The 4 Most Important Run Training Sessions In Your Week


, by Nick Bester

Photography by: Donson/

If you're training for an event, there are a number of different run sessions you can build into your week, but which are the most important? Run coach Nick Bester shares his four essential run sessions for anyone looking to hit their PR this season.

Before I mention the four sessions that I believe to be most important, it’s important to stress that recovery runs can be just as important and should not be skipped.

The routine that I follow for the 4 most important sessions is usually done on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. I occasionally skip sessions here and there but try my best to do these important ones religiously, week in and week out. They are as follows:

Track/Interval Tuesday

Your Track/Interval sessions are when you improve and build your speed. When you initially start doing track sessions, the speed work often leaves you stiff, fatigued, and barely able to walk (never mind running the following day). But as with anything, the more you do it, the more your body gets used to it.

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When looking to improve times over the 3k, 5k, and 10k distances shorter and faster intervals are the most beneficial. I would say the ideal track volume for shorter distance goals is somewhere between 1.8-2.5 miles / 3-4k or 12–15 minutes.  Below are some examples of what some of these sessions might look like:

  • 20 X 200 meters (30 seconds recovery)

  • 10 X 400 meters (60 seconds recovery)

  • 5 X 800 meters (75 seconds recovery)

  • 3 X 700 meters (75 seconds rest), followed by 7 X 300 meters (45 seconds rest)

  • 5 X 2 minutes (60 seconds recovery), followed by 8 X 30 seconds (30 seconds recovery)

  • 2 X 3 minutes (90 seconds recovery), 2 X 2 minutes (75 seconds recovery), 2 X 1 minute (60 seconds recovery), 2 X 30 seconds (30 seconds recovery)

Photography by: Mumtaaz D/

When looking to improve over the half marathon, marathon, or ultra-marathon distance then longer intervals are what you are after, building your stamina. You should be looking for around 6k-8k or 20–28 minutes of track time.  An example of some of these sessions would include:

  • 20 X 400 meters (60 seconds recovery)

  • 10 X 800 meters (75 seconds recovery)

  • 7 X 1km (90 seconds recovery)

  • 4 X 1mile (2 minutes rest)

  • 5 X 5 minutes (2 minutes rest)

  • 2 X 5 minutes (2 minutes rest), 2 X 4 minutes (90 seconds rest), 2 X 3 minutes (75 seconds rest)

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Just in case you were wondering, Eliud Kipchoge’s group usually does around 9 miles / 15km worth of track volume on their Tuesday session, but let’s stay away from that.

Try to find a training partner or group for these sessions as it makes it a bit easier when other runners are around. This also usually allows you to find something extra and go that little bit faster.

Hill Repeat/Tempo Thursday

Often runners ask me which of these are more important, hills or tempo? The truth is that they are both as important as one another. I know one thing is certain (I put it to a vote): more than 80% of runners prefer doing tempo sessions over hills (for obvious reasons). Depending on what you’re training for, one might take preference for a few weeks, but it’s important to alternate between them every week

Hill Sprints vs Hill Repeats

Hill sessions help you build muscle, improve form, and increase power. If speed is what you’re after, then hill sprints is the session for you. If stamina is what you’re after, then hill repeats are the way to go.

An example of a typical hill sprint session could look something like this:

  • 14 X 25 second hill sprints (recover on the way down)

  • 18 X 20 second hill sprints (recover on the way down)

  • 25 X 15 second hill sprints (recover on the way down)

Photography by: Real Sports Photos

An example of a hill repeat session could be as follows:

  • 12 X 40 second hill sprint (recover on the way down)

  • 10 X 60 second hill sprint (recover on the way down)

  • 8 X 75 second hill sprint (recover on the way down)

Tempo Sessions

Tempo sessions involve constant running without taking breaks but rather using a float as recovery. The float is a section where you reduce your speed by about 10 - 20%, giving the body a slight break before you start your next tempo set.

There are many different definitions of how hard a tempo session should be. I classify tempo running as follows: 85% effort level, meaning a pace somewhere between your 5k – 21k pace. It should feel like you’re ‘working’ but not ‘racing’, so you should be able to say a few words but not hold a conversation.

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When your session is done you shouldn’t feel as if you have emptied the tank - that’s not the point. I know it’s tricky when doing tempo sessions in a group and it starts getting competitive with the speed constantly picking up, but trust me you’re far better off sticking to your plan, rather than getting caught up in a race that leaves you fatigued for a few days.

If short-distance goals are your target then ideally you want to be doing 4k–10k worth of tempo volume. A typical tempo session for this would be something like:

  • 4 X 1 mile tempo (0.5 mile float between sets)

  • 4 X 2km tempo (0.5 km float between sets)

If you’re aiming at longer distance goals, especially for things like London, Chicago or Berlin marathons which are fast and flat, then longer tempo sessions are crucial within the build-up to successfully chasing down your target time. If this is your next goal then I’d highly recommend you do 2 weeks of tempo for every 1 week of hills. A typical marathon tempo sesh would include anything from 14k – 30k and would be something like:

  • 5 X 3kms (0.5km float between sets)

  • 5 X 4kms (0.5km float between sets)

  • 5 X 5kms (1km float between sets)

I am a massive fan of ‘progression tempo’ sessions. This is where you start at an easier pace and gradually increase your speed as your run goes on. Running this way just gets your body used to picking speed up the longer the run goes on, which is the mentality me and my athletes start a race with. It’s a lot more enjoyable and effective running a race this way, where you line up with the mentality of aiming for a negative or equal split, rather than going all out from the beginning and hitting a wall halfway through. This session should only feel tough the last 3k-4k, at which point you should be going faster than your threshold pace. A tough session to get right but one that is so rewarding when you do.

Photography by: Jacob Lund

Time Trial or Parkrun Saturday

This is the session in the week where you put all your training to the test allowing you to gauge exactly where your current speed and fitness are at. I often recommend doing this session on the same route where possible. This just gives you an accurate measure to see whether you’re improving or not, rather than doing your time trial on a different route which could be a lot slower or quicker.

Even though Parkruns are generally a ‘fun run’ and not a ‘race’, it’s a great event to put your fitness to the test with generally some good competition around you. Even though you’re going as hard as you can for this weekly ‘fitness test’, your times most likely won’t be as quick as if it was an official race, the main difference is that you taper for the race as well as mentally and physically prepare for it.

Longer Run

Regardless of your distance targets, the long run should not be neglected. The distance might vary, for example, someone with shorter event targets could have a longer run of 6-9 miles / 10–15k, compared to someone with longer distance goals who could do 15-21 miles / 25–35k.

The other 3 sessions I’ve previously mentioned are ‘harder sessions’.  This run should feel like an ‘intermediate’ effort. If you push hard in your long run, this will leave you stiff the next day, which isn’t what you are after and far from ideal for recovery.

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I’m a firm believer in throwing a ‘Hot Spot’ or a pickup within your longer run. My definition of a hot spot is a 1km pick-up within the middle of your run, on a nice, fast, flat or downhill piece of road. You do this As. Fast. As. Possible! The point of this is to get your heart rate as high as possible and your legs turning over as quickly as possible. After this 1km hot spot, if you need to stop and catch your breath do so, allowing your heart rate to drop before carrying on with your run. By only doing one hard kilometer within your long run and the rest of it easy, you should be left feeling relatively fresh on a Monday, ready to smash the week.

So there you have it. These are the 4 sessions within a training week which I’d recommend you get in. Keep it consistent and fit in recovery sessions around these and you will improve.

Onwards and upwards,

Coach Nick

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