To become a runner, it’s quite simple: All you have to do is run. But if your aim is to improve as a runner—whether that means getting faster, going further, or running without injury—you’ll need to run with purpose. At the very least, runners should mix up their speed and terrain with each run to avoid falling into a rut, which can lead to plateauing performance, burnout, or injury. But to really thrive, runners should pull from an arsenal of workouts, each one designed to develop the mind and body into a strong, well-rounded runner.
Workout #1: Speed Session
Short, intense efforts interspersed with active recovery translate into an improvement in speed over longer distances, help teach your body to recover faster, and give you more than one gear for race day. Speed sessions can be done as a structured workout on a track, planned intervals within a run session on the road or trails, or a choose-your-own-adventure session with a fartlek (Swedish for “speed play”) run.
Workout #2: Long Run
Yes, it teaches the body to cover the miles, but the long run is equal parts mental and physical. To have a successful long run, you’ve got to be smart about pacing, stay on top of fueling, and dig deep when things get tough.
A common mistake new runners make is focusing too much on the long run, forgetting that consistent running throughout the week is more important than doing one long run per week with multiple days off.
Workout #3: Tempo Run
Tempo runs include intervals faster than your default pace, but not so fast they are unsustainable. The duration of tempo intervals vary depending on your race goals, but typically last minutes or miles, and should be performed at a “comfortably hard” pace, not a sprint. Tempo runs can alternate with a speed workout in a weekly training plan, as doing both in one week may be too taxing.
Workout #4: Strength Run
Even if all of your races are pancake-flat, you should still train on hills. Why? It’s simple—if you can power up hills, think of what you can unleash on a flat course! Hill running increases overall leg strength, which leads to faster race times and lower risk of injury.
Some runners, by virtue of geography, have no choice but to venture over rolling hills in every run. Others need to seek them out—and they should, during at least one run per week. This can be a part of a tempo run, incorporated into a long run, or even part of a speed workout with hill sprints.
Workout #5: Recovery Run
Not every run should be a hard session. Short, slow, easy-effort runs are the complement to the harder runs on your workout plan, allowing for a reprieve from the stress placed on the body while training. The key to a good recovery run is to make it a truly easy effort—many beginner runners continue to push the pace on these runs, negating the “recovery” intention of the workout.
Workout #6: Drills & Strength
Drills should not be treated as a separate, standalone workout. If anything, they should be considered part of every run. Taking five minutes before and after each run to perform basic drills and strength movements will pay off in improved running form and economy.
Workout #7: Cross-Training
You may be a runner, but that doesn’t mean you’re a one-trick pony. Cross-training allows the runner to build complementary muscles, prevent overuse injuries, and stay mentally fresh. Taking one day a week for a workout that isn’t running is one of the best things any runner can do. Options abound: yoga, swimming, cycling, hiking, group fitness classes, and weightlifting are just a few favorite cross-training activities for runners.
Workout #8: Rest
Yes, rest is a workout! Overtraining is a common mistake made by many new runners, who believe they don’t have the luxury of taking a rest day when there is training to be done. But believe it or not, you get faster when you rest. Taking one day off per week lets your body absorb the training you’ve done. For those who feel antsy, a gentle activity, such as yoga, is an acceptable rest-day activity that can satisfy the itch to train.