Understanding the right intensities and speeds for your training runs is crucial for every runner, whether you’re a beginner or aiming for advanced goals.

Here’s a comprehensive guide, shedding light on how different training approaches can enhance your running performance.

Effective Training Approaches

When you run easy, you must run really, really easy. And when you run hard, you really run hard. This approach, known as polarized training, maximizes improvements in running economy across distances from 5k to marathon.

Types of Training Sessions

Training sessions vary in purpose and intensity, each serving a specific role in enhancing your running performance. Here’s a detailed look at the different types of training sessions and their benefits.

Easy Runs

Easy runs form the foundation of your training program, focusing on building aerobic endurance and facilitating recovery

These sessions allow your body to adapt to the demands of running while minimizing stress and fatigue

Running at a comfortable, conversational pace improves cardiovascular efficiency and strengthens muscles gradually.

Over time, easy runs increase stamina, enhance running economy, and improve overall endurance. They also aid in recovery from more intense workouts, ensuring you maintain consistency in your training regimen without risking overtraining or injury.

Threshold or Tempo Runs

Threshold or tempo runs involve sustained efforts at a challenging pace, slightly below your race pace. These workouts improve your lactate threshold, the point at which your body begins to accumulate lactate faster than it can clear it. By running at this threshold pace, you teach your body to handle and buffer lactate more efficiently, delaying fatigue during races. Tempo runs enhance your ability to sustain a steady pace over longer distances, essential for marathon and half-marathon events. They also improve running economy and mental toughness, preparing you for the rigors of race-day conditions.

Track Intervals

Track intervals are structured workouts involving alternating periods of high-intensity running with periods of recovery. These sessions focus on improving speed, anaerobic capacity, and overall performance over shorter distances. By running at or near maximal effort during intervals, you challenge your cardiovascular system and muscular strength. Track intervals are effective for enhancing sprinting ability, acceleration, and race-specific speed. They simulate the demands of competitive racing, helping you develop the ability to surge, maintain pace, and recover quickly.

Considerations: While track intervals offer significant benefits, they also come with higher injury risks. Running at high speeds and intensities increases the likelihood of overuse injuries such as muscle strains, tendonitis, and stress fractures. It’s crucial to approach track workouts with proper warm-up, cool down, and recovery strategies. Reserve track intervals for times when your body is adequately conditioned and prepared to handle the stress. Gradually increase the intensity and volume of these sessions as your fitness level improves to minimize injury risk.

Incorporating a balanced mix of easy runs, threshold or tempo runs, and track intervals into your training regimen optimizes your running performance across different distances and race conditions. Each type of session plays a critical role in improving aerobic capacity, lactate threshold, speed, and overall endurance. By understanding the purpose and benefits of each training session, you can tailor your workouts to align with your specific goals and race objectives. Consistency, proper pacing, and listening to your body are key to maximizing training adaptations while minimizing the risk of injury.

Strategic Training for Race Preparation

Preparing effectively for race day goes beyond logging miles. It involves strategic planning of your training sessions to optimize performance and endurance. Here’s how you can tailor your training regimen for peak race-day readiness:

Pacing Strategy

It’s a common misconception to train exclusively at race pace throughout your preparation. While it’s important to practice running at your target race pace, incorporating slower long runs is equally essential. These longer, slower runs build endurance and mental resilience, preparing you to tackle the later stages of the race when fatigue sets in.

  • Endurance Building: Long runs at a slower pace than race speed help condition your body to sustain effort over extended distances. They enhance aerobic capacity, strengthen muscles, and improve overall running economy. By gradually increasing the distance of these runs, you prepare your body for the demands of race day without risking burnout or injury.

Varied Intensities

To enhance overall fitness and mental toughness, integrate varied intensities into your training routine. This includes occasional harder efforts such as:

  • Club Time Trials: Participating in time trials organized by running clubs or groups allows you to gauge your progress and simulate race conditions. These timed efforts push your limits and provide valuable insights into your current fitness level.
  • Interval Sessions: Structured interval training involves alternating periods of high-intensity running with periods of recovery. These sessions improve your cardiovascular fitness, speed, and muscular endurance. They also train your body to handle the physiological stresses encountered during races, particularly in shorter distances like 5k or 10k events.

By incorporating these varied intensities, you not only improve physical performance but also develop mental fortitude. Facing challenging workouts prepares you to push through discomfort and fatigue on race day, ensuring you perform at your best when it matters most.

Practical Application and Conclusion

By tailoring your training to include a mix of easy, threshold, and interval sessions, you can enhance your running capabilities and achieve your athletic goals more effectively. Understanding the nuances of training intensities helps you strike a balance between pushing your limits and allowing for adequate recovery, crucial for long-term progress and injury prevention.Incorporate these principles into your training regimen to elevate your performance and make significant strides towards becoming a stronger, more resilient runner. Whether you’re training for a 5k or aiming for a marathon, mastering the art of varied training intensities is key to unlocking your full potential.


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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