We asked some experienced running coaches for their favourite quality sessions for maximising run time. These sessions are ideal if you’re looking to pick up your 10K or half-marathon pace and are a great way to add some variety to your winter training schedule.
Recommended by: Andy Blow, international level triathlete and founder of Precision Hydration (precisionhydration.com)
Benefits: Pace judgement, learning the value of starting conservatively in races and picking up the pace as you go.
The session: This session involves a gradual build of speed. Start at a jogging pace to warm up and, after either each mile or each kilometre, lift the pace in a linear way to a degree that means, by the end of the session, the final mile or kilometre is run at a hard effort (usually between 5K or 10K race pace). Run on a measured loop, or use a GPS watch, to give you real-time access to your splits to make it measurable and repeatable. The session can be anywhere from three to seven miles long, depending on your fitness level and training goal.
Coach’s comment: “This is one of my all-time favourite sessions. I used to start at three miles in the late winter and build up to six over a period of about two months to allow for some progression in the level of endurance required. The differential in pace from mile to mile depends on how long or short the run is and it really does require (and therefore train) good pace judgement to get it right.”
Recommended by: Penny Forse, Olympian and Level 3 performance coach
Benefits: Works on endurance, strength and speed and is ideal preparation for cross-country races.
The session: Fartlek in a local woodland park, which has a hilly loop of about 1,350m. Find a 200m gradual hill, a 100m steep hill and a flat path for sprinting. After a warm-up loop, do four, five or six continuous loops, followed by a cool-down. Each loop should be roughly 200m steady, 200m fast uphill, 150m steady down, 100m sprint, 100m steady, 100m fast uphill, 150m recovery jog and 350m steady slightly downhill.
Coach’s comment: “[With my group] I stress the change of pace they should run, otherwise the session can become just another steady run. If fatigue sets in, slow the ‘steady’ efforts in order to maintain quality.”
Recommended by: Steve Nolan, coach leader at Fitmums & Friends (fitmums.org.uk) and international tutor for UK Athletics
Benefits: Encourages you to push out of your comfort zone and tests your stamina.
The session: A teamwork session working in a group/ groups of three. It can be run on a standard 400-metre track or an oval of a similar distance. Runner A runs round an oval of about 400m. When A gets back to the start, B runs with A and ‘pushes’ A to run harder. When they get back again, A drops out and C ‘pushes’ B. In the next round, A ‘pushes’ C and so on. The number of reps depends on the fitness of the participants and the focus is on running faster than normal, not a steady jog.
The frequency and intensity can be changed by varying the distance of the oval or by adding extra runners to the team. It’s important that the runners are of a similar ability, otherwise this session won’t work. The runner doing the ‘pushing’ should not run away from the other runner.
Coach’s comment: “It’s fun to run in teams as so much running is done on our own. It encourages runners to go out of their comfort zone and really push themselves. The focus of ‘just’ running around the oval is taken away as you are listening to someone else spurring you on.”
Recommend by: Sarah Gardiner, resident coach at Back on Track Runners, based at Hilsea Lido in Portsmouth
Benefits: Develops strength in key muscles, including the glutes, quadriceps and calves.
The session: An hour-long 7K hill session. Choose a hill that has three distinct parts to it, linking roads and different gradients. After a dynamic warm-up, do an easy run to the first hill section (about 1K) and then some drills on the slight incline, focusing on triple extensions, ‘bouncy’ drive with knee lifts, foot flexion and arm drive. Follow this with a time-trail hill climb (1K from bottom to top). Record your times to monitor progress and then do an easy jog to the second hill section. Do two to three hill repeats, with a climb of 300m, followed by a slow jog back to recover. You can add team efforts as a relay on this section or do another one or two intervals on an easier gradient. Finally, take a slow run back to the start.
Coach’s comment: “I love leading my group in a hill session. Options are always available to do different reps, change direction, focus on key technique points, do shorter efforts and work on anaerobic fitness. Hills are a great session for all abilities. Very few people enjoy them but the payoff very quickly shows!”
Recommend by: Peg Wiseman, co-organiser of the Women Can Marathon (womencan.co.uk)
Benefits: A quality lactic session that aids pace judgement.
The session: A 300m track repeat session, done in pairs. Begin on the start line of a running track with a partner. Runner A runs anti-clockwise at a good pace (mile pace) while runner B jogs 100m clockwise slowly in the outside lane, aiming to arrive at the top of the home straight at exactly the same time as their partner. Runner B now runs at mile pace for 300m, while runner A recovers by jogging back 100m. Both runners continue until they are no longer able to hit their first 300m time, when then they take a full lap recovery before setting off again. The full session is about 12 repetitions.
Coach’s comment: “My absolute favourite session is a tough track 300m repeat session, done in pairs. The key is to get the right pace and recovery, so the time stays consistent. The recovery starts off feeling easy but the pressure soon mounts. The pairs element adds fun and focus, too.”