Progression runs are a very useful tool to teach yourself to get faster without inappropriately hurting yourself. Progression runs are ran often by Kenyan athletes and is something I do with a lot of my athletes I work with, who all seem to enjoy them! You can always find the Team New Balance Manchester guys speeding up and down the Middlewood Way often progression running! Often when running with a group of people runs can develop into a progression run very easily also.
I like progression runs because you let your body find the right pace when it is ready rather than forcing it into a prescribed pace for that day, such as a tempo run. It teaches you how to run by feel and allows you to hit speeds you wouldn’t normally hit in a steady run by easing yourself into the faster pace. This way you can maintain and conserve energy at the same time as teaching yourself to understand your limits, as well as holding onto a pace and not giving into fatigue. I find my running style becomes more economic during a progression run as I run to confidence and to how I feel.
Progression runs can be especially useful for younger (chronologically or in training age) runners who don’t have the ability or discipline to sustain a certain pace for a tempo run. This way you can build up to tempo pace without overdoing it.
Progression runs can be run on a treadmill by starting at a certain pace, such as 8kph and then every 5mins increase the speed by 1kph. Obviously this can be adapted to your individual ability. After 30mins you will be amazed at how fast you are running. Over time you can increase the duration of your run to improve your endurance. Working with one runner, Paul Waters he got a huge benefit from running his progression type workouts on a treadmill to judge and monitor his pace.
Many of the top coaches in the world use progression runs. I found this interesting article on the McMillan Elite website from Greg McMillan, who coaches elite and recreational runners in Flagstaff, Arizona.
‘You can do an infinite number of progression runs, different lengths and different intensities. One key benefit of progression runs, says McMillan, is that they increase the volume of your fast-paced miles without the added fatigue of a full-length quality workout. If you end two of your usual easy runs with 10 minutes at half-marathon pace, you’ve added 20 minutes of tempo work to your week. Over time, this extra quality work will make you a stronger runner.’
McMillan learned about progression runs from Gabriele Rosa, the Italian coach of legendary Kenyan distance runner Paul Tergat. Tergat had been famous for his string of silver medals in the Olympics and World Championships, and for faltering in the final miles of his first few marathons. Beginning in 2002, Rosa had Tergat turn virtually every effort into a progression run, accelerating until he was running as hard as he could over the final mile. The result was a world record of 2:04:55 (since broken) at the 2003 Berlin Marathon. McMillan found that Tergat’s approach – making every run a progression run – was too demanding, so he uses these workouts primarily as a transition from base work to speedier work. These runs start at an easy pace, increase to regular training pace, and finish about 30 seconds per mile faster. The bit of speed conditions the heart and lungs and strengthens muscles, ligaments, and tendons, preparing the body for the demands of intervals. For beginners this type of progression run can serve as a safe introduction to speed-work.