The low down on Long Progression Runs

What is the best type of long run to be doing I hear you ask?  Slow and easy, some at marathon pace, some at threshold pace?  Of course it can differ depending on what you are targeting for your race season but one thing is certain, there should be some progression running built into your long run, the reasons why we will explain further in this article.

Progression running, what is it?

A progression run is a run in which you begin at a slow easy pace and then look to gradually increase your pace to finish faster than you started out. There are a number of different types of progression runs which we will outline in this article and each of them have a slightly different goal from the session.

Some can be focussed on developing speed and endurance, building fitness or sharpening up for races.  One of the benefits of progression runs is they can effectively improve your race fitness without requiring additional recovery time.  They also add an interesting variety to your weekly training programme and break up the monotony of a long slow run.

How will I benefit from Progression Runs?

Now we need to understand how we will see benefits from progression running.  There are a number of reasons but the main four are as follows,

    • Correct use of Progression runs results in very little fatigue compared to if you were doing a really hard tempo or interval session.  Progression runs can allow you to do some faster running but in a way that will not leave you feeling fatigued and a session with which you can recover quickly from.
  • Reducing the risk of injury.  By starting off slow it allows time for the muscles to warm up and primes the physiological pathways that will be used for faster running later on in the session.  If you try running fast from the start of a run before your muscular, respiratory and circulatory systems can warm up, you not only run the risk of injury but you also greatly increase lactic acid production by stressing your anaerobic system too much.
  • Given the nature of progression runs it allows you to increase volume of stamina focused training.  Given that additional stamina focussed training will result in a fitter athlete it makes sense to start creating opportunities to introduce progression running into your training programme.
  • Longer progression runs can be effective ways to increase mechanical efficiency by forcing a runner to increase stride length and cadence while the body is fatigued and form has started to deteriorate.  This is even more useful over longer distances from 10k upwards when form becomes ragged towards the end of a race

How do I measure my effort?

Effort can be measured as follows on your progression runs,

  • RPE  (Rated Perceived Exertion) Normally starting off easy around an RPE between 2-5 and sometimes extending yourself up to 6-8 by the end of the run.
  • Pace – If you know what your threshold pace is then you should be able to work out your pace zones.  Starting off easy in zone 1-2 and building it up towards zone 3-5.
  • Heart Rate – As per pace if you have established your LTHR then you would follow the same zones starting off low and increasing the effort.

After a few of these sessions you should soon be able to run these progression runs by feel.

Different approaches to Progression Runs

Easy Progression Run

These are often run without the athlete even being aware of it. Naturally enough runners tend to start out slower than they ordinarily would because of fatigue and possibly some soreness.  After they warm up pace can start to creep up.

Mid-Range Progression Run

Medium to long in length, these workouts are geared at boosting the aerobic system by adding an increased aerobic stimulus once the body starts to tire halfway through a run. Studies have shown when a runner increases aerobic resistance after they’ve become glycogen-depleted (in other words, start running low on fuel), the body produces considerably more aerobic enzymes, which in turn helps the body do a better job of processing lactate. The net result is that it allows you to run at a faster pace longer before you fatigue. The mid-range progression run helps prevent long runs from becoming tight, monotonous shuffles in which the stride length gets too short and neuromuscular timing goes flat.

Pre-Marathon Progression Runs

These are harder and longer progression runs that typically involve running at half-marathon race pace or faster for extended periods of time. They are used to briefly stimulate the aerobic and metabolic systems, but without putting either system in too much distress. These types of progression run allow a runner to simulate the pace and some of the fatigue of a race without complete breakdown that an extended hard effort might bring on.

Threshold Progression Runs

These types of workouts will help boost your race-day fitness thresholds by running hard for relatively short distances at speeds faster than race pace with short rest.

Thirds

As the name suggests, you break your run down into three equal parts. For the first third, you run at a relatively slow, comfortable pace. As you progress to the second third of the run, your pace will have gradually increased to your normal steady running pace. Over the last third of the run, you increase your speed so that you’re running a strong, comfortably hard pace, this would normally correspond to between marathon and half marathon pace.  This strong running significantly improves your stamina which raises the pace you can run before you begin to rapidly accumulate lactic acid.

Fast finish

To perform this type of progression run you run 70-85% of your run at an easy pace.  As you approach the last 15%-30% of the run you start to pick up the pace.  This pace would typically start out at HM pace, moving down to 10k pace with the last few minutes at 5k pace.  These type of runs work best on shorter planned long runs given the high level intensity towards the end.  These runs are exhilarating yet don’t require a long recovery. They are fast enough to really stimulate your Speed and Sprinting ability (muscle recruitment, coordination, mental focus and lactic acid tolerance) but short enough that you will feel no lasting effect on your next run.  This type of run should be saved until you have mastered the others.

Final Thoughts

Try incorporating progression runs into your training program and you will notice a signficant improvement in your run fitness and performance without a lengthy recovery. The workouts not only add variety but also make the sessions more fun & interesting than a slow, boring long training run.

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