The 7 types of runs you should be doing when Marathon or Ironman® training

Ironman® and marathon training involve running.

Lots of running.

But it’s not just running for running sake – there’s a strategy to it.

There are runs designed to increase your aerobic capacity, runs designed to increase your speed, and runs designed to make you see god push your lactate threshold and VO2 max.

Each has their place in training, and if used together properly, can propel your running ability far beyond your current baseline.

The 7 types of runs

  1. The “easy” run
  2. The “race pace” run
  3. The “tempo” run
  4. The “track/interval” run
  5. The “steady/long” run
  6. Racing
  7. Warming up & cooling down

The easy run

Why are these listed first? Your easy runs, are some of the valuable runs in this process! Slow, steady, runs, while not sexy, keep you moving, and allowing your body to recover. Easy recovery runs should be done at a ‘low’ heart rate. Zone 2 or 75% of your max (220-age). Simply put, be able to run while holding a full conversation with someone. You’ll probably fall between 7:30-8:30 minute miles for a runs like this. You’re not breaking any land speed records here. These runs are how you acclimate to the mileage and add layers of fitness.

The race pace run

Race pace is exactly what it sounds like, practicing what it’s like to run your marathon race pace. If you’re running a 3 hour marathon, you should be aiming for 6:50 per mile.  4.5 hour marathon? ~10:10/mile. Regardless of your goal pace, wWhen you first start, this will seem like a fast pace to hold for 26.2 miles! You should be focusing mainly on what it feels like to move at that speed. How fast are your legs moving, how slowly can you breathe, etc. As you move through the training program though, this pace will become easier.

The tempo run

These runs are designed to contain miles that are faster and harder than what you’ll do on race day. On your tempo runs you should aim for 20 to 45 seconds per miles faster than your race pace. For a sub 3 hour marathon, tempo pace should be between 6:05 and 6:30 per mile. You should be breathing heavy, and your heart rate should be elevated when doing tempo runs. The idea is to train faster than you have to, so your race pace on race day will feel easy in comparison.

The track/interval run

You’ll see these written as 4×800 (for example). Translating to: run 4 separate 800 meters (or half mile) ‘sprints’ at tempo or faster with a set distance of rest between each rep. In this example you’d warm up for a few miles, then run 800m/half mile at your goal race pace, then recover for the next 800m, and repeat.This helps build your anaerobic system so you can control/maintain your heart rate on hills or tough course sections. Similar to tempo runs, they’re meant to be hard so the real race is easy. Make sure equally the rest between each run is just that, REST. Jog slowly and recover your breath.

The steady/long run

The single most important workouts of them all, the long runs. You’re going to run 26.2 miles, you will need to acclimate your body to these long distance efforts. Your pace should target about 30-40 seconds per mile slower than your race pace (so ~7:00-7:30/mi here). These runs will almost always close out the week on Sunday followed by a rest day or easy to recover. Each one of these long runs are mini dress rehearsals for your race day. You will be able to practice and dial in things like nutrition the day before, the morning of and during these runs. Take a look at the profile of your race. If it is a hilly course, your long runs should be hilly as well. If it’s a flat course, consider aiming for a flatter route on these runs. These long runs will build the endurance back bone that you will draw upon in the last couple miles of your marathon on race day.


Racing provides excellent training in the run up to the marathon. Within the training plan there is actually a planned half marathon race. While the date is movable based on the time of year, your schedule, and location, it does gives you a template on how to plan a race week. Running a short race like a 5, or 10K? Feel free to work those days in as hard interval or tempo days. Races though should not be done during the taper phase. The final 3 weeks are designed to allow your body to recover and feel fresh for marathon race day!

The warm up and cool down

These are extremely important parts of your plan, that we want to go over. Warm up’s and Cool Down’s are built into your tougher workout days.

Warm Up’s:

They do not have to be an hour long, or overly complicated. You should not feel exhausted after they’re over, or consider shortchanging them so you can “save some energy” for the actual run. In our case, they are specifically geared to preparing your body for the stresses it’s about to endure, and simultaneously strengthen it for the future.

Cool downs:

After a run is equally (if not more) important than warming up before one. At this point, your muscles are tired, tight, and stiffer than they were when you started. This fatigue and tightness only increases as you increase the time and effort in each of your runs. Taking time to slowly jog, even walk then stretch your muscles here, will go a long way. Cool Downs preserve your flexibility, ensure proper recovery, and helps avoid future injury.

How to fit this variety of runs into your training

These runs in an Ironman® training plan and a Marathon training plan will differ slightly mainly because of the schedules allowed (2-4 days running when triathlon training, 4-6 when marathon training), but they still fit.

General rule of thumb looks like this:

  • Long runs: 1 per week, typically the last workout of the week
  • Hard runs (race pace, tempo, track/interval): 1-2 per week
  • Easy runs: All other runs. Definitely the run that immediately follows the long run, and ideally an easy run between hard/long workouts

A sample week of Marathon training from our plans look like this:

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Easy
  • Wednesday: Tempo
  • Thursday: Easy
  • Friday: Race pace
  • Saturday: Steady
  • Sunday: Long

Where as Ironman® plans might look like this:

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Swim + bike
  • Wednesday: CrossTrain + Tempo run
  • Thursday: Swim + Easy run
  • Friday: CrossTrain + Interval run
  • Saturday: Long bike
  • Sunday: Long run

Mix it up

If you’re not following something super structured right now, that’s ok! Feel free to mix it up.

Just follow the general rule of alternating easy & hard/long runs and listen to your body for when to rest.

These run types will help add variety into your training as well as make you a better and more efficient runner – win win if you ask me.

And if you’re looking for something structured, check out our Triathlon training plans (perfect for your first Ironman®) and Marathon training plans to get you going.