Progression Running: Everything You Need To Know

Progression Running: Everything You Need To Know

If you are looking to get faster, implementing progression running into your workout regime may be just the boost you need. What is a progression run? To put it simply, you get faster throughout the run.

For many runners they put in the miles but don’t give enough consideration to pace. If you examine your splits after a race or long run and your times show you slowly petering out, you may benefit from a conscious effort put on pace control. Starting your run slower than you are capable of running is a real exercise in patience and discipline for many runners.

It makes sense. When you are starting your workout you are fresh. Especially in a race or group run atmosphere, it is easy to get wrapped up in what is going on around you and take off way too quickly. Making a conscious effort not to do this can help you in the long run.

How To Do It

The simple answer to implementing progression runs into your workout is to start slower and run faster toward the end. How much slower and how much faster depends on many variables. One thing that is certain is that it is more difficult to run fast on tired legs. The progression run can be implemented in many different ways.

Benefits of Progression Runs

Progression runs are a great tool to build mental patience. You may want to go out fast, but you train your body to go out easy. This is a great thing to learn and will help you on race day.

Otherwise, you risk going with the flow of traffic and starting out way too fast. It is best to run your pace on race day, not someone else.

Progression runs also build stamina. As you work on speed at your most tired, you find yourself getting stronger and stronger.

It is common knowledge that to race fast you need to train fast. However, you can’t train fast all of the time. You need balance in your training to avoid injury. The beauty of a progression run is that a good chunk of the mileage is done at an easier pace.

Easy Progression Runs

If you are new to progression runs, you can just focus on adding some speed at the end of a long run. When beginning to add these, think small. If you’re running for 5 0r 6 miles, just pick up the pace for the last 400 meters or so. If that seems easy to you, try the last half mile.

These types of progression runs will help you to have some kick when you finish races.

Negative Split Progression

If you’re hoping to run a solid distance race and want to ensure you don’t start off too fast, you may want to try a negative split progression. Divide the race into two pieces and choose a pace.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a watch that gives pace warnings, practice running the first half of the race at one pace, then set the warnings to speed up some during the second half.


Mc Millan Running touts a workout called thirds. One of the easiest and most straightforward ways to implement a progression workout, you just divide the run distance into thirds. You run the first third of the run at a nice conversational pace. This is the type of run where you can chat with a running buddy the entire time without taxing yourself.

The middle third of the run you are going to jack it up a little. This portion should require a little more effort and you should be able to speak in fragments. For the final part of the workout, you are putting forth a more challenging effort. Focused and breathing hard, this part requires concentration and a full physical effort.

If you have never done progression running before you should not start with your furthest running distance. For example, if you routinely complete 6-8 mile runs, you might start with a 45-minute progression run. Your first part should feel fairly easy, like a warm-up or just a hair quicker than a warm-up pace.

The middle part should be harder, like a group run where you are being challenged but not feeling like you’re struggling. The last portion should be a more challenging effort. Of course, this is keeping in mind that you will be more fatigued.

Try to keep your pace relatively consistent through the individual portions. In other words, don’t crank out a 7:00 minute mile pace for the first 5 minutes of the last third, then drop to an 8:00 minute mile. Settle in somewhere in between.

Strong 15-25%

Here, you need to just lop the final 15-25% off of your workout. If you’re running for 60 minutes, you decide that you will do the first 35-45 minutes easier, then kick it into high gear. This one is pretty simple in concept.

Where it gets tricky is when you are determining paces for the first portion and the second portion. If you have serious goals, more of your workout will be at more challenging paces. Depending on your goals, you will modify pace to meet your needs. For example, if you are gearing up for a 5K you might do the first portion of the run at 10K pace and then ratchet it down to 5K pace for the speedy portion.

What it boils down to is the more often you turn your wheels, the more acclimated you get to running hard on tired legs.

Strong Finish

In this progression run you end runs with a very fast finish. This strong finish could be a minute or three or five, but it’s a hard push to the end. Again, the premise is to bring it in hard so you are working on running fast on tired legs.

As stated before, leg turnover is a good thing to work on consistently.

Progression Track Work

Another type of progression runs happen on the track, or when doing intervals, in sets. If you are doing mile repeats, for example, you might warm-up for a couple miles, then set a goal pace for each mile repeat.

The first might be at marathon pace, the second at half-marathon pace, and the third at 10k pace. Honing in on the paces helps you to cue your muscle memory to recognize what each feels like.

Resist Adding Too Much

Too much of a good thing is never a good idea. If one progression workout a week is good, why not add two? Why not make every run a progression one? Because that isn’t smart or safe. Sure, progression running is a great tool, but so is speed work. You need a delicate balance of tempo, fartleks, progression, track work, and easy runs to get the job done.

No matter what type of runner you are, what speed you race at, or what distance you prefer, progression running is a good tool for your bag of tricks. Just like anything, implement the new technique carefully and deliberately to avoid injury.

Fast Forward Your Pace
Start Slow, Finish Fast
Advance Your Fitness with Progression Runs