Running Workout Training Plans That Build Endurance and Speed

Going further and faster is a common goal for many distance runners. Even beginners who have recently successfully completed a beginning runners program like Josh Clark’s “Couch to 5K” are no exception. Realizing the goal involves increasing endurance and speed. Dr. Russell Pate, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of South Carolina and a former 2:15 marathoner, as quoted in Amby Burfoot’s book Runner’s World Complete Book of Running (Rodale Press: December 2009), defined endurance as “the ability to continue activity of a designated intensity for a prolonged period of time.”

Dr. Pate identifies three major physiological factors that contribute to a runner’s ability to go farther faster:

  • oxygen uptake
  • lactate threshold
  • efficiency

Improving speed and endurance, according to Dr. Pate, requires improvement in these key areas and is best achieved by following a running workout plan that features four different pace intensities.

Pace Training Intensity

Following a training schedule that mixes running workouts of different training intensity strikes a balance between providing the stress a runner’s body needs to become aerobically fitter with the equally important opportuntities for the body to recover and repair itself from the effects of a hard running workout. ALternating hard and easy days teach the muscles to adapt faster and minimize the chances of running injuries.

Dr. Pate believes that optimal running workout training programs include training at four different pace intensities.

High Training Intensity

Max VO2, as defined in the article, “Definition of Cardiovascular Endurance” published at Health Guidance.org, is the term that refers to “the body’s maximum rate at which it can draw oxygen from the air and transport it through the blood to the relevant areas” during endurance fitness training. Dr. Pace, noting that sports physiologists having learned from decades of research that max VO2 can be modified, believes that training “at intensities that go beyond the individual’s current max VO2” is a key to improving a person’s max VO2. Speed workouts like running intervals is one example of a high training intensity activity.

Medium Training Intensity

Also important to running longer faster, according to Dr. Pace, are lactate threshold runs. There comes a point when the body is working at high effort that lactic acid, a waste product that results naturally from anaerobic glycolysis, begins to accumulate in the bloodstream and forces the body to slow down. Based on the evidence of sports performance research, Dr. Pate believes that running at intensities close to a person’s current lactate threshold is effective in increasing that threshold allowing the person to continue working at high effort longer before lactic acid build forces him to slow down. Dr. Pate suggests running at a pace about 30 seconds slower than 5K race pace for a medium training intensity workout.

Low Training Intensity

Longer runs at a slower pace are valuable according to Dr. Pace for two primary reasons. These runs teach the body to cope with the kind of energy depletion encountered in races and also mentally prepare the runner to stay on her feet and in motion for extended periods of time. Weekly long runs then are the prime example of low training intensity workouts.


The final pace category, rest is considered a pace because it doesn’t necessarily mean non-activity. Slow running at short distances, such as that typically done on recovery days is one example of this fourth pace intensity. Rest then, whether manifested by slow running, cross-training or taking a complete day is in the opinion of Dr. Pace, another key to improving speed and endurance. Building sound recovery activities around the key higher intensity workouts also minimizes lost training time due to overuse injuries.

Building Training Intensity Based Training Plans

While distances run would vary based on the specific race distances a runner is training for, distilling Dr. Pace’s advice to include all four pace intensities into a weekly running training schedule might look something like this:

  • Monday: Low intensity (Easy recovery run)
  • Tuesday: High Intensity (Intervals, tempo run)
  • Wednesday: Low Intensity (Easy recovery run)
  • Thursday: Medium Intensity (Lactate threshold run)
  • Friday: Rest (No running)
  • Saturday: Medium Intensity (Lactate threshold run)
  • Sunday: Low Intensity (Long run).

Training programs that incorporate all four training intensities are an effective means of experiencing improvement in oxygen uptake, lactate threshold and running efficiency, the primary determining factors that enable runners to run farther faster.

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