What is a progression run? And why it could help you to perform better

runner crossing line on a track
How to run faster at the end of a race or challenge (Image credit: Getty Images)

Running a faster race, or improving your performance for longer distance runs, do not just magically happen. Most runners need to include different types of running training sessions into their schedule to become faster and fitter. One of these training concepts is called progression running. We take a look at the details of a progression run, how to do it and what they benefits are.

 What is a progression run?

A progression run usually describes a session where you start a run at a slower and more comfortable place and then build up to a faster pace at the end. 

It is usually used as a helpful technique for improving running distances such as a half-marathon, marathon or ultra-distance event.

woman running

Learn to run faster at the end of a race by doing progression runs (Image credit: Getty Images)

Why do progression runs?

If you want to increase your aerobic fitness, reduce the amount of fatigue during races and have enough energy left for a final push a the end of an event, progression runs are for you.

Many runners use progression runs for training for marathons and longer distances. It’s a great way to become used to running a “negative split” race, where you run the first half at a slower pace compared to the second half. 

The final section of a longer race, such as a marathon, can often feel like the hardest but if you practise progression running you will train your body – and mind – to be able to cope with that last “slog” of a race.

2 main benefits of progression running

1. Better fitness 

Any type of faster-paced running during training will help to improve you aerobic fitness. If it is focussed and planned, practising faster running in training will most likely boost your performance in races.

So, sessions such as interval training, fartleks and tempo running are all good ways to improve your aerobic system. Enhanced aerobic fitness will allow you to run further and faster and aid your recovery post-run.

Improved aerobic fitness doesn’t happen overnight and you need to build the faster running over weeks and months to see an improvement. It’s a good idea to include one to three faster running sessions in your weekly training programme if you are focussed on a particular goal.

Progression running sees you start a run at a slower pace and then run faster later on. The last section of a run will be when you a mentally and physically most tired, so running faster in training will be a great aid to performing better at the later stage of a race. 

But, you need to be cautious because when we tire we also end up running with a poorer posture and this is when injuries can creep in.

2. Less chance of injury

Building up the distance and speed of runs over a sensible duration will allow your body to adapt the stresses of running faster. This means you are less likely to be prone to common running injuries.

In addition, a progression run starts at a comfortable pace so your muscles, joints and ligaments warm up before you start running faster later on in the session. Again, this is a benefit for reducing the likelihood of injuries due to suffering muscle stresses and strains when you are cold.

trail runner female

A progression run is a useful tool for better performance (Image credit: Getty Images)

How to do progression runs

Start with a run of about 45 minutes, or an hour, and try one of these progression run sessions. You can build up the distance that you run overall and also the section of faster running at the end of each session.

There are different types of progression runs that you can do during training – and then also utilise the technique in a race.

1. Progression run: fast finish 

Aim to finish the last three to six minutes of your run at a faster pace. At first, you might find that three minutes is more than enough for a faster run especially if you are doing a longer training run for a marathon. 

The more you try this type of session, the easier it should become to find enough energy and stamina to finish the last section of the run at a faster pace.

The fast pace is not your fastest pace but somewhere between the pace of your half-marathon and marathon speed. This is also known as the tempo pace. 

2. Progression run: final quarter

A faster-paced final quarter is exactly as you might imagine: run the first three-quarters of your planned training run at a steady pace and then, when you come to the last quarter, you should aim to up the pace.

3. Progression run: final third 

This progression run session splits your training session into three sections. You should then aim to run the first third at an easy pace. Pick up the speed a bit in the middle third and then, for the final third, you should aim to run a faster pace.

Progression runs as part of your race plan

As we have noted, there are many different types of training sessions that help to improve overall speed. The bottom line is that if you want to run faster, you need to train faster. Progression runs help you to learn how to run faster later on in a race or challenge.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.