I’m no beginner runner: I started running when I was a mere 6-years-old. I ran cross country and track in high school, and ran my first marathon in college. Needless to say, I’ve, uh, been around the block a couple of million times. Still, when I decided to start getting more serious with my running (with sights set on an Olympic Trials marathon qualifying time), I began to feel like, well, a beginner runner. My training plans had lots of terms from my coach that I did not recognize, so I was constantly emailing him asking–what does this mean? What should I be doing? How fast should I be running?
Knowing these types of runs is key to your training. If you run too hard too soon or too often, you won’t train to your potential–and worse, you could get injured or burnt out. Running is very scientific. You build up different systems in your body at different times to optimize your running capacity:
- The Phosphagen System is used for sudden bursts of energy like starting a workout or running up a steep hill. It relies on the availability of creatine phosphate, which is in limited supply and is depleted quickly.
- The Anaerobic (lactate) System provides the body with explosive short term energy without the need for oxygen. When people continue to draw energy from the anaerobic system for an extended period of time, there begins to be a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles. This build-up is called the lactate threshold (or anaerobic threshold). A runner can increase their lactate threshold through adaptations made during proper endurance training.
- The Aerobic System uses carbohydrates, fats, or proteins to produce energy. Energy production is slower but more efficient than the other two systems. It is the system used the most and used during low-intensity workouts. Its key role is that it can use our endless supply of fat to burn as fuel.
This list is meant to help you optimize your training and understand training plans that you may be following to finish a 5k or run a PR in the half-marathon. They are useful to all runners, no matter the pace or distance you run.
Despite being a runner most my life and a mother runner for 6+ years, many of these beginner runner terms were new to me, so they may be new to you. So, here are the types of runs every Mother Runner and beginner runner should know to get faster, stronger, better—and stay healthy!
Related: Check out my beginner runner training plans!
17 Runs Every Beginner Runner Should Know
A warm-up should be about 2 miles of easy running and include drills and dynamic stretching. A good warmup dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen before you give them a vigorous workout. It also raises the temperature of your muscles for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warmup also helps minimize stress on your heart when you start your run.
Base (or Maintenance) Run.
A base run, or maintenance run, is a relatively short to moderate length run at an easy, natural pace. You should be able to hold a conversation at this pace. These runs aren’t meant to be challenging but when put together over time, they lead to improvements in aerobic capacity, endurance, and running economy. (Learn more about running economy here.)
Strides (or striders).
A strider, or strides, helps you work on your form and mechanics. It’s a run of 80-100 meters where you progressively get faster but aren’t going all out at the end. (So, no, it is not the same as a sprint). Do them at the end of a maintenance run or before a workout to help loosen everything up. Hill strides are strides done on a short (50 meter) hill.
A shakeout run is like a pre-warm-up warm-up. It’s a very easy jog of 10 to 15 minutes (or a half-mile) the early morning before your big race (like 2 to 2.5 hours before). It’s also an easy jog of about 5 miles 24 hours before a race. Shake-outs help stimulate your central nervous system and get the blood flowing to the muscles to help loosen them up. It takes several hours to get your body temperature up and to increase flexibility. The shakeout run gets this process jump-started much earlier. It also helps wake you up, calm the nerves, and can get “things moving”—if you know what I mean.
A progression run starts at an easy pace and then progressively gets faster—typically ten seconds faster per mile so the end of the run is difficult. This is a moderately challenging workout that helps improve running stamina.
You’ve heard it before. To get fast, you got to run fast. So, you’ve got to do intervals, or speedwork. These are best done on a track. Interval runs alternate fast running with a slow jog or rest. If you’re training for a 5k, your workout may include something like 12 400s at faster than race pace, followed by an interval rest of a minute. Or, 24 200s alternating between a fast pace and a slow, recovery jog. These runs improve your mechanics and running economy. Indeed, a 2007 study verified that training at high intensities improves performance more than training at moderate intensities.
Hill repeats are a type of interval training where you run a hill (usually 200-400 meters in length) fast and then jog down to run it fast again. It helps build endurance and leg strength.
A turnover workout includes short bursts of running (usually a distance of 200 meters on a flat or incline surface) repeatedly that teaches the legs how to rotate faster. Running with a high turnover (quick, short steps) uses less energy than long strides and decreases the stress on the muscles. The slower your stride turnover, the longer you spend in the air, hitting the ground harder, and putting more stress on your joints.
A fartlek (or “speedplay” in Swedish) is a form of interval training that’s more relaxed and unstructured. You sprinkle pick-ups (fast-paced running) into a run. So, you may run at race pace for a minute, easy pace for 2 minutes, and do it all over again…and again. Or, you may pick up the pace to a street sign and then run easy to the next tree.
A threshold run is a pace that is faster/harder than your normal easy run, but is slower than your 5K or 10K race pace. The pace is challenging but you can hold it for up to thirty minutes.
A float run is usually an easy run in between hard intervals so that your heart continues pumping. It is like an active recovery.
Tempo run refers to a “comfortably hard” pace that you can maintain for a long period of time, like a marathon. Basically, when you run, your muscles build up lactic acid, a metabolic byproduct that causes them to fatigue. The intention of a tempo run is to increase your threshold so that your muscles don’t fatigue as fast so you can keep running for longer. A tempo run is usually sandwiched in between a couple miles at an easy pace.
A long, slow run is good for everyone (include link to past post) including 5k racers and marathoners. They help make your body more efficient, boost endurance, and boost speed—despite running at a comfortable pace. It should equal about 20-30 percent of your total weekly mileage.
A pick-up is where you run faster at the end or middle of a long run. It reminds the body it can run fast and teaches it how to run fast when fatigued. It improves running form as it increases engagement of the muscle groups—particularly useful when you’re tired.
A recovery run sounds kind of oxymoronic but easy running (like up to 2 minutes slower than race pace) within 24 hours of a hard workout or race actually helps your body recover faster (link to past post). It also helps your body continue its practice of running efficiency learning proper form, building endurance, adding to your base mileage, and increasing your fatigue resistance. Recovery runs are also a good indicator of the shape you’re in. If they’re incredibly hard to do, you may be overtraining.
The cool-down should be a light jog of 2 miles, and keeps the blood flowing throughout the body. Stopping suddenly can cause light-headedness because your heart rate and blood pressure might drop rapidly. Winding down slowly allows them to fall gradually. It is a good mental transition between a hard effort and the end of your workout (not necessary at the end of a long run or easy run).
Remember, running is fun! A fun run is a run just to run—no watch, no set distance or pace. It’s to zone-out or catch-up with friends. It’s to remember why you go through so much to run in the first place.
Happy running, my Mother Runner friends.