Whether you’re new to running or a more seasoned runner, the idea of running sessions and the terminology around these can be a little alien and often somewhat confusing. From tempo runs to strides, to base runs to jeffing- there is a lot of jargon out there and navigating through it is sometimes a little baffling. There is nothing scary about ‘sessions’ and they aren’t something reserved for elite or ‘fast’ runners, we can all do them and we can all benefit from them- they are simply a way of categorising runs within your training based on their purpose, intensity or duration. If you’ve ever trained for a race, or followed a training plan to get yourself into running whether this has been one you’ve downloaded or one supplied by a coach the chances are you’ve already been doing some of these sessions. In my opinion, one of the biggest advantages of doing different running sessions is the variety it can bring to your running. This in turn helps you develop as a runner, strengthens your cardiovascular system and muscles, avoids repetition- which can keep boredom and injuries at bay and gives you a chance to find what aspects of running you enjoy- you might love a speed session or prefer something long and slow.
Before diving in and exploring jargon packed world of sessions and running terminology, it is ultimately up to you whether you incorporate these into your running and I recommend accessing a training plan online or through a coach to ensure that you’re not over doing it. Your choice is based on what running means to YOU and what YOU want to achieve. You might see your peers doing a variety of different runs each week, but there is no pressure to follow suit- everyone’s goals, fitness and schedule are different. For some, the joy of running means just lacing up, going out and running without consideration of pace or distance, whilst others thrive off structure and focus. Whether you do or don’t embrace a variety of running techniques, it doesn’t determine your ‘worth’ as a runner- remember we are all runners no matter how far or fast.
But if you’re curious, read on- at least then you’ll be able to hear the word fartlek and not uncontrollably laugh.
First things first- WARM UP
It is important to warm up and cool down each session. Warming up before you run can prevent injury, get your blood flowing, bring your heart rate up, mobilise and prepare your body to work and help improve your form. Think about incorporating walking, dynamic stretches, drills and strides. You can find an excellent and informative video from Matt aka TheWelshRunner outlining drills and strides here.
Strides can be implemented into a warmup, before a workout or after an easy run. These give you a chance to raise your heart rate and get your blood flowing, work on mechanics, think about form and relax into faster running. You want to aim for 20-35 seconds of ‘fast’ running- around 85-95% effort- so they’re fast but not flat out. Stretch before then ease into each stride rather than exploding out from the start.
Base Run (steady run)
A base run is a steady run done at a natural and comfortable pace. I think of these as my happy pace runs where I just ignore my watch and run to feel, rather than focussing on a set pace. These are short to moderate in length and you should be able to hold a conversation at the pace you choose. Taking the pressure off pace also gives you a chance to think about form or just zone out and listen to music. With regards to pace you may find that what is comfortable can change daily based on tiredness, energy levels or hormones and its important to just go with it on these runs.
Progression runs are where your speed progresses during the run. You start off at your natural pace and end at a faster pace. The idea is that these are a little more challenging without leaving you feeling completely drained and they can be great if you’re thinking about targeting a PB via negative splits (where the latter half of the race is ran quicker than the first half). There are a couple of ways of progressing your speed, from running a quick final mile or km, or running each mile/km faster than the one before. It’s really important you cool down after these runs (I mean you should after every run, but don’t skip it here!)
Long run/ Long slow run
These are runs that are longer than your base distance and help you to go the distance in a race. ‘Long’ is a very subjective term for some a long run may be done over 30km or for others 8km may feel long- remember it is YOUR training. These are often referred to as long slow runs because many run them slower than their natural pace to help build endurance. Others choose to vary the pace, and some even incorporate miles or kms done at race pace (the pace you’d target when racing). Spoiler, these aren’t just reserved for #sundayrunday and can in fact be run any day of the week- whatever takes your fancy. And finally, don’t forget to fuel these runs if necessary- your long run can double up as a great way to test nutrition strategies, products and kit.
Fartlek is a Swedish term meaning speed play and these sessions do just that by blending endurance and speed intervals. These runs will feel more challenging and leave you feeling out of breath but ultimately the goal is to help you become faster over longer distances. When mixing speeds up I often pick a loop and challenge myself to run certain speeds between lampposts to give myself something to target on the harder runs. I find these the most challenging sessions because you never feel like you’ve settled into your pace as the speed changes periodically (as opposed to intervals below which have more defined on/off efforts throughout the session).
Intervals are regular bursts of effort separated by equal or slightly longer periods of recovery- slower running, jogging, walking or momentarily stopping to catch your breath. These help you learn to run at a faster pace and get a chance to experience what a faster pace feels like without the pressure to hold onto it- you can relax and know that the break is coming. Interval sessions can be done on the track- e.g. a track session or off the track. You can run intervals based on distance e.g. 200s, or time 1 minute on 1 minute off.
These are interval based sessions in terms of high intensity periods interspersed with lower intensity periods, but instead the distance (both ‘fast’ and ‘slow’) increases up to a max distance or time duration, then decreases. For example one of my favourite sessions is 200m on/off, 400m on/off, 600m on/off, 800m on/off then back down- so 600m, 400m, 200m on/off.
Tempo run aka Threshold Run
Tempo runs are another more challenging session, targeting a sustained speed that is about 30seconds slower than your goal race pace- not flat out. These help your body get an idea of what it feels like to go harder for longer, increase endurance and maintain a speedier pace which can help prevent you from fading at the end of a race. Make sure you adequately recover after these sessions.
Hill repeats (reps)
Hill reps are a great session for developing propulsion and managing fatigue. The idea is that once you’re suitably warmed up you mix together sections of strong, ‘fast’ uphill running with a gentle run, jog or walk back down the hill. You can either run to the top of a hill or select a section to run up. My biggest tip for these is pick a noticeable landmark for example a lamppost, post box or parked car as your uphill finish line, that way you can look up, focus on that and drive towards it.
These are an easy short session (both in terms of time and distance) that is done at a relatively easy pace. The logic behind these is that you can get your legs moving the day after a harder session and add mileage to your weekly training without pushing your body too hard. These often feel like a shuffle and are likely to be at a slower pace than your base run. Whilst the name suggests these are part of your recovery, which is true to an extent, actual rest is another vital part of your recovery.
Jeffing is the incorporation of regular run/walk intervals throughout your target distance. This can be done in a training session or in a race. Taking regular run breaks can help you finish faster than just running, help avoid injury/exhaustion, recover more quickly and give you chance to push yourself on the running sections. Jeffing is always a great way to help rediscover your mojo or love of running.
This is a 12 minute fitness test originally designed by Kenneth Cooper for the US Military. The idea of this is to benchmark how far you can run in a 12minute period (an alternative test can be seeing how fast you can do a 1.5mile run). Pacing is key- you don’t want to go out at an all out sprint, but leave enough in the tank to keep going until the end. There are tables online that show what distances are deemed ‘excellent’ but these are based on experienced athletes (without defining what this entails) so be careful with comparison- it is the thief of joy!
However you choose to embrace your running, the most important thing is that you ENJOY it!