The Most Essential Types Of Run

The Most Essential Types Of Run


Utilizing a variety of different types of run is vital when creating a training plan. Without a varied plan it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of running “junk” miles. The term “junk” miles refers to the types of run which are completed with no goal. It can be easy to get caught up in this trap. You find a pace which is comfortable and just head out to run without thinking about improving. You put the mileage and the effort in, but fail to see much improvement.  Despite your effort, not switching up the types of run you complete can lead to stagnation in your running progress. Therefore, mixing up your types of run is essential in order to reach your goals. Each type of run should serve a purpose, bring you closer to your running goals.

Listed below are the most essential types of run, the desired heart rate zones or pace,  and the benefits of each.

Long Run

The long run is one of the most essential types of run for building endurance. Many 5k and 10k runners often skip long runs as they believe that they don’t benefit. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Running for longer and at a slower pace helps to build running efficiency. Hence, long runs are key to building aerobic fitness. For this reason, they are absolutely essential for those training for half marathon plus distances.

Long runs should be completed at around 60-90 seconds slower than your marathon race pace. For these types of run it’s ideal to stay in heart rate zone 2. This is the best zone for improving aerobic fitness. Running at this pace may feel difficult, or even uncomfortable, at first. Within 4 weeks you should be starting to see your heart rate decrease. Your pace will quicken whilst your heart rate remains in zone 2.

These types of run also teach your body to burn fat instead of relying on carbohydrates. For this reason, many runners opt to run their long runs in a fasted state.

Weekly long runs should be built up gradually. This increment is usually recommended to be no more than 10% each week. That is to say that if you ran 10 miles last Sunday, your next long run should be 11 miles rather than 13. This slow build up is to prevent injury from placing too much stress on the body. It can take a while for your bones and tendons to adapt to the high impact of running. For this reason, reducing the weekly long run every 3 or 4 weeks is recommended for recovery.

In addition, the long run should make up around 25% of your weekly mileage. Ideally these types of run should not exceed 30% of your weekly total. That is to say that if you run 20 miles a week your long run should be around 5 miles. This is why it is important to also gradually increase your weekly mileage.

  • Who = anyone looking to improve running efficiency
  • Pace = 60-90 seconds slower than marathon race pace
  • Heart rate zone = 2
  • Example = 12 miles at consistent slow pace (12:00 per mile)

Easy / Recovery Runs

The majority of your mileage should be made up of easy runs. This type of run helps the body to recover and also build aerobic efficiency. Running “slow” may feel pointless, however it allows the body to adjust to running. As you get more efficient your running pace will increase whilst your heart rate stays the same. Say that you run 12 minute miles in heart rate zone 2 for your easy runs, eventually your body will become more efficient and your heart will lower for the 12 minute mile pace. This means that you may now be able to run 11:30 minute miles whilst remaining in zone 2.

These are zone 1 or 2 runs, or 30-60 seconds slower than your marathon race pace. Easy or recovery runs are a great way to keep the blood flowing the day after a hard session. It can feel beneficial to run a short recovery run the day after a tough race or long run to flush out the legs.

  • Who = anyone looking to improve running efficiency
  • Pace = 30-60 seconds slower than marathon race pace
  • Heart rate zone = 1 or 2
  • Example = 5 miles at consistent easy pace (11:30 per mile)

Hill Intervals

Hills often bring a flash of fear through runners and cyclists alike! Many beginners go to extremes to avoid hills by changing their route or sticking to a zero incline on the treadmill. Although they may seem tough, hills are a runner’s friend! Utilizing hill training helps to build running efficiency, and also prepares you for undulating race courses. Another bonus to this type of run is that they make running on the flat feel much easier!

As with any challenging session, it is important to warm up. I usually spend a mile or two running at an easy pace as a warm up for these types of run. The intervals can be short 30 second bursts of higher incline or quicker paced running, to 2 minute steadier inclined runs. An example would be 90 seconds of uphill running, followed by a 3 minute recovery period (running on the flat at a slightly slower pace).

A treadmill is perfect for these types of run as you have more control over the incline and speed. Using a gradient of 5% is a great starting point. As you get more accustomed to these types of run you can make them more challenging. This can be achieved by lengthening the hill intervals, increasing the speed / incline, or decreasing the recovery periods.

These types of run are another example of a harder session. As such, your heart rate should reflect this. The hill intervals should put you into heart rate zone 3 or 4. Recovery periods should see this drop to zone 2 or 3.

  • Who = anyone looking to improve running efficiency
  • Pace = easy paced recovery periods, interval speed can be easy or slightly quicker
  • Heart rate zone = 3 or 4 for the hill intervals, 2 or 3 for the recovery periods
  • Example = 1-2 mile warm up, 90 seconds of uphill running at a slightly quicker pace, 3 minutes of recovery on a downhill or flat surface at an easy pace

Speed Intervals

Speed intervals are tough runs! Expect to spend a good amount of time in heart rate zone 4. There are a number of different ways to run speed intervals. Intervals can range from 100 metres to mile repeats. It is important to have a recovery period in between each hard effort. The length of each interval depends on the length of the interval and the race distance that you are preparing for. The pace ran is usually faster than your goal race pace, with the pace being quicker the shorter the interval. Time or distance can be used for the recovery sections; i.e. 0.25 mile or 3 minutes. It’s important to spend at least a mile, preferably two, warming up to ensure that your body is ready for hard effort running.

This type of run is about getting your body used to dealing with lactic acid and performing at a quicker pace than usual. As such, these intervals should be spent in heart rate zone 4 or 5. In between each interval your heart rate should drop into zone 2 or 3 depending on the length of the recovery period.

  • Who = anyone looking to increase their speed or turnover rate
  • Pace = depends on the interval length – usually around 30 seconds faster than 5k pace for 400 metres. The longer the interval, the slightly slower the pace
  • Heart rate zone = 4 or 5 during the speed intervals, 2 or 3 for the recovery periods
  • Example = 2 mile easy warm up, 400 metres at 8:00 per mile, followed by a 0.25 mile recovery period, repeat 7 times, finish with a mile cool down

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are great at getting your body used to clearing lactic acid and working at a moderately hard intensity. It’s important to note that a tempo run is not an all-out race effort. In a race your body creates lactic acid in the muscles and is unable to clear it fast enough. This build up results in the feeling of fatigue and acid reflux. These types of run are tough and cause a build-up of lactate. However, unlike an all-out race effort they are ran at a pace which allows your body to flush the lactate out at the same rate that it is produced.

The usual pace of a tempo run is around 30 seconds slower than 5k race pace. For longer distance runners, this is around 15 seconds slower than 10k race pace. You should be able to maintain this pace for at least 20 minutes, although prepare for it to feel slightly uncomfortable! These types of run are of great benefit for longer distance runners. Running 10k distances and further rely on the body’s ability to clear lactate quickly. Shorter races are ran at a higher intensity and are above the lactate threshold. As such, there isn’t as much of a benefit when training at lactate pace for 5k or shorter distances.

Training at tempo pace will result in a lot of time being spent in heart rate zones 3 or 4. These zones will vary depending on your starting fitness and lactate threshold pace. Newer runners may hit their tempo pace in zone 3, whereas a more experienced runner with a higher lactate tolerance may have to push into zone 4.

  • Who = anyone looking to increase their speed or turnover rate
  • Pace = around 30 seconds slower than 5k race pace, or 15 seconds slower than 10k race pace
  • Heart rate zone = 3 or 4
  • Example = 2 mile warm up, 3 miles at tempo pace (9:20 per mile), 1 mile cool down


What a funny Swedish word! Translating it to English results in the term “speed-play”. Fartlek running has no hard or fast rules. These types of run are more of an unstructured interval workout. They are great for people just starting out who want to add a bit of speed into their runs, or as a way of mixing things up.

The premise is simple; run at an easy or steady pace and every now and then throw in a burst of speed. Typically these bursts will last around 30 seconds, but it really depends on the runner. An example would be to run easy and then upon reaching a lamppost pick up the pace until the next lamppost is reached.

These short bursts get the heart rate up a little, but then soon lower it back down with a longer period of easy running. As such, there is no real designated target heart rate training zone associated with this type of run.

  • Who = runners who are new to speed training or more experienced runners who want to add variety to steady runs
  • Pace = easy or steady with short bursts of faster running in between
  • Heart rate zone = no target
  • Example = 5 miles of easy running with intermittent quickened sprints throughout


Incorporating these essential sessions will ensure that you have a well-rounded training plan. Not only does this help you to reap the benefits in terms of running efficiency and speed, it also prevents burnout from monotony.

This isn’t to say that you should complete one of each type of run each week though. Balancing quality sessions and quantity is important to prevent injury or over-training. The majority of training mileage should be ran at an easy pace.

Depending on your race goals, quality sessions should be tailored and added to suit. After each hard session (tempo, hills, speed intervals), it is important to recover properly. Taking a rest day, opting for an easy / recovery run day or cross-training will aid recovery. Whichever plan you end up following, remember to listen to your body!