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Workouts for Advanced Runners

by Jackie Miller

Have you become stuck in a rut with your run lately? Maybe you have reached a plateau and are not really sure what to do to advance your progress. Do you just want to get faster? If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, read on for some suggestions! 

First off, get started on the right foot by calculating proper heart rate zones, specific to you. This allows you to vary your run intensity. Zone Recovery, Zone 1, Zone 2 and Zone 3 are all subthreshold heart rate ranges that you can use to improve your fitness and maintain appropriate intensities. Try this heart rate zone run calculator or use another method available online. But, the important thing to consider is building your heart rate zones based off of your threshold (TH) heart rate, rather than your maximal heart rate. See below, for a definition of these heart rate zones. 

Once you have heart rate zones, you need to decide upon a target race and then break your season into training periods — each focused on specific training relative to your physiology and needs. 

The first part of your season should target “base building” or strengthening your aerobic system. The focus here is on teaching your body how to cover the distance of your targeted race. We use this period to build distance but not necessarily intensity. It includes mostly steady state runs in the heart rate zones ZR and Z1. (For any runs over an hour, add in a 30-second pick-up every 30 minutes.) If you are training for a running only race, we like two of these to be on the weekend. A run of medium distance on Saturday and the long run on Sunday. This teaches the body how to run on tired legs, which is how we race in those later miles. If you are training for a triathlon, we like the long ride to be Saturday, still keeping the long run on Sunday. 

The second part of your season centers on strength building. Your focus here should be on getting those legs stronger in the way of hill repeats or hill bounding, tempo runs and an occasional “split run.” Since we are building intensity in this stage, our volume building slows down a bit. Adding both intensity and volume at the same time, can be a short-cut to injury. 

Hill Bounding: Run up a hill of an approximate grade of 6 to 10 percent using low cadence and a long stride. Once to the top of the hill, run flat for a 3-minute recovery with normal cadence. Then, run down the hill with a quick cadence and short stride.  

Tempo Runs: Warm up in ZR to Z1 for 10 to 15 minutes. Insert two sets of running blocks, at Z2 or Z3, 10 to 15 minutes in length, with 5 minutes in ZR in between. Finish off remainder of run in Z1. 

Progression Long Run: Depending on the length of your run and the stage of training, run the majority of your long run in Z1, ending the last portion in Z2. For example: The first 60 minutes in Z1, the last 20 minutes in Z2. 

Split Long Run: These types of runs allow us to add a bit of extra volume to the long run while allowing our bodies to remain running with good form. We like to do these approximately once a month. Run part of your long run in the morning with the first part of the run in Z1 and part of the end in Z2. (For example, 45 minutes in Z1 and 15 in Z2.) At least three hours later in the day, do the remainder of long run in Z1, for example 60 min steady in Z1. 

Finally, we get to the last stage of training. Here, we are focused a bit more on intensity and less on volume building. While keeping the progression long run, we switch the hill bounding for best effort speed work and, typically, maintain the tempo runs, building the length of each interval, up to about 20 minutes. 

Best Effort Speed Work: This should be completed at a best effort intensity that is sustainable throughout the number of specified repeats. Rest times and relative intensities are as follows for all sets: 

  • 5k intervals are done at your 5k pace plus 5-10 seconds/3-minute rest intervals 
  • 1-mile intervals are completed at 5k pace minus 5-10 seconds/3-minute rest intervals 
  • 1/2-mile intervals at 5k pace minus 15-20 seconds/2.5-minute rest intervals 
  • 1/4-mile intervals at 5k pace, minus 30-40 seconds/1.5-minute rest intervals  

In summary, there are four key things to do to become a better or faster runner: Set heart rate zones, break your season into segments, vary the volume and vary intensity of weekly runs. Doing these three things will get you on your way to being the athlete you aspire to be. But, most important of all, stay consistent!

ZR: Below 76% of TH Heart Rate 
Z1: 80% to 86% of TH Heart Rate 
Z2: 86% to 93% of TH Heart Rate 
Z3: 93% to 100% of TH Heart Rate 

Jackie Miller is a USA Triathlon and IRONMAN University Certified Coach for QT2 Systems and OutRival Racing. She has been coaching for 11 years and has served on the Florida Region Board for USA Triathlon as well as a frequent presenter at USA Triathlon Coaching CEU clinics.