Training plans explained by an expert - Women's Running

Training plans explained by an expert

Author: Laura Fountain

Read Time:   |  March 23, 2022

Training plans often include a lot of specific lingo – Laura Fountain breaks it down for us...

Beginner runners’ training plans will often begin with a run/walk programme that asks you to measure your runs by the time on the clock. But once you complete your first 5k you might find yourself browsing training plans designed to help you run further or faster.

These training plans can include various different training sessions that might seem confusing or daunting at first. However, with a little decoding of what’s involved, you may find that you enjoy the variety that different training sessions bring to your week and your running will certainly improve.

Want more advice? Here’s how many minutes per mile to aim for.

Interval training

Interval training is simply periods of running faster, and then recovering by either walking or jogging. Some sessions will measure your effort and recovery in time, while other will use distance.

Shorter, faster intervals of running can not only help you become fitter and faster, but offer an opportunity to work on your running form. And the mental strength you’ll build to get through each rep will help in the final miles of a race.

If you’ve never done any sort of speed training or interval sessions before, they may take some practice as you learn to judge your paces and get a sense of how fast you’re running.

Easy runs

For endurance runners – which is everyone running 5k or longer – you’ll need to train your aerobic fitness. And in order to do this you need to slow right down in your training runs. Slow or ‘easy’ runs are a commonly misunderstood element of training and most runners are guilty of doing them too fast. You’re looking for an effort level of around 50-60%.


Tempo runs come in different shapes and sizes, but the simplest way to think of them is as a sustained period of running (usually 2 miles or longer) run at a set pace. The pace you’re running will depend on your fitness but also the race you’re training for.

Tempo runs at goal pace

If you’re aiming for a goal time in a race your training plan will probably ask you to practice this pace in training. This will not only improve your running efficiency at goal pace but also make it easier to judge your speed.

Try adding in some goal paced tempo runs. 4-5 miles of marathon pace should feel fairly comfortable, but it will still be delivering benefits. If you can get a good sense of what your goal pace feels like, you’ll be more likely to run an evenly paced race and be less reliant on your GPS watch. Working at goal race pace in training will also give you a good idea of how realistic that pace is.

Over the weeks you can increase your goal paced tempo runs up to 10 miles, or add a couple of miles at marathon pace to the end of your long run.


Threshold sessions are a type of tempo run, but working at your threshold pace to improve your speed over longer distances. Your lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid is produced in the muscles faster than it’s able to be used for fuel and therefore begins to build up, causing you to slow down. For experienced runners, it’s somewhere between 10k and half-marathon pace. Adding 10-15 seconds per mile to your (current) 10k pace, or 20-30 seconds per mile to your 5k pace will be close enough.

Begin with a session such as 2x 8 mins at your threshold pace with 3 mins recovery. Over the weeks you can build this up to 2x 15 mins at threshold pace.

Long runs

Your long runs will train your body to withstand the demands of running a longer distance, improve your endurance and build confidence. The longer the race you’re training for, the longer the ‘long run’ will be. While some runners believe that the term ‘long run’ should only be applied to runs over a certain distance, you should think of your long run as simply the longest run of your week.

Rest days

Rest days are as much a part of your training as your runs, and rest should mean no running at all. We build strength by challenging our muscles and causing them to break down a little, and then providing them with enough rest that they can rebuild stronger. The rest and recovery is where the adaptations happen. If we don’t give our bodies the right conditions for recovery, we’re not going to get the full benefits of training so you should view them as an important part of your training plan.

Written by

Laura Fountain

Laura Fountain

Journalist, run coach and author of the The Lazy Runner, Laura has run over 20 marathons

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