What's a tempo run? How is it different from speed work? What the heck is a Fartlek?? We hear these terms thrown around and used all the time, but how well do we really know the most common running terms? Maybe you know them, but just in case you don't, I’ve attempted to demystify some of the most common ones for you. The more you know, the better you can train.


The tempo run is a staple of any training program. This is a training run that is executed at a consistent pace and is usually 3 to 5 miles long but in some cases can be longer depending on the target race, the timing of the workout and the objective of the training plan. The goal of a tempo run is to build stamina, the ability to run at a steady pace for a long period of time. So it should be done at a consistent pace per mile, somewhere around 0:20 to 0:40 slower than your target 5K pace. For example, if your 5K target pace is 8:00, your tempo run should be somewhere between 8:20 and 8:40 per mile. If you run by heart rate, this run should be about 80 - 90% of your max heart rate. Any faster and the result is a shorter time spent in the right aerobic zone which takes away from the benefit of the run. If you want to challenge yourself, increase the duration of the run rather than going faster.


Any running workout that is broken up into segments of running followed by segments of recovery time can be considered an interval run. The objective of interval training is to shock the system, to work on being able to handle faster paces and/or to condition the body to recover faster. In many cases, this is considered speed work but in my opinion, true speed work is through speed intervals (described below).

The most common types of interval workouts are:

  • Fartleks - This funny term is Swedish for “speed play”. These are multi-pace running workouts that alternate between a short interval at a fast pace (usually 1, 2 or 3 minutes long) followed by a longer interval run at a slower pace, but not a jog. These workouts can be done using a variety of paces (hence playing around with speed) which is what makes Fartleks so versatile and so much fun. An example is Coach Brad Hudson’s 1-2-3-2-1 Fartlek.

  • Tempo Intervals - These are longer intervals, typically between 8 to 15 minutes long, followed by a recovery jog after each interval. While the number of intervals can vary, the pace of a tempo interval should be slightly faster than a tempo run, followed by a 2 to 5 minute recovery jog. The purpose of these intervals is to develop speed stamina.

  • Cruise Intervals - These are  slightly shorter and faster than tempo intervals, usually lasting 3 to 8 minutes. The goal of cruise intervals is to improve a runner’s lactate threshold, or the pace at which the body can efficiently process lactic acid for use and continue working without the muscles feeling that all-too-common burning sensation. Cruise intervals should be performed with very short recovery jogs, between 1 to 2 minutes, which makes them more akin to speed intervals.

  • Speed Intervals - This is true speed work. These intervals are generally shorter and significantly faster than any other type of interval work while the recovery time can vary from 0:30 to 3:00 depending on the duration of the interval. While other types of interval work can be done on the road or a flat trail, speed intervals are best performed on a track.


These terms refer to the distance and duration of a particular interval workout, whether it’s on the track or on the road. The term “repeat” is used to refer to the distance covered by each interval, while the term ‘split” is the actual time it takes to cover that distance. For example, a 800 repeat workout in 3:30 per split is a workout designed to cover 800m (half a metric mile) in 3:30 or 7:00 pace. In some cases these two terms can be used interchangeably, when the intervals are based on time rather than on distance. For example, 3:00 repeats at target 5K pace.


Hill repeats are like speedwork in disguise. The cardiovascular benefits and strength development of doing workouts on a hill are very similar to those of a speed session on a flat surface, without as much pounding or ground impact. Hill repeats promote proper running mechanics by encouraging you to utilize your arms and drive your knees. Additionally, hill repeats can be a great confidence booster when you encounter a hill during a race. Workouts on a hill can be as varied as the hills themselves (in terms of distance and number of repetitions) but it’s generally a good idea to choose a hill that takes between 0:30 and 2:00 to climb then use the time it takes to descend it as recovery time. Hill repeats should also be performed based on EFFORT rather than PACE because your actual pace while going uphill can be considerably slower than your target race pace.


This is a great way to practice how to run a race. A progression run, unlike a “steady-state” run like a tempo, is a longer training run performed at increasingly faster paces per mile. The run should be continuous, with each subsequent mile faster than the previous mile. In running parlance this is called “negative-splitting” and it is the best way to execute a race. A typical progression run pace starts slower than tempo pace and gradually builds to a pace slightly faster than tempo pace. The “cut-down” or how much faster each mile is, depends on the training plan so ask your Coach!


What do you do in between workout days? You run easy. These runs are considered one of the endurance components of a training plan. They serve as the “bridges” between workouts and are just as important as any other run because they complete your training week and allow you to maintain your fitness. They’re also quite possibly the most fun days of the week. You may find yourself doing more of these easy runs than any other runs, and that's okay! The key with easy runs is to avoid doing them too fast. They don’t have to be slow, but they should be performed at a comfortable pace. Save your energy for the workout days!


A staple for any mid to long distance runner, the long run is another endurance component of a training plan. The main purpose of a long run is to spend time on your feet. It’s as simple as that. Most long runs are performed at a steady pace for duration of the run, although some coaches (myself included) will add some pick-ups during the run as the season progresses and we get closer to race day. Long runs should also be UNINTERRUPTED, in order to reap the full benefits of the run. The trick when it comes to pacing yourself is to fight the urge to speed up simply because you feel good. The long run should be performed at a pace that is even more relaxed than an easy run and it should last for at least an hour.


These runs are best performed within 24 hours of a workout and at a pace that is slower than any of the other runs in your training plan. The purpose of the recovery run is to allow your body to take advantage and realize the fitness gains from a hard workout. Take it easy here, you deserve it! A perfect example is our Recovery Wednesday runs; a great way to recover with your favorite running buddies!


You may have heard this term tossed around a few times. The taper is basically a period of reduced running intensity and volume, leading up to a race. It can be anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks and the goal is to allow your body to be fully rested and recovered before a race.

I hope I’ve managed to demystify some of our most common running terms. For any questions on these and other training terms and workouts, don’t hesitate to pull me aside or reach out to me at coachmwangi@gmail.com.

Run better. Run smarter. Run for life.

Coach Mwangi

Coach MwangiComment