Different types of training sessions for runners

A lot of coaches try to overcomplicate training sessions for runners in my opinion, but in general all sessions will be one of the following and I will then take time to explain each one in greater depth so you can ask your run coach what outcome they are looking for;

  • Steady
  • Interval
  • Speed reps
  • Tempo
  • Hill
  • Fartlek

The Steady

The steady run can be used in multiple ways, it’s how most runners start to train as they will just normally want to run continuously for either a time of a distance.

A steady run can be great to do, it’s a head clearer and gives you time to think and just enjoy the process of running – after all it’s why we do run – for enjoyment.

But a steady run can be used in a few different ways – It may be used as a recovery run if you have had a particularly tough session previously, you may need a few miles just to turn your legs over.

If you are looking to train for distance a steady run can turn into a Long run, so a set distance to cover before you get done, it could also have paces attached to the run if you are looking for a particular time as well as distance. A long run could be anywhere from 6 miles up to 20+ miles, it really does depend on what the outcome of your training is.

The interval session

The interval session is designed to help you improve your base speed. Most sessions will have a set number of ‘reps’ (or intervals) and recoveries between the reps. The number will be dependent on the outcome for the session, but for an hours session 30 minutes of effort is roughly correct, as you will include a warm up and cool down within the hour.

So a session could be structured like this;

A 10 minute warm up – 10 x 3 minute efforts with 1 minute recoveries – 10 minute cool down

This type of session can really help with pacing, as an outcome could be to hit all 10 reps at the same pace.

However the duration of the reps and recoveries can be manipulated to gain different outcomes with shorter reps designed for speed focus and longer reps for endurance focused sessions.

Speed reps

Speed reps are normally much shorter in duration an aimed at improving base levels of speed. Most track athletes will be familiar with this type of session and will find that the recoveries are normally of a similar length to the efforts as the focus is on the effort and technique during the session.

An example of a speed session could be;

  • 10 minute warm up
  • 10 minute of drills and mobility
  • 10 x 200m with 90 second recoveries
  • 10 minutes cool down and stretch

With speed reps think ‘short and sharp’ not ‘long and drawn out’

These sessions look easy on the outside as most endurance athletes with think ‘it’s only 200m’ however once you are into the session the lactate acid will build in the legs making the final few difficult to achieve at the correct intensity.

Tempo run

A tempo run is a session where you are aiming to achieve a set pace or a set intensity across a longer period of time. These are completed to help to improve the lactate threshold which allows you to run faster for longer.

A tempo session could look like this;

A mile warm up – 4 miles at xyz pace – a mile cool down

Tempo runs are also used to get an athlete used to running at a set pace, so if you were looking for a sub 4 marathon the 4 miles in the above session would be completed at 8.50 mile pace to get your body used to hitting the markers required for the long term goal.

Hill sessions

Hills session are primarily used to build strength in the legs as once you are used to running up hills they no longer have the fear factor in races.

Coaches often say ‘hills are your friends’ when you train and although it may not seem that way at the time, the more you practice running up them the better you become.

A hill session could look like this;

1 mile warm up

30:45:60 seconds up, with double the time jogged back down with 6 sets completed

1 mile cool down

The intensity on the way up should be at 7/10 effort to make the jog recovery required, plus the hill should be long enough for the whole 1 minute effort and steep enough to make you breathe hard.


Fartlek is Swedish for ‘speedplay’ and is often can be seen as a fun session for a training group, if the coach allows.

The efforts can be based on race paces and the duration plus recoveries random, so you really do not know what is going to come next. It could be a 30 second duration at 200m pace or at 10k pace with 2 minute recovery – it really is that random.

However a Fartlek can be used to replicate times in a race where you are increasing the pace to pass another athlete or are hitting the home straight and need to push to achieve a time or position.

A fartlek session is generally a time based session, so it could be 30 or 45 minutes of varying intensity and recoveries.

I hope this post helps you to understand the different type of training sessions for runners, your coach should be able to clarify the outcomes that he wants to you achieve from the session so you gain the maximum benefit from your training plan.

If you need any further information about training sessions, training plans or need some general running advice don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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