term gain or reward.

Ideally what we want to do is build and grow the walls at the bottom of your house outwards, ie grow your aerobic base to create a bigger building at the bottom. From there, you can then push up the ceiling using tempo runs and raise the roof of the bungalow with vo2 max work. And because you have a bigger base underneath, the gains you’ll make by pushing up the ceiling and the roof will be proportionally larger.

This is why most training plans start with a substantial ‘base’ period, then add in Vo2 and Tempo work later.

All 4 elements of aerobic base, lactate threshold/tempo, vo2 max training and sprint/repetition work together to create a bigger building. I.e. a fitter and faster you.

But these things take time and it’s a slow process to elicit changes, so consistency is the key. By regularly and consistently training all the different elements of your fitness you will steadily grow the bungalow both outwards and upwards.

Even if you can only run 3 times a week, you can make improvements just by being consistent in your approach and steadily pushing and challenging yourself.

We talk about how much easy and hard to do later in the post and it’s probably not what many people think.

For a full and more detailed explanation of the physiology behind Easy, Marathon, Tempo, Interval and Repetition training, see my ‘How to Build a Training Plan’ page.

Foundations and Fundamentals

The final thing to mention in the bungalow analogy is the foundations. Like any building, the foundations upon which it is built are just as important. So let’s summarise those.

Strength, Power, Stability and Balance

When running you are almost constantly working on just one leg at a time. If you are lacking in strength, stability or balance your body and muscles are going to be working overtime to compensate and keep you stable and this wastes energy. You need to build those elements of strength, stability and balance using exercises and drills. The same goes for power as you push yourself forward with every step. The more powerful and stronger you can become the faster you will push with every step. Again, drills and exercises are the key.

It’s a sad fact that many new runners do not initially have the requisite amount of strength to run fast. Especially those of us coming to the sport later in life having spent years sitting behind a desk or in our cars for long periods.

Also, many injuries from the knee downwards are caused by weakness from the knee upwards. Achilles, calf, knee, plantar fasciitis and even over-pronation problems could all point to a weakness in the hips, glutes and core.

And at the performance end, there can become a point where you may have great fitness, but you no longer have the strength and power to go as fast as you potentially could. So your lack of strength and power becomes your limiting factor.

Your running performance will improve if you can train consistently. But you can only train consistently if you aren’t injured. See strength and conditioning as pre-hab. So you’re getting strong so that you don’t get injured. Not the other way around, ie I need to get strong now I’ve gotten injured.

There is a whole section covering strength & conditioning and drills later in the post.

Flexibility and Suppleness

No point having a giant aerobic engine and lots of power if you’re tight around the hips etc and don’t have the flexibility to make the best use of that fitness. Again, mentioned later in the post.

Strength without flexibility is rigidity, and flexibility without strength is instability.

Running Economy and Efficiency

Think of your running economy as you would think about the fuel efficiency of your car. More economical runners burn less fuel and heat up less rapidly at any given pace than less economical runners and therefore can run faster, all other factors being equal.

You can become more economical and efficient in a number of ways. Drills go a long way to reducing wasted energy by improving your technique. The other way is repeated bouts of very fast running. When you run at faster speeds you recruit more muscle fibres for economical running. These are the cells that allow you to run fast with minimal effort, minimal wasted movement and minimal energy spent. We call these speeds Repetition Pace and they are referred to later in the post.

Cadence and Stride Length

The advantage of a faster cadence (the amount of steps per minute) is the reduction in both the overall ground contact time and vertical movement (you want to move forward with each step, not upward). The likelihood of a faster cadence is that you will likely land under your body rather than over striding out in front of you. Over-striding runners who land their foot in front of them put too much pressure on their muscles and bones, almost breaking with every foot strike and making them more susceptible to injury.

Technique, Form and Skill

Running is a skill. You take up swimming, you are told how each stroke works. You play other sports and there are coaches advising on technique. It seems a bit daft that people don’t attribute the same care and attention to running.  Get your technique right and you can become a better and faster runner.

Sleep, Recovery, Lifestyle/Stress

Recovery is just as important as training as this is when you grow and adapt from the hard work you have been putting in.  In fact, recovery IS training. So if you don’t allow adequate recovery, you won’t grow and adapt. Sleep, lifestyle and stress go a long way to determining how well you will recover and ultimately how your fitness will progress as a runner.

If your sleep is rubbish and you’re stressed at work, it’s highly likely you will not recover from training as well as if you were consistently getting 8 hours of sleep a night and having carefree days. Don’t underestimate how vital sleep, recovery and lifestyle can affect your training and performance potential. You may need to adapt your run training to work around stressful situations.

Nutrition, Diet and Supplements

The fuel you put into your body is a big factor in determining the performance you get out of it. Diet for athletes can be a mind boggling topic and I’m no expert. But I would hazard a guess that if you live on a diet of Chinese Takeaways, Prosecco and Sticky Toffee Pudding your training and performance will suffer. Research shows that modern life and modern diets likely leave you deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, so consider supplementing. Also, when training we are constantly breaking our bodies to build them back up again, so consider taking in more protein in your diet to help with the repair process. Be that whole foods or supplements or shakes.


Along with Recovery, this is the key. Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey. If all you can run is 3 times a week, fine, just run 3 times a week, but do it consistently and push yourself just a little bit each week. Consistency isn’t always exciting, but it’s a sure fire way to help you improve as a runner. It’s better to run 3 times a week every week than flit between 1 day a week one week and then trying to catch up with 4 or 5 days a week.

How to build your training week(s)

The training advice within this post consists of priority easy and marathon pace aerobic runs and a sprinkling of faster/harder running by using what we call ‘quality sessions’ each week.

The summary below details how to build your own plan. Pick and choose the combination that suits your level of fitness/ability and time/runs available each week.

Priority Workouts each week (try to do all of this each week)

  • 1 x Easy Long run [Easy Pace], (up to 90 mins for 5k/10k, upto 2hrs for HM) with 20 sec bursts of speed each mile
  • 1 x Marathon pace run, up to 1hr [Marathon Pace]
  • 1 x Quality run (see below)
  • 1 x Strength and Conditioning session i.e. home bodyweight, gym weights or pilates
  • 1 x 15 min Drills session (you can tag this on the front of runs as a warm-up)
  • 1 x 15 min Plyometrics session (you can tag this on the front of runs as a warm-up)

Optional recovery runs, upto 30 mins [Easy Pace]

Some combinations of how weekly runs could look and how your running could progress over time:

  • 2 runs per week (1 x Easy Long with speed bursts, 1 x Marathon)
  • 3 runs per week (1 x Easy Long with speed bursts, 1 x Marathon, 1 x Easy Recovery)
  • 3 runs per week (1 x Easy Long with speed bursts, 1 x Marathon, 1 x Quality)
  • 4 runs per week (1 x Easy Long with speed bursts, 1 x Marathon, 1 x Quality, 1 x Easy Recovery)
  • 4 runs per week (1 x Easy Long with speed bursts, 1 x Marathon, 2 x Quality)
  • 5 runs per week (1 x Easy Long with speed bursts, 1 x Marathon, 2 x Quality, 1 x Easy Recovery)
  • 5 runs per week (1 x Easy Long with speed bursts, 1 x Marathon, 1 x Quality, 2 x Easy Recovery)

As you can see, 1 x Easy Long and 1 x Marathon Pace are your priority runs each week. Once you’ve planned those you could start to add quality/harder sessions on top, which are listed in more detail below.

I recommend short bursts of speed (strides) within each Easy run to improve your running economy. This article explains why better than I can.

Short bursts of speed in longer runs also break the monotony of running for a long time at the same cadence and stride length. Changing pace can help ward off overuse injuries by removing the repetition of repeated foot strike usage patterns.

I also recommend both a weekly Strength and Conditioning session and drills and plyometrics once a week which is all detailed in a later section.

As with all new training, I’d always recommend you err on the side of caution and build up slowly and progressively.

If you’re a relatively new runner who is running 3 times a week, simply running 2 x Easy and 1 x Marathon pace each week, but on a consistent basis may be a great starting point. Please don’t fall into the ‘new runner trap’ thinking you ‘have’ to go to a speed session to get faster. There is plenty of time later down the line to add that string to your bow once you’ve built a foundation of base aerobic fitness and required strength.  Having just started running, you will likely get faster just by running more.

Also, if you can run 4 times a week don’t instantly assume that 2 x Easy and 2 x Quality is the best route for you either. You may need to gradually build your body to that point. Maybe start with 3 x Easy and 1 x Quality for a month or two before adding more load.

Too much, too soon, and too often can be a recipe for burnout, fatigue and injury.

The heart of the running advice is that we want to be working somewhere towards the widely recommended 80/20 split.  Ie the majority of your running week i.e. 80% should be easy and the other 20% are hard quality sessions. The 80/20 split can be miles or minutes, it doesn’t really matter as it’s the ethos and sentiment that we are hitting home.

Whilst 80/20 in its purest form is arguably better suited to high mileage runners posting very high weekly totals, the underlying concept holds true for everyone. The majority of your runs need to be aerobic in nature. So for the likes of us running 3 to 5 times per week a 70/30 split is likely acceptable as long as adequate recovery is taken between sessions.

But do not fall into the trap of overloading on lots of hard sessions each week as injury, burnout and lack of progress will likely follow. Two quality hard sessions per week are the recommended maximum for most people, even those running 6 times per week.

Remember, aerobic capacity is the key to endurance events; ie 5k and upwards. So we build your aerobic cake with mainly aerobic/easy/marathon pace running then ice the cake with faster running.

Quality Sessions each week

Here are the quality sessions. Choose ONLY 1 or 2 each week depending on how many runs you do as per the combination recommendation above. There are explanations about each type below.

  1. 1 x Fast / Short session [Repetition Pace]
  2. 1 x Vo2 max [Interval pace], 1 x Hill Repeats [Interval effort] or 1 x Race Pace [Target 5k/10k pace]
  3. 1 x Tempo [Tempo pace]

Each one of the three combined selections above works a different energy system and muscle fibres. Avoid training the same energy system more than once in the same week. I.e. only choose one workout from each of the 3 sections each week as it can take days to shed the fatigue on the energy system stressed in hard workouts.

Note: You can run easy as many times as you like.

So over a period of weeks, rotate through the quality sessions so that you are training different energy systems and muscle fibres each week. It’s almost impossible to hit every energy system every week unless you are running 7 days a week. So relax and accept that you will do this over a period of weeks by mixing up the quality workouts.

Note: a race of ANY kind is a quality/hard session and the rules on limiting quality sessions still apply. But remember, you can always use low key races as fantastic training opportunities. Don’t avoid racing, just don’t overdo it on the hard sessions each week.

If you are running 2 x Quality runs per week and are working towards a 5k or 10k, always try and make one of the Quality sessions a Fast/Short/Repetition pace run. Leg speed and running economy are vital for 10k to unlock the pace required on race day and make the best use of that strong aerobic base.

But if you are thinking about racing a Half Marathon, maybe tempo based workouts should be the priority quality workout.

You can also use this plan as a basis for Marathon training too. Common sense training by prioritising your aerobic base, and then working the other energy systems with harder sessions can work for all distances.

Don’t be a slave to the 7 day training week. Try 10-14 day training cycles?

As we’ve talked about above, it’s almost impossible it fit all of Long Easy, Marathon, Tempo, Vo2 and Repetition every week if you’re only running 3 or 4 times.  So why not ditch the constraints of a 7 day cycle and expand your training over 10 to 14 days?

That way, you should be able to include all the various quality sessions along with Easy runs and still find time for recovery days and your strength and conditioning work.

It could look something as simple as this over a 30 day period (with colour coded 7 day weeks).

Note: A day off means a day off from running, but could easily be cross training, strength work or an easy 20 minute recovery run etc.

So over the space of 30 days you will have run all the 5 prescribed run types twice each followed by a recovery period of 7 days. Once the recovery week is over (day 29) you would start the schedule of harder workouts again.

This would be a great way of regularly keeping in touch and training all the different intensities and muscle fibres.  Something that would struggle to do working to 7 day barriers.

Also, spreading the workouts like this allows for maximum recovery time from those hard sessions. As we’ve said, recovery is where the magic happens and this sort of planning really allows for that magic to happen. Not just with scheduled recovery weeks, but with those days off between workouts.

There is no physiological need to run a long run every 7 days or hit a vo2 workout every 7 days. The fitness from each intensity will stay with you for up to 2 weeks before needing another top up. So don’t be a slave to 7 day routines, there is no need to stress about fitting everything over a regular style week.

This move from 7 day training to 10 days only needs a small change of mindset and a little forward planning. But the rewards could be immense towards your consistency of training for those who can’t run every day.

But remember, you don’t need to be a slave to a rigid plan like the above, especially if you already have your set running days. For example, what if you ran 4 times per week, but you always went to Hillsborough/Graves on a Wednesday, Hillsborough Thursday and did your Easy long run on a Sunday? No problem, just pencil those in and work the other quality sessions around your standard weekly runs. Just plonk in the missing quality sessions so that are doing each one and working each intensity/fibre around every 10-14 days.

This is what it could look like (with your rigid/set runs in bold)

How does intensity relate to pace?

I put a lot of faith in the Jack Daniels VDOT training pace calculator. By using a recent race result you can get your own personal training paces for each of the different session types. Note: in the table below how subtly different the pacing is for each different intensity. And yes, these small changes in pace along with the duration of the session make all the difference in what energy system you are working with.

Below is a summary of paces, but if you are in-between a 5k time (say 20:34) you can always use the actual calculator to get a more precise set of figures.

Recommended paces (in min/mile) for each session type based on a recent 5k time and rate of perceived exertion (RPE) out of 10.

RPE 3 / 10 RPE 6 / 10 RPE 7 / 10 RPE 8 / 10 RPE 9 / 10
5k Time Easy (min/mile) Marathon Tempo Interval Repetition
16:00 06:42 – 07:07 05:51 05:34 05:07 04:42
17:00 07:05 – 07:31 06:13 05:54 05:25 05:01
18:00 07:29 – 07:58 06:35 06:13 05:44 05:19
19:00 07:53 – 08:20 06:56 06:33 06:02 05:38
20:00 08:15 – 08:45 07:18 06:53 06:19 05:55
21:00 08:39 – 09:12 07:40 07:13 06:37 06:13
22:00 09:02 – 09:35 08:01 07:31 06:56 06:32
23:00 09:25 – 10:00 08:22 07:51 07:13 06:49
24:00 09:49 – 10:23 08:44 08:10 07:31 07:07
25:00 10:11 – 10:48 09:05 08:28 07:49 07:25
26:00 10:31 – 11:11 09:25 08:48 08:08 07:44
27:00 10:52 – 11:35 09:46 09:09 08:26 08:01
28:00 11:15 – 11:55 10:07 09:28 08:42 08:18
29:00 11:40 – 12:17 10:28 09:45 08:59 08:35
30:00 12:01 – 12:40 10:48 10:04 09:18 08:54
31:00 12:23 – 13:05 11:09 10:23 09:35 09:11
32:00 12:46 – 13:25 11:29 10:44 09:52 09:28

As above, when you use the chart or calculator using a recent race time you will get training paces for the following types of runs

  • Easy
  • Marathon
  • Tempo
  • Interval
  • Repetition

In the table, you can also see the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) which is another simple way of measuring how hard your body is working.

These paces can then be used for each of the sessions prescribed throughout the post. You can find each run type detailed below with a few sample workouts. The advice for all these harder quality sessions is to dip your toe in first and then build up the length of run or intervals slowly. There are some easy/medium/harder examples shown for each type.

Easy Running

Run at the prescribed Easy pace and no faster. After every mile or two put in a gradual 20 second burst of speed up to Repetition pace (ie not full out sprinting), then come back to easy pace and continue. Up to 90 minutes of running should be sufficient for 5k and 10k training whereas you can go up to 2hrs for Half Marathon training. For Marathon training most people would probably want to build towards 3hrs as they progress through their plan.

  • On the scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) these runs would be around 3 out of 10.
  • Talk test: Hold a full conversation and sing a song.
  • Breathing Test: Fully through the nose, could run with mouth closed.
  • You should need little recovery from Easy running, you could build up to running Easy almost every day.

There is no need to run faster than the prescribed Easy pace. In fact, with Easy you’ll get the same physiological stress by running slower than your Easy pace. This is great news for when running in groups. If the slowest member of your group runs their Easy pace at 10:00 min/mile and yours is 08:00 min/mile you will be fine running at 10:00 min/mile with them, you’ll get the benefit. The other way around though, if you made the 10:00 min/mile person run at 08:00 min/mile they wouldn’t get the Easy benefit and would no doubt curse you.

Marathon Pace

Marathon pace running is still aerobic in nature but is close enough to Tempo running to get many of the benefits of Tempo without the high levels of fatigue tempo running can bring.

  • 1 mile repeats at Marathon Pace with 1 min easy running (30 mins upto 1hr total)
  • 30 mins straight at Marathon pace
  • Then over time, you can build that up to 1hr of straight running at Marathon pace.
  • On the scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) these runs would be around 6 out of 10.
  • Talk test: Can chat (but don’t want to).
  • Breathing Test: Deep, but steady.
  • Take at least 24 hours of recovery after a Marathon Pace run before your next workout.

There is no need to run faster than Marathon Pace to get the desired effect. If you do run faster you will turn the session into a Tempo run and elicit more fatigue than required and warrant more recovery time.

Tempo Pace

These sessions can be hard work leaving many people fatigued after the workout, so approach tentatively if new to these sessions. You may want to consider Marathon Pace sessions as a gentler introduction to Tempo Pace running. (see above)

  • 1 mile repeats at Tempo Pace with 1 min easy running recovery (30 mins upto 1hr total)
  • Parkrun at Tempo Pace
  • Fartlek session alternating between Easy and Tempo pace (30 mins up to 1hr) i.e. 2 min, 3 min, 4 min intervals with 1 minute easy running recovery.
  • Marathon Pace run with a Tempo Pace finish (up to 1 hour total)
  • On the scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) these runs/efforts would be around 7 out of 10.
  • A favourite term for Tempo running is ‘comfortably hard’.
  • Talk test: Utter a few words.
  • Breathing test: Deep and somewhat rapid.
  • Take at least 48 hours of recovery after a Tempo session before your next quality workout.

There is no need to go any faster than the prescribed Tempo pace. The theory behind Tempo is that you are working just below a limit, so always work at your Tempo pace or slightly slower.

Intervals Pace

Running at Interval Pace is hugely demanding and should be done sparingly, no more than once a week. There is no need to run faster than the prescribed Interval pace. Try to run each interval evenly at the prescribed pace. You can identify interval sessions as the work elements will be between 2-5 min or 800m – 1500m and higher. Recovery parts of the workouts can be anywhere between half the time of the interval and the whole time of the interval.

  • 5 x 3 mins (90 secs jog or walk recovery)
  • 5 x 4 mins (2 mins jog or walk recovery)
  • 3 min, 4, 5, 4, 3 min (1 min walk recovery)

You could start with just one or two reps if you’re new to Interval Pace sessions. You could also take longer recoveries when just starting out and maybe reduce them as you get more accustomed.

  • On the scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) these efforts would be around 8 out of 10.
  • Talk test: One word answers
  • Breathing test: Very deep and very rapid
  • Take at least 48 hours of recovery after an Interval session before your next quality workout.

Hill Repeats

Hill repeats are rarely pace driven as the hill makes this almost impossible, so go by feel. You are after the same feeling as you get from the Interval sessions on the flat, think 8 out of 10. But working uphill gives you the added bonus of free strength training as you’re working against gravity and promoting good running form by getting a higher knee lift etc.

  • 5 x 3 mins long hills (jog recovery)
  • On the scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) these efforts would be around 8 out of 10.
  • Talk test: One word answers
  • Breathing test: Very deep and very rapid
  • Take at least 48 hours of recovery after a Hill session before your next quality workout.

Race Pace Reps

If working towards 10k, as your target race approaches you could do race simulation intervals to steel yourself to your target.

6 x 1 mile intervals at target 10k pace with rest intervals of easy running. As the race gets closer you could reduce the rest intervals. So start with 3 mins easy running then drop to 2 mins, 90 sec, 60 secs over the weeks as your race gets near. Again, can be hugely demanding so should be done sparingly.

Alternatively, as you get closer to your race, use parkrun as a tune up at your target 10k pace.

Similarly, for 5k you could run 6 x half mile reps at target 5k pace with 2 mins rest, 90 sec, 60 sec etc over the weeks as your race gets near. Again, can be hugely demanding so should be done sparingly.

  • Take at least 48 hours of recovery after short race Race Pace session before your next quality workout.

For Half Marathons and Marathons, dialling in what it will feel like on race day is paramount to avoid problems. The recovery advice would be more akin to Marathon pace and Tempo training.

Repetition Pace

Short and fast. Repetition pace makes you more economical, i.e. it becomes easier to run at all paces.

You can easily identify Repetition sessions as the intervals will usually be below 400m or 1 minute in duration.

  • 10 x 10 second hill sprints (2-3 min recovery)
  • 12 x 100m (1 min recovery) or 12 x 20 sec (1 min recovery)
  • 8 x 200m (2 mins recovery) or 8 x 40 sec (2 min recovery)
  • 6 x 400m (3 mins recovery) or 6 x 80 sec (3 min recovery)
  • Easy Pace Parkrun with 8-10 x 20 sec Repetition bursts, 2 mins Easy between efforts

Recovery is the key so that you are able to repeat the Repetition interval at full intensity and without any collapse of form. If you sense you can no longer hit the required pace with great form, end the session at that point. Ideal recovery is at least 2 to 4 times the length of the work interval and sometimes even longer. You want to be able to repeat the effort and intensity at each interval.

As with the other forms of intervals, you could start with a smaller number of reps if you’re new to this form of training.

  • On the scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) these efforts would be around 9 out of 10
  • Talk test: Impossible
  • Breathing Test: Breathlessness
  • Take at least 48 hours of recovery after a Repetition Pace session before your next quality workout.

Recovery – It’s IMPORTANT! I repeat …… Recovery – It’s IMPORTANT!

Recovery – It’s when the Magic happens!! Don’t skip this bit!!

  • Never have two hard sessions back to back. Think about Easy, Hard, Easy, Hard, Easy
  • Always take a recovery day after a hard session(maybe even two or three), be that a day off or an Easy/Recovery run.
  • Hard sessions don’t just tax you physically, but mentally too.
  • Every 3 or 4 weeks have a recovery week where volume/intensity is reduced.
  • For older runners, definitely take more recovery, so maybe take every third week as recovery.
  • Recovery is where the magic happens, you get stronger/better/faster during recovery.
  • Recovery IS part of training, not an afterthought.
  • You cannot just keep training hard without recovery.

The basic way you improve (get fitter/faster/stronger) from training is through compensation. You stress your body through hard workouts and then the body compensates and adapts to the new training load put on it and you get increased fitness. The body only adapts during recovery. If you do not allow the body to recover then it will not adapt, and you will just be pushing the body further into fatigue. So you MUST take recovery after hard workouts to allow your body to get stronger.

Recovery running is just that, recovery. There is very little point in hammering your easy or recovery days when that is not the purpose. The harder or more intense workouts are the ones in which you are trying to fully stress different aspects of your body. Then after they are stressed, the recovery runs and days off are there to allow for adaptation to take place. What is the point of stressing your body during a hard workout and then not giving it enough time to recover, or running too hard during the easy day so that it doesn’t have enough energy to recover?

Also if you run too hard/fast on the recovery days, then the harder days might suffer so that you are not stressing your body like you want, which then leads to less adaptation. Easy means easy, and hard means hard.

Refer back to the table earlier detailing training intensities and recommend recovery times from each type of session. For Tempo, Vo2 and Repetition runs it can take at least 48 hours or more to fully recover from these types of sessions.

If you’re not recovered you do NOT get the optimal benefit of the next workout and you will just be depleting your energy stores further, meaning that you not only have to recover enough to get them to pre workout levels but you also have to recover enough to get them to the levels of before two workouts ago. Thus being fully recovered for training is important. A lack of recovery can be a snowball / cumulative effect if you’re not careful.

Lots of info there, but the bottom line is to make sure you take adequate recovery. Recovery is when the magic happens.

Using Striders Sessions in Your Weekly Plan

Easy runs can simply be Heeley on a Monday, Millhouses daytime and/or Graves/Hillsborough on a Wednesday (as long as you go in the appropriate group for YOUR Easy pace – remember to use the pace calculator).

It might be harder to get your 20 sec bursts within the group setting, but maybe some or all of the group could agree to do this beforehand?

As with Easy, you could also do your Marathon pace effort on a club run if you choose the appropriate group. This might be a little more antisocial as the effort level required will ensure you won’t be able to do much talking. Also, be careful not to go faster than the prescribed Marathon pace.

Thursday Night Hillsborough Strength and Speed / Millhouses Tuesday Speed

The Thursday and Tuesday night schedules have been created with the intention of covering one of your quality sessions each week.

Note: The club speed sessions are applicable to everyone regardless of race pace or current ability. The great thing about using the Jack Daniels calculator is that the paces are YOUR paces based on YOUR fitness, regardless of whether you are a 40 minute or 60 minute 10k runner.

The thinking behind the Tuesday and Thursday schedules is that you don’t really have to think. You can do two easy runs per week, turn up on Tuesday or Thursday and you’ve almost got a 3 day per week plan there for you.

If you run 4 or 5 days per week, just add a further quality session and/or a recovery and you are good to go.

Although to remind you, it goes without saying that your quality sessions each week must be hitting different energy systems. You don’t really want to be going to Millhouses on a Tuesday and Hillsborough on a Thursday if they are both doing tough Vo2 workouts that week. So check the schedules as you plan your week(s).

Below are snippets from recent schedules and indications in the final column which of the quality types each session is and at what pace you need to run these, ie Repetition or Vo2 interval.

Thursday Hillsborough Strength and Speed

Session Description Quality Type
Langsett Ave Hills 6 Efforts (jog recovery) [Don/back, Marcliffe/back, Grove/back, Milden/back, Airedale/back, TOP] Vo2 [Interval]
Stars on 45 12 x 45 sec (90 sec walk recovery) [Big loop from swings] Fast [Repetition]
Economy Strides 12 x 20 sec bursts (2 minutes easy running recovery) [Big loop from swings] Fast [Repetition]
Long Hills 5 x 3 mins (jog recovery) [Herries Road] Vo2 [Interval]
Seiler Reps 5 x 4 mins (2 min easy recovery) [Big loop from swings] Vo2 [Interval]

Tuesday Millhouses Speed

Session Description Quality Type
Track in the Park 10 x 300m (100m walk recovery) Fast [Repetition]
Long Reps 5 x 800m Vo2 [Interval]
Turnarounds in the Park 10 x 100m x 3 Fast [Repetition]
Pyramid 1,2,3,4,3,2,1 mins (with 1 min recov) Vo2 [Interval]
Short Reps 12 x 1 min (1 min Recovery) Fast [Repetition]
Meersbrook Hills 6 long Hills + Optional Spike (Jog Recovery) Vo2 [Interval]

Woodbourn Road

The advice that applies to Millhouses Tuesday and Hillsborough Thursday also applies to the track sessions at Woodbourn Road. Their schedules will likely comprise a mixture of longer Vo2 intervals or shorter Repetition sessions.

So if you attend track, be careful that Millhouses, Hillsborough or your own quality sessions that week isn’t targeting the same energy system.

Strength and Conditioning Training

Why do we do strength work?

  • Stronger = faster
  • Can keep injuries at bay
  • Ensures we can keep stable with a good running form for longer in races

I’m going to put strength training into two sections; Home and Gym, although the emphasis and end result is the same, ie getting stronger and injury resistant for running. Whilst I list lots of exercises for both home and gym, just pick and choose from the list for each session type to mix it up. Don’t do every exercise at every session, that would be too much.

I have already detailed a strength summary with advice and videos on the Striders website, so take a look at this here.

Home Bodyweight Workouts

Here’s a selection of bodyweight exercises that can be easily done at home with barely any equipment. Aim for about 30 seconds to 1 minute per exercise and potentially do two sets if time permits.

  • Bodyweight Squat
  • Split Squat
  • Mini Band Walk
  • Single Leg Straight Leg Deadlift
  • Single Leg Bridge
  • Front Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Push Up

Gym Strength Workouts

Going to the gym and working on strength gives you the benefit of using equipment; barbells, weights, medicine balls, sleds, plyometric boxes for jumping, kettlebells etc.

The selection of exercises for the gym is almost the same as for Home. But you can add weight and are capable of adding more upper body exercises using the equipment.

  • Pull Ups
  • Half Kneeling Alternating Overhead Kettlebell Press
  • Dumbbell Row
  • Single Arm Single Leg Row
  • Sled Push

This straightforward strength advice comes from the fantastic book, “New Functional Training for Sports” by Michael Boyle.

I can heartily recommend picking up a copy as it has photo and video detail for all of the above exercises and descriptions of how to progress each one as you get stronger.

Running Drills and Plyometric Exercises

Why do we do drills?

  • Improve the communication between your brain and legs.
  • Strengthen not only the muscles, but the specific joints (like the ankle) needed for powerful, fast running.
  • Improve coordination, agility, balance, and proprioception – helping you become a better athlete.
  • Reinforce good running form.

These benefits translate directly to improved speed: run more efficiently with greater strength. They’re a great way for all runners to increase their athleticism, reinforce proper mechanics, and improve their form.

Aim to do around 15 minutes of drills once or twice a week before any of your runs. Use them as your warm-up, just get into the habit.

Here are some sample drills to try:

  • Heel Bum Flicks
  • Fast Feet
  • Can Can
  • High Knees
  • Straight Leg Bounds
  • Heel to Bum

It’s not necessary to do all of these form drills every time. Instead, choose 3-4 drills and follow these guidelines:

  • Most drills should be completed for 30-50m
  • Walk back to where you started before beginning the next drill
  • Perform 2-3 sets of each one before beginning the next exercise
  • In the end, transition into faster running after the drills i.e. 10 seconds increasing the pace with quick feet then slow down gradually.

We can also introduce some exercises that can bring a spring to your step. Also known as plyometrics, these are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of teaching your body to produce more power (speed-strength).

  • Bunny Hops
  • Single Leg Hops
  • Bounding
  • Rocket Jumps
  • Skips for Height
  • Skips for Distance
  • Jumps for Height
  • Jumps for Distance

Just like drills aim to do about 15 minutes of plyometrics once or twice a week before any of your runs.

It’s not necessary to do all of these form drills every time. Instead, choose 3-4 drills and follow these guidelines:

  • Most drills should be completed for around 20-30m
  • Walk back to where you started before beginning the next drill
  • Perform 2-3 sets of each one before beginning the next exercise.

Again, you can find more detailed information on drills and plyometrics along with videos on the Striders website.

Kinetic Revolution 30 Day Challenge

The Kinetic Revolution 30-day challenge promises to make you a stronger, healthier runner and only takes 15-20 minutes a day of light exercise. The premise of the challenge is to build the key strength you’ll need through a well-rounded set of exercises delivered directly to your inbox via email.

I’m a big fan of James Dunne and his Kinetic Revolution website and Podcast. He talks a hell of a lot of sense around preventive strength and mobility work. If you’re the sort of person who finds it hard to try new things then I heartily recommend you sign up for the free challenge as you will get that nudge via email every day with new exercises to try. You can sign up on the Kinetic Revolution website.

Pilates and Yoga

Pilates exercises create a stronger, more flexible spine and core by supporting and strengthening the muscles of the torso, hips, shoulders and pelvis.

The strength and flexibility you develop in yoga, namely in the core, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors can help you run more efficiently and stay injury-free.

If you lack motivation to do exercises on your own, joining a Pilates or Yoga class could be a good option. I’ve done both and recommend them.

Pilates is core/glutes/hips etc, whilst yoga is flexibility with some core thrown in. Both are really really good sessions.

Going to either or both yoga and pilates could be your weekly Strength and Conditioning session.

Strength and Core Stability Class for Runners

Laura Inglis, a local running coach runs a weekly class aimed directly at runners. It is every Monday evening at Burton Street Foundation in Hillsborough. Again, really good if you haven’t got the motivation to do the exercises on your own.

This class is just one of a suite of sessions that the local running shop Accelerate put on. It’s fantastic to have such a resource locally that put as much emphasis on strength and conditioning as it deserves. Again, if you’re struggling to motivate yourself to do this sort of work on your own, give one of their sessions a go.

Train Smarter: In Summary / Wrap-Up

The post goes into a lot of detail and provides lots of information, but we can summarise this down into a few take away and actionable points:

  • Realign your weekly workouts with a better balance of easy and quality sessions.
  • Ensure that you are doing all workouts at the correct intensity/pace for the intended outcome. Easy means easy, and hard is hard. Use the pace calculator to give you YOUR training paces.
  • Add in some 20 second strides every mile into your Easy long runs to improve economy and speed.
  • Add in 15 mins of Drills and Plyometrics once/twice a week to improve running form, technique and become more powerful. Tack these onto the beginning of runs as warm-ups.
  • Add in 15 mins of Strength exercises once/twice a week to become more efficient and keep injuries at bay by having a stronger core, hips and glutes.
  • Recovery IS part of training. Recovery is when the magic happens. Don’t neglect it.

More information

For more information on training advice and hints please read our post from the Leeds Endurance Conference here.

Article Published: May 2018.