5 Types of Endurance Workouts You Should Be Doing

Here in Pittsburgh, and in many cities, spring marathon training is soon going to commence.  5-7 months of training to go after that 26.2 or 13.1 PB.  Maybe that’s you.  

For the kids, cross country season is entering the championship season.  Some kids are having great seasons (most of ours are) and others are entering November disappointed.  “Winter is Coming” and with winter, enters off season training for spring track.  

For endurance athletes, training is mostly year round.  What you focus on in your training is primarily about what time of the year is.  For me, I’m getting into more speed work for my last 2 races this fall, a EQT 10mi and Turkey Trot where I plan to set a big 5K personal best.  

I imagine you have running goals for 2023 that you’d like to hit.  Maybe you have an injury you're bouncing back from.  Maybe running more seriously is new to you so you don’t know how to train.  Or, maybe you have just been “running around” following your running routine of the last 3 years but with minimal results, or you messed around and got slower.

On my podcast Training Well Done I cover this topic in depth, so go listen.  I’m going to give you a quick rundown on what 5 types of workouts you should be doing.  This largely applies to cycling, but I’m going to speak to running because that’s my jam.

Read the 5 types of runs, and then if you want, the science is at the bottom.  You can also listen to the podcast to learn!

  • Base Running

Most of your running should be “base miles”.  These are slow runs that are at an easy conversation pace, easily 2-3min/mile slower than a pace you can run a hard 5K.  50-75% of your total volume should be these runs.  

Of that, 25-50% of your runs should be your - long run.  There’s a lot of variability based on how much running you do and how many days.  I’m going to just leave that there. 

  • Recovery Runs

These are short and slow runs that help you feel better after long runs or hard workout runs.  They help bring increased blood flow to the muscles so you can get fresh nutrients and get rid of waste faster.  Recovery runs are key to getting rid of soreness and so you can get back to training. 

They also give you aerobic benefits, just that’s not the point of a recovery run.  

The next 3 of these are workouts.  How often to do these, depends on the time of year, how many miles you run each week, and how many days/week you run.  You should do one or multiple of these 1-3x/ week or 1 every 2 weeks or so.  

  • Threshold Runs

This run is typically 15-30min of a steady state effort or intervals.  The point of these is to improve your ability to run faster at or slightly faster than your lactate threshold.   Often work at this level is done at 10K pace or something that would be challenging for 40-60min.  

These are uncomfortable, but not hard.  

  • VO2MAx Runs

Another term, VO2MAX.  That’s the volume of oxygen your body can use at maximal effort.   Usually measured based on body mass over time.  This is about how aerobically powerful you can be.  These runs work on improving your VO2Max over time, or your aerobic power.  These are typically hard 5-20min efforts, done as intervals or steady state runs.  

5K races can often serve as this and are great to include as speed work for a marathon plan. 

Recently,I did 4x1mile interval runs at about or faster than my current 5K pace.  

These range from challenging to quite hard depending on the pace and rest.  

  • Interval Runs/Sprints

This is real deal speed work.  Often repeat runs of 100-1000m, commonly people will do 200, 400m, or 800m repeats.  These are often runs at your fastest mile pace or faster.  The less distance, the faster.  

What makes these deadly is not the speed or distance, but the recovery time.  These often have short recovery times which leaves you with a lot more lactic acid lingering after every rep which is a hard mental barrier to work through.  

These range from challenging to outright awful.  There’s likely no runners high in this zone.  Definitely not for me.  

That’s my layout of these runs.  You may find other coaches or running programs categorize these differently.  That’s common but often the good ones have categories similar, often with the same goals, just different methods.  You may find your team does none of these.  What gives?  I don’t know.  

At our Trackside workouts here at GHP, we handle this, often pre planned or just based on your feedback of what you’ve been doing recently.  Virtually, we also handle this for athletes.  

If you’re looking to level up this winter with strength training to handle this speed work, or the speed work itself, we got you covered.  Just reply to this email. 

Below is the science behind it.  So if you want to nerd out on how these different types of running do for you, read it below.  I put it below to keep the meat of the article short ;-)

Okay, science class!

Base Running and Recovery Running = Aerobic Endurance

They build your “aerobic fitness”.  What most people think of when talking about “getting in shape”.  They make your heart stronger as well as increase your blood capillary density.

What is a capillary?  A microscopic blood vessel.  Look at your arm.  See those veins, they are visible blood vessels.  Think back to biology class, what’s the opposite of a vein?  An artery.  

So boom, you have visible blood vessels: arteries and veins.  

A capillary is where the arteries and veins merge.  The blood vessels close to your heart are large.  The ones in your organs and muscles get increasingly small until they are microscopic.  

Fit people have more capillaries, or blood vessels IN and AROUND their muscles than not fit people.  

That means the muscles get more oxygen and get rid of more CO2, so they don’t get tired so fast.  

Base running makes your heart stronger so more blood can circulate the body.  Base running also increases the amount of blood vessels in your muscles so you can receive more oxygen and get rid of more CO2.  

Threshold, VO2Max, and Interval Running = Aerobic Power

Increase mitochondrial density.  

Donald, what?  It’s the oval thing with the squiggly inside that you saw in biology class.  There oxygen and sugar mix to make a lot of energy.  The more you have, the faster paces you can run at. 

Having more of them allows you to get MORE energy for every bit of carb and oxygen you use.  Basically, when a muscle cells (or most in your body actually) breaks down a carb, it spin cycles it, quickly getting energy, and then the waste product mostly:

If you’re training intensely, it becomes lactate and goes to the blood, adding to your heavy leg feeling.  


If your training aerobically, goes to the mitochondria, mixes with oxygen (electrons really, but whew!), and then makes significantly more energy.  Just relatively slow.  

Increasing lactic clearance.

Lactic clearance is closely related to speed over distance.  You know how your legs get heavy and later hit that “wall” when you are racing, doing speed work, or running really far?  That heavy feeling comes from an increase in lactic acid acclimation.  

[ FUN FACT: I spent a lot of money in grad school to tell you this, though it’s practically irrelevant - humans don’t build up lactic acid in their muscles.  Lactate is a byproduct of intensely burning carbs and is shuttled to the liver to make more sugar.  Acid (H+ ions) are ALSO produced AND build up in the muscles.  Sport scientists use blood lactate to measure fatigue because lactate and H+ are produced at the same rate.  But they are 2 different molecules in the muscles! I’ll still use lactic acid for simplicity sake. ]

In order to get rid of lactic acid, your body uses baking soda to clear out the acid and turn it to CO2 and water.  

When you run fast, say over 400-5000m ( track lap to 5K race) you often are running at a pace that is faster than your body can clear out the lactic acid, leading to the mental battles you fight and the wall you hit.   

Running at the breakeven point is your lactate threshold and you can only maintain that for a dozen to several dozen minutes, depending on your overall aerobic fitness from your…base runs!

“Tempo Runs” which all 3 of the workouts can be called, improve your “lactate threshold” which is how much acid in the legs you can tolerate.  Speed work allows you to run faster before having to tap out from heavy legs.

Speed work improves your aerobic power, which is about having more mitochondria to make more energy so you can run faster, longer.  As well as improving your lactate threshold so you can run faster, without feeling so tired.  

Listen here on the podcast!

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