Fast Forward

Progression runs fine-tune your pacing, boost your fitness and ramp up your speed


Posted: 7 August 2008
by Alex Hutchinson and Anna Downing

© Getty Images

If you feel like you can't run any further once you've hit the 20-mile mark in a marathon – your legs have turned to lead and your mind to mush – you might have started out too fast.

Fortunately, there is a simple way around this. A progression run means starting out at a slow pace, but finishing at a fast pace. And it can mean the difference between crawling over the finish line and storming through it.

Progression runs aren't new. Finland's Paavo Nurmi, who won nine Olympic gold medals, used them back in the 1920s. Over the last few years they've seen a resurgence, popping up on the schedules of top athletes and in programmes designed for recreational runners.

Why? Their versatility. "You can do an infinite number of progression runs, different lengths and different intensities,” says coach Greg McMillan, (mcmillanrunning.com).

Long runs, tempo sessions and base miles can all be turned into progression runs, and can be used at any time in your training (see sessions below).

One key benefit of progression runs is that they increase the volume of your fast-paced miles without the added fatigue of a full-length quality workout.

If you end two of your usual easy runs with 10 minutes at half-marathon pace, you've added 20 minutes of tempo work to your week. Over time, this extra quality work will make you a stronger runner.

McMillan learned about progression runs from Gabriele Rosa, the Italian coach of distance runner Paul Tergat, who is known for faltering in the final miles of his first few marathons. In 2002, Rosa had Tergat turn virtually every effort into a progression run, accelerating until he was running as hard as he could over the final mile. The result was a world record of 2:04:55 at the 2003 Berlin Marathon.

McMillan found that making every run a progression run was too demanding, so he uses the workouts below primarily as a transition from base work to speedier work. These runs start at an easy pace, increase to regular training pace, and finish about 30 seconds per mile faster. The bit of speed conditions the heart and lungs and strengthens the body for the demands of intervals.

For beginners, this type of progression run can serve as a safe introduction to speedwork.

Pick It Up

Long runs, tempo sessions and easy efforts can all be turned into progression runs, which boost the benefits of training without the fatigue of a full-length quality session. Accelerate any of your training efforts with one of these four workouts. In time, you will become a much stronger runner.

BASE BUILDER
When: Once or twice a week
Why: To strengthen your body for fast running; to burn additional calories
How: Divide your run into three parts. Run the first part 30 seconds per mile slower than usual, the second part at your usual pace and the third part faster, approaching marathon pace

EASY RUN PLUS
When: Day before a tempo/speed workout
Why: For extra tempo training; to prime the legs for speedwork
How: Run most of the run at your usual easy pace; gradually accelerate to half-marathon pace (at most) for the last 5 to 15 minutes of the run

FAST-FINISH LONG RUN
When: Once a fortnight
Why: To practise a slow start and a fast finish; to train at goal pace when tired
How: After a warm-up, accelerate 10 to 30 seconds per mile until you reach marathon pace. Hold that pace for the last 15 to 25 per cent of your run (3 to 4.5 miles of an 18-miler, for example)

TEMPO STEP-UP
When: As a variation to your tempo run
Why: To gain the benefits of a tempo run without the fatigue of a full workout
How: Warm up, then do a 20- to 60-minute run, starting 20 to 30 seconds slower than tempo pace. Increase 10 seconds per mile every 5 to 15 minutes, ending at your usual tempo pace


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