Running Camp Notes: Training and Workout Approaches

For the second summer in a row, Johnny and I are leading a camp for local high school runners preparing for cross country season. Each time we meet, we have a discussion about some aspect of running. Since these discussions cover valuable topics for everyone, we decided to share them with our whole audience.


This week, we discussed a couple of things: Why variation is important in training and what the different workout approaches are. Here’s what we covered.


Variation is a runner’s best friend. By varying intensities, speeds, and venues you will see greater gains and have a lot more fun than doing the same thing every day or the same routine over the week. Even if the variations are small they add up over the long term.

These following things should all be things you modulate over the course of your training.

  1. Running Surface (Grass, Trail, Track, Pavement, etc.)

  2. Terrain (Flat vs. Hilly)

  3. Running Shoes (Getting a faster pair of shoes can help shave time off workouts and races)

  4. Paces

  5. Workout Type

  6. Effort

Note that variation doesn’t just apply between days. It can and should also apply within the same session. Even an easy run should have the opening miles slower than the finishing miles.

Different Types Of Runs

The basic idea behind using different training approaches is to work on the various muscular and energy systems that support running well. Each approach has a primary energy system target. Keep in mind that we are always using all of our energy systems simultaneously depending on effort and other external factors.

Easy/Recovery Runs

Goals: Improved Aerobic Efficiency and General Fitness

The bulk of running should be done at an easy effort. Easy running builds general strength and stamina, and conditions the body to perform better at all other effort levels. When in doubt, run easy! No preparation for a race was ever ruined by taking an extra day of rest to run easy. But plenty of build-ups we’re ruined when someone tried to force a workout that they weren’t ready for.


Goals: Improved Fast Twitch (Anaerobic) Muscle Recruitment and Form

Strides are short pickups in speed that build good mechanics and improve maximal speed. These are also important for transitioning from easy running to faster running in the context of a workout. Strides are to be done a few times a week. Most often you will see these the day before harder efforts and long runs. During strides, the focus should be on good running form, rather than trying to run as hard as possible. Think about the term “smooth speed;” practice pumping your arms and good mechanics.


Goals: Improved Lactate Shuttle Capacity (Aerobic/Anaerobic Switching)

“Fartlek” is a Swedish term meaning “speed play.” Fartlek runs involve effort based pickups to moderate, assertive, or hard integrated within a continuous run. Fartleks can be run with a somewhat random approach (e.g. picking up the effort by feel to the next mailbox, recover, repeat) or with a predetermined time schedule (e.g. run assertively for 3 minutes, recover for 2 minutes, repeat). Ideally, these should be time-based runs, managed completely by effort.


Goals: Improved Energy System Efficiency at Race Pace and/or Improved Fast Twitch Muscle Fiber Recruitment

Interval workouts involve running a set of predetermined distance repeats at a specific pace, with recovery in between. These can be done on any surface, but the most traditional approach for intervals is to use a track or a flattish road loop. Interval workouts condition our bodies to maintain a specific pace (i.e. to run target race pace) over time. This can be accomplished by increasing the number of repeats run, increasing the distance of repeats, and/or reducing the recovery in between repeats.


Goals: Increased Aerobic and Anaerobic Thresholds and Pace Endurance

Tempo runs improve our running economy, which means that over time we can maintain a faster pace with less effort. The classic approach with tempo running begins with a manageable distance at or near goal pace, then extend that distance in subsequent sessions. Tempo runs are beneficial in training for all race distances, with a typical program targeting about 75% of the total race distance at race pace. Early in a training cycle, tempo running can also be done by feel (e.g. running for 20- 30 minutes at assertive effort).


Goals: Improved Fast Twitch (Anaerobic) Muscle Recruitment and Form, Increased General Strength and Stamina

Hill repeats build strength, improve running economy, increase maximal speed, and improve running form. Hill workouts can take on many different forms, making hills one of the most versatile running approaches. Like all other approaches, hills should be approached carefully at first, with a progressive approach to more strenuous workouts.

You might also see hill strides. These are a great way to build strength and speed at the same time. It works your prime movers more than running flat will.

Long Runs

Goals: Increased Aerobic Endurance; Race-Specific Mental Toughness

Long runs build endurance better than any other stimulus and also improve running economy and mental toughness. A long run is not defined by a specific distance, but rather by its nature of being longer than a typical run. Most training programs feature a weekly long run that comprises up to 25% of the total running volume for the week. Early in a training cycle, long runs should be completed at an easy effort. As a goal race approaches, particularly if the race is long, the long run becomes an opportunity to practice race specifics (pacing, hydration, nutrition) for maximum preparedness.

Mixing Approaches

These approaches are all complimentary. Not only should a good training program incorporate each of these approaches over time, but there are also situations where using multiple approaches in a single session can yield better results.