As I lace up my running sneakers and put on my playlist, I have a crucial decision to make: What type of run am I going on? I naturally find myself deciding between meditative runs (tune out the world and go), fast runs (speed along as fast as I can for as long as I can), and I-really-don’t-want-to runs (self-explanatory).
But if I’m really trying to get the most out of my runs, I recently learned that I should choose one of the eight official types of runs. These include base runs, recovery runs, long runs, tempo runs, interval runs, fartleks, hill repeats, and progression runs. Each serves its own purpose and boasts its own benefits.
We tapped running experts to give us the full, well, rundown (sorry, couldn’t help myself!) on the eight types of runs.
What to know before trying any of the eight types of runs
Whether you’re training for a marathon or simply running for the cardio, “If your goal is to get faster, to go longer, to get stronger, then it is really important to [incorporate different types of runs] into your training,” says Nadia Ruiz, an endurance coach who’s run more than 500 races. Knowing the how and why of each type will ensure you’re getting the most out of your workout every time you lace up.
Most of us first learn about different types of runs when we’re preparing for a race, says Sashea Lawson, a six-time marathoner, an Olympic distance triathlete, and founder of the Diverse Runners World community. But that doesn’t mean that only people training for a race can reap the benefits of going on different types of runs.
That said, your running goals and experience will determine the “how” and “when” of incorporating each into your routine. “It’s going to be a very, very different answer for every person,” says Ruiz. “You could be a sub-three hour runner who’s trying to get fast enough for Olympic qualifiers,” or someone logging their very first mile. What a particular run looks like will vary a lot, and needs to offer something that’s challenging, but not overly taxing, for you.
Two running experts break down the 8 types of runs
1. Base run
What it is: If you were to think of your running program as a house, says Ruiz, then base runs would be the foundation. “You have to develop a certain amount of mileage that’s easy enough, and that’s what your base run is,” Ruiz says. “It’s what you can do every single time. That’s your baseline.”
The benefits: Lawson says that these runs build your aerobic capacity, meaning they help your body use oxygen more efficiently when you run.
How to do it: To hit a base run, think about what you consider easy in terms of mileage and time, and start there. Remember: “It could be short to moderate length, which depends on the runner’s target distance,” says Lawson. A good rule to follow is to keep a pace that’s slow enough you can comfortably have a conversation.
2. Recovery run
What it is: Recovery runs are done at an easy pace, and meant to help your body bounce back the day after a tougher workout. “They are creating movement and blood flow in your body, because we know stagnation isn’t a good thing,” says Ruiz.
The benefits: “They allow your body to recover, which is super important when training because that’s when you’re going to see the benefits,” says Lawson. Included in those benefits? Minimizing the risk of injury.
How to do it: Keep these short, and avoid anything difficult like high heat or hills, Ruiz says.
3. Long run
What it is: This is your longest run of the week. The exact distance is going to vary depending on what you’re training for, says Lawson. “Maybe someone has never run a mile before, so a long run for them would be three miles. But maybe you’re looking at a marathoner who can run 20 miles,” says Ruiz. “The long run is whatever is the longest run for the specific runner.”
The benefits: Long runs build your endurance and help strengthen your heart muscles. Ruiz adds that you can also use them to create a race-like environment in order to “rehearse” for the big day.
How to do it: These runs are typically done once a week and build on each other, growing longer as your training progresses toward a race. Ruiz caveats that, “You don’t want to jump too much in the distance because there has to be a progression.”
4. Tempo run
What it is: For this run, says Ruiz, you’re aiming to keep “a pace that is just above your threshold for 30 to 60 minutes.” It’s not an all-out sprint, but it’s harder than a pace you could hold for hours. Some coaches suggest thinking of this as your 10K race pace—yes, even if you don’t run 10Ks.
The benefits: Tempo runs test your respiratory and cardiovascular systems while increasing your running boundaries. They can help your body adapt to longer and faster runs, says Lawson.
How to do it: You don’t want to overexert yourself on tempo runs—pull back if you start to get into a pace you can’t keep up for a longer period of time. Because this is a harder run, Lawson recommends following it up with a recovery run within 24 hours.
5. Interval run
What it is: Running a set time or distance at a specific pace, then recovering with a short rest period before going again.
The benefits: “It taxes your body more than a tempo run because you’re running at faster speeds,” Ruiz adds. This type of training can help you get faster, and improve your form.
How to do it: To avoid injury, start with short distances to see how your body responds to higher speeds. “Then you can start increasing the duration of the intervals,” Ruiz says. For instance, says Lawson, you can run two, four, or five minutes at a hard pace and then have a recovery period of one or two minutes.
What it is: The Swedish term for “speed play,” a fartlek is similar to doing intervals because, as the name indicates, you’re playing around with the speed at which your body can run. However, a fartlek isn’t as rigid as an interval run. “With fartlek, you’re just tossing all the intervals into a bowl, allowing them to mix up,” says Ruiz. “You get to run in a lot of different paces within that same run.”
The benefits: Like intervals, fartleks will improve your speed. And they’re great for beginners because you get to choose how fast you go and for how long.
How to do it: “You can incorporate fartleks in the beginning, middle, and end of your training programs,” Ruiz says. Sprint for two minutes. Race to the stop sign. Walk for 30 seconds. A fartlek is your playground!
7. Hill repeats
What it is: These involve running on an incline as fast as you can, walking or jogging back down, then going back up again at least five times. “The purpose is to improve your leg strength and your fitness,” says Lawson, who adds that they’re her favorite type of run. “That’s going to help you expend less energy when you’re out running or racing.”
The benefits: Even if hill repeats make you feel like Sisyphus on his worst day, they’re very much worth trying. This type of run gives your legs and glutes some serious strength, making it easier for you to run on hills or flat ground, and it improves your running form to help you become more efficient.
How to do it: Find a hill and aim for 30, 60, or 90 seconds, or until you hit a particular landmark, then recover on your way back to the bottom before starting over. You can also set an incline on a treadmill and do repeats on that. Lawson adds that hill repeats should also be followed with a recovery run.
8. Progression run
What it is: These runs start at a slower pace and get increasingly faster during the run itself.
The benefits: This type of run helps to improve your stamina, “and also teaches someone to run faster at the end of a race,” Lawson adds.
How to do it: You can increase your pace with each mile, or in time segments, like every 15 minutes, says Ruiz. What works best will vary from runner to runner.