The overly-generalized approach to base building is to focus on just running easy miles and building up an aerobic base sufficient enough to support the demands of long runs and speed work. However, once you have been running for enough years, an easy-miles-only approach does not provide enough mental or physical stimulus unless you are coming back from time off from injury, long illness, or pregnancy. Even during the off-season, some variety in your training is required continue to develop your aerobic base and improve your running fitness.
The base training phase isn’t the appropriate time for intensely hard track workouts or long tempo runs. A small amount of hard running can go a long way in training, especially when you don’t have a goal race in the next 12-16 weeks. These short but hard runs can take the shape of hill workouts, fartlek runs, or my personal favorite – the progression run.
Some runners define the progression run as having each mile faster than the previous one, but my approach to them is a bit more relaxed than that. After all, running each mile exactly 10 seconds faster than the last doesn’t account for terrain, whether you are running on steep hills or gentle rollers. Nor does it teach you to be in tune with your perceived effort – it teaches you to zone in on your GPS watch.
Rather, my favorite type of progression runs focuses on running faster during the final quarter of the run based on effort. Depending on how you feel, you can run at a moderate effort (marathon effort) to a hard effort (10K effort). Again, it’s not something that’s exact – you vary the intensity based on how hard you want to push yourself that day.
The progression run doesn’t just build endurance and develop speed. The progression run fosters a mind-body connection and teaches you to be more intuitive about your running. By shifting the focus to effort rather than pace, you learn how to gauge your perceived effort and in return receive an honest indication of your fitness. The progression run also teaches you how to run faster when tired; whether you are racing a 5K or marathon, finishing strong is a valuable racing skill to have.
That’s not to mention that progression runs are fun. There’s a factor of exhilaration that comes when you quicken your cadence and push harder during that final mile or two. Progression runs add an element of hard work and a sense of accomplishment to a week of otherwise easy running. Yet, unlike the structured workouts of race training, they don’t come with the pressure to hit certain splits or maintain a hard effort for more than 1-2 miles.
Short Progression Run:
Run 3 miles at a comfortable, conversational effort. Run the final mile at a moderately hard to hard effort. If running on a hilly course, focus on maintaining an even effort on the uphills and downhills.
Long Progression Run:
Run 6 miles at a comfortable, conversational effort. Run the final 2 miles at a moderately hard to hard effort. If running on a hilly course, focus on maintaining an even effort on the uphills and downhills.
Since progression runs keep the time spent running hard to a minimum, you can incorporate them once or twice per week into base training and once per week in race training (in addition to a harder workout or long run). These are also my favorite twist to add to a long run during marathon or half marathon training.
What’s your favorite workout to do when you’re not training for a race?
What is your run today?
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