Progression runs were once called the Kenyan secret. They’re great for building stamina, mental strength, and teaching the body to run increasingly faster at the end of a race. A progression run is a run with structured pace increases from beginning to end. The distance and pace will vary based on your specific training goals.
Let’s imagine two runners are preparing for a race. They both run their 10-mile workout in 70 minutes. However, one runner does it with even 7:00 splits, and the other runs the first 5 miles at 8:00 pace and the last 5 miles at 6:00 pace. Who will be better prepared on race day?
The Benefits of a Progression Run: Strength and Stamina
The structure of the progressive run forces runners to start slowly. It teaches them mental patience and allows the body to fully warm-up before running at a harder effort. Many runners are too eager to hit the gas pedal on their runs, progression runs will help them become more disciplined.
Progression runs increase stamina and fitness. Athletes who regularly incorporate progressive runs will actually speed up towards the end of a race when everyone else is trying desperately to hang on. The marathon race begins at mile 20.
They will mentally and physically learn how to make a long killing drive to the finish that particularly in high school racing can be absolutely devastating to their competition. –Nate Jenkins, 2:14 marathoner
According to coach Greg McMillan this all comes at a very small price in terms of training fatigue and recovery time. Runners can use this approach several times during the training cycle for extra quality work, without fear of overtraining and injury.
Progression runs allow you to insert fast running into your training runs (feeding your need for speed) but in a way from which you can easily recover. –Greg McMillan, M.S.
When to Add Progression Runs to Your Plan
If you follow the Arthur Lydiard approach to training, you’ll want to add progression runs after the base building phase to introduce speed. But, progression workouts are really something you can add anytime. Depending upon the distance and intensity of the progression run, you may want to schedule it following an easy day and preceding a rest day.
How to Structure a Progression Run Workout
Progression runs start slow and end fast. Begin your run at an easy pace with successive pick-ups until you are a running at a hard effort. Often times, progression runs are described as running “relaxed.” Accelerating without strain is an important concept.
The number one benefit of progression runs is that they train you to react to surges in a relaxed fashion, which is important in marathoning,” he says. “You never want to cross the threshold too often in a marathon, and this workout pushes that redline in a gradual manner. All pace changes are done gradually so that your nervous system isn’t all out of balance. –Keith Dowling, 2:13 Marathoner
How far you choose to run, and at what pace you do your workouts is up to you. There are endless possibilities. The goal of the run is to become comfortable running your goal race pace on tired legs at the end of your workout. This is not a tempo run or a race effort, it’s designed to boost your stamina by introducing speed gradually over the course of your training run.
Sample Progression Run Workouts
- Quarters with Fast Finish – 8 miles
2 miles @ 10K pace plus 60 seconds, 2 miles @ 10K pace plus 45 seconds, 2 miles @ 10k pace plus 15 seconds, 1 mile @ 10K pace, 1 mile @ 10K pace or faster
- Out & Back – 35 minutes
Begin with an easy 20 minutes on the way out, then return at a pace 1-2 minutes faster until your back to at the start
- 5K Race pace Thirds – 45 minutes
50% of 5K race pace for 20 minutes, 75% of 5K race pace for 15 minutes, 5K race pace for 10 minutes
- McMillan’s Fast Finish Long Run
Begins with a long run at 1-2 minutes slower than marathon race pace. Pick it up to marathon pace with 6 miles left in the run. Pick it up again with 2 miles to go and finish with an all-out 400m
More progression workouts can be found here.