What is the purpose of your run today?

Are you working toward a new distance or a time goal? If you are, you need to think about this title question every day, before you head out the door.  What is the purpose of this run?  When you are training, you are applying a stimulus or stress to the body.  That stress will hopefully cause minor damage to your body,. You body will then rebuild and adapt so that it is stronger the next time. The amount of stress is important.  We want fast results, but we don’t want to be injured.  In order to maximize results and minimize risk we need to train smarter.  Identifying the body systems that you are working and the purpose of the workout will guide your distances and pace. Completing goal specific workouts stress the body in different ways and allow adaptations for the different body systems used in endurance racing. This can sound very overwhelming for new runners and one of the many advantages to hiring a coach*. Below are some basic types of runs, and how they impact your different body systems.

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  • Easy days/active recovery runs– Slowing down and running easy miles is difficult for many runners. We are built with a train harder, race harder mentality.  This will inevitably leave the runner over-trained and under-performing.  Your easy run needs to feel easy.  You need to run easy enough that your body is still able to recover from the previous workout and not create further stress and damage on the body.  Easy runs are a great way to add up more base mileage which will help increase your endurance base.  Easy miles also help runners slowly build up a tolerance to the stresses of running, which will build up a resistance to injury.  Easy runs will help strengthen your cardio vascular systems, strengthening you heart allowing your body to pump blood more efficiently and increase stroke volume. Improvements are not made during actual workouts, but instead are made when our body adapts and recovers from those workouts.  If you do not allow your body to run easy enough and recover you will eventually injure yourself.
    • I wrote a previous post on slowing down your easy runs. Check it out!
  • Threshold /Tempo Runs- You will often hear tempo runs explained as comfortably hard, or called a sustained effort run. Tempo runs help by improving your endurance base at higher intensities.  As your body runs faster, your metabolic rate increases.  Lactic acid is a by-product of the metabolism.  Your lactic threshold is the breaking point of where your body can no longer keep up with the increasing build up. At a higher rate, your body will begin to build up lactic acid which leave the muscles feeling fatigued.  As you train at this threshold your body becomes more efficient at clearing the lactic acid and other by-products.  These adaptations allow your body to, eventually, run at higher intensities before the lactic acid begins to build up.
    • Example workout-20 minute Tempo run
    • Purpose- Improve your body’s ability to efficiently manage lactic build up at higher intensities.
  • Long Run-Physiologically, your long run is a key workout for building your endurance base by building up your cardiovascular system. When running long runs, you are increasing the impact load your muscles, joints and connective tissues can support during longer distances. While running long, you are increasing your mitochondrial production of capillaries.  Remember you mitochondria acts as the “powerhouse” of the cell.  Taking food (nutrients) and converting it to energy. The increase of mitochondrial capillaries helps get that energy to the muscles more efficiently. During long runs, your body learns to store glycogen (energy) while using other energy sources more efficiently.  Running long is also great for preparing mentally for endurance races, practicing hydration and refueling techniques.
  • Speed work-There is a variety of speed work or interval training workouts for runners. The idea that you have to run faster to get faster is correct. The problem is many runners want to do it every day. Speed work is calculated workout session used to stress certain body systems and allow them to recover. Small adjustments in pace can have a large impact on a training session. If you have ever blasted the first interval of a training session, only to ride the suffer bus the rest of the way through. You know what I am talking about.  Speed work is performed by running repeated segments of fast running and then a recovery.  During speed work you are training your body to perform efficiently at high paces and build up a resistance to fatigue. Interval training helps a runner build up speed, improve running economy and manage pain.  Speed work improves efficiency and bio-mechanics, so be sure to focus on form while completing your speed work.
    • Example-400 meter repeats
    • Purpose– To improve speed and economy by loading the amount of oxygen needed to run at a specific pace while improving leg turn over.

Remember you are training with a goal in mind.  Training load is a balancing act.  Your distances and paces are important to maintaining that balance.  Stop trying to “beat” the workout.  You aren’t racing the workout, you are simply applying a stress load to the body, which will cause the body to rebuild stronger.  Pushing your paces too much increases that training load, increasing your risk for injury.  Along with not allowing adequate recovery.  A complete training program should include a variety of training sessions, training at multiple paces.  Before you begin to implement speed work into your training, be sure to have built up an endurance base.  This means running consistently for 2-3 months at least 3 times a week.  Always include a warm up and cool down session.  Never complete a speed or tempo session while injured.  Anytime you feel a slight niggle or small injury it is best to back off on intensity and distance for a short time, until the injury has healed. 

        So how to do you know what kind of workouts you should be doing and what paces?  Well, that’s is one great benefit of working with a coach.  Cheaper options may include books published by professional coaches an online programs, many are free.  I have used all three methods. Not all freebie plans are good so finding the right programs is important.  Look for a variety of workouts and a write up by the author that gives you an idea on the reasoning behind the workouts.  Previously, I was using Jack Daniels book to guide my workouts.  I really loved the book.  Most of my training relied on his book and formulas for the last year.  I would highly recommend his book to anyone who is wanting to learn more about running and training zones.  My biggest “ah ha” moment was when he talks about training based on where you are now, to get to where you want to be. If you like developing your own programs, there are a lot of training pace calculators.  While they don’t all use the same formula a lot of them will get you similar pace.  I like to use Jack Daniels Vdot Calculator and Greg McMillian Calculators, when I am deciding on paces.

I have spent the last training cycle, really focusing on the purpose of the run.  By doing so, I have become more in tune with my body and I have been doing a lot better with avoiding major injury. I also have found that I am running more consistently, because I understand the purpose of each run.  I get a bigger sense of accomplishment out of my runs, knowing that my run today had a bigger purpose through my training plans.

I’m curious, what kind of training plan do you use? Why did you decide on that method? Have you used other methods before?

Thank you so much for reading.  I really appreciate all comments, likes and shares.  If you want to continue to follow my journey, please subscribe!

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Published by RunCanvas

Avid Runner, mother, wife and teacher. On a wonderful journey, taking it one mile at a time.

6 thoughts on “What is the purpose of your run today?

  1. This is a great post explaining the whats and whys of different runs. I also love progressive runs a lot. Starting at an easy pace and speeding up a bit with every mile really gives me a mental boost when I’m not feeling all that great, especially when coming back from being sick or on vacation.

    As far as training plans go, I’m a huge fan of FIRST (Run Less, Run Faster). With only 3 runs a week, it leaves flexibility for schedule changes and room for cross-training. You have to make those 3 runs count though, there aren’t any “easy” miles. 🙂


    1. Thanks for the reply, I read the run less, run fast plan last year and can see the appeal to a busy runner. I do feel like it has its limitations as far as long term growth. I am always a bit weary of having my marathon runners completing intense workouts on lower mileage as well. As a non-professional runner it is nice to have a bit more accommodating training plan

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a very helpful post. It’s great to see every type of run laid out as well as showing how they all fit together. I think that’s a point a lot of people miss – specific training at specific times for specific results.


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