The easy way to run hard

Raise your running game by adding the training basics of a competitive runner’s schedule so you can use the easy to run hard.

Raise your running game by adding the training basics of a competitive runner’s schedule so you can use the easy to run hard. While some runners train every day – running hard two days in a row isn’t smart. Even Olympians average only three hard days per week, and never back-to-back. Why? Because the physical gains earned in a hard workout are made the night and day afterwards. Micro-tears in muscles heal and make the tissue stronger. The body also makes more alveoli, the lung sacs that process oxygen; more red blood cells to carry that O2; and more capillaries to deliver it to muscles. Use this advice to go from a beginner to a pro.

Fast, long, hard

Each week, your three hard days should consist of:

  • Speed work: usually interval training – short, fast runs with rest intervals between them.
  • A tempo run: a medium-length run that’s “comfortably hard,” but not racing.
  • A long run: the longest of the week, but at an easy-to-moderate effort.

As you can see, the fast runs aren’t long, and the long runs aren’t fast. Doing both at once basically means you’re racing, and all that comes later.

Four easy pieces

The other four days, go easy with short runs, light cross-training or a rest day. Up your distance or speed gradually – weekly or monthly, not daily – and back off to the previous level between increases. It’s counterintuitive, but progressing slowly is the fastest way to improve.

Accept that your times will come

Later, you’ll run distances for time (eg, 400-metre runs at 1:20 each, with rest jogs in between) and gauge improvement by your results. For now, these three hard sessions will give you the elements you need to become a true competitor by breaking down your barriers. 

Your best-practise running plan

How hard is hard? Use this simple 1-to-10 scale for rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to gauge your effort while you’re training in different ways:

RPE LEVEL             HOW IT FEELS                       TRAINING MODE

  • 1–2                                Negligible effort                            Walking
  • 3–4                                Easy                                                Easy-run range
  • 5                                     Moderate                                       Regular-run pace
  • 6–7                                Comfortably hard                         Tempo-run  range
  • 8–9                                Hard                                                Speed work range
  • 10                                   Very hard                                       Sprinting


Your easy way to run hard training schedule

  • DAY 1: 3km @ RPE 3 or day off
  • DAY 2: Speed work: 5 min @ L5; 4x (1 min @ L8–9, then 1 min @ L3); 5 min @ L5
  • DAY 3: 20 min of cross-training @ L5  or day off
  • DAY 4: Tempo: 800m @ L3; 1.6km @ L6–7; 800m @ L3
  • DAY 5: Day off
  • DAY 6: 3km @ L5 or 20 min of cross-training @ L5
  • DAY 7: Long: 4.8-6.5km @ L5

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