Progression Runs Guide: Ramp Up Runs + 4 Progression Workouts To Try Out

Intervals, long runs, speedwork, tempo runs, sprints, strides, the list of possible workouts for us runners is extensive.

Each of these workouts has a specific goal and will aid in bettering a particular skill. 

Today, we will dive into progression runs, specifically, and how they can contribute significantly to your fitness and running. 

In this article we will take a look at: 

  • What a progression run is. 
  • What the benefits of progression runs are. 
  • How different training methods relate to progression runs.
  • 4 progression runs to try out and work into your training.
  • How to incorporate progression runs into your training.


Let’s jump in.

Progression Runs Guide Ramp Up As You Go

What is a progression run?

Simply put, a progression run, or progressive run, is a run where you start out at a slow, easy pace and gradually speed up throughout the workout.

These workouts ultimately increase your tolerance for maintaining faster paces without the wear and tear of harsh speedwork sessions. They also liven up your training plan as they are fun, entertaining, and require a lot of focus. 

During progression runs, you speed up to race pace and slightly above your race pace in the later sections of the workout.

Runners of all fitness levels can benefit from adding progression runs into their training program.

How they are scheduled into your plan and which paces or effort levels you choose to work at will vary.

What are the benefits of progression runs?

Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or elite runner, you can reap the benefits of the progression run workout.

Let’s take a look at what those benefits are:

Progression Runs Guide Ramp Up As You Go

1: Low-Risk Session

As progression runs start out at an easy pace, they allow your muscles and mind to warm up adequately before the faster running begins. Being properly warmed up decreases your risk of injury as it prepares your body for what’s to come. 

Even though progression runs are sustainable aerobic workouts that include fast running, they do not impose the excess stress on your system that speedwork does. This again reduces the risk of injury considerably.

2: Quick Recovery

Since progression runs incorporate only a small percentage of faster running, they should not completely exhaust you as speedwork can.

Instead, they allow you to continue to train as planned as you won’t need to battle the excessive soreness of interval training.

3: Excellent Race Prep and Pace Training

Progression runs are beneficial when preparing for a race because they are a comfortable way to work in your specific race paces without overdoing it. The percentage you will be running at race pace is low, keeping you strong yet safe from burnout. 

By the time you get to the race pace training section of the workout, your legs will already be warmed up and a bit tired, so you’ll get to practice your race pace on tired legs.

In addition, working slightly above your race pace during the last section of the progression run will make your actual race pace feel more comfortable. This will give you more confidence on race day. 

Progression Runs Guide Ramp Up As You Go

Progression runs are also excellent workouts for those who struggle with their starting speed at a race. Many of us get excited at the start line, our adrenaline is pumping, and we sprint off the start line as if the race were 100 meters.

Disciplining the mind to stick to a specific pace or effort level without starting out too fast is a great skill to acquire.

4: Negative Splits

Negative splits are the ideal yet most challenging way to run a race. Progression runs allow you to practice negative splits regularly.

This trains your body and mind to start out easy and gradually run stronger and stronger until you run your hardest at the very end of the race. 

Now that you’ve seen all of the benefits, let’s check out some structured progression runs that you can try out in your training!

Pace, Effort, or Heart Rate?

As with all of your training sessions, choose which means you will measure your effort level. You can use specific paces, rate of perceived exertion, or heart rate. You can work these sessions into whatever you are used to using.

Progression Runs Guide Ramp Up As You Go

4 Types of Progression Run To Try Out

#1 Thirds Progression Run

For this workout, break up your run into 3 equal parts. It makes no difference whether you train using distance or time; split the total up accordingly. 

During this workout, you will start out easy and gradually speed up as you enter each next third of your run.

Be sure your speed changes are slight and not abrupt. At no point in progression runs do you want to reach your anaerobic training zone, and each pace should feel sustainable. 

Let’s break it down:

If your progression run is scheduled for 60 minutes, run the first 20 minutes at an easy pace, the next 20 minutes at race pace, and the last 20 minutes 10 seconds faster than your race pace. 

Here is what your structured thirds progression run would look like taking all of the training methods into consideration and assuming you are working towards a 4:05 marathon:

Phases of Progression RunRate of Perceived ExertionPaceHeart Rate Zone
20 minutes Easy 6:24 – 7:02/km Zone 2
20 minutesModerate5:48/km (Marathon Pace)Zone 3
20 minutesHard5:38/km Zone 4
Progression Runs Guide Ramp Up As You Go

Note: The last third is not an all-out effort but more of a tempo run pace. If you run too hard, you will burn out, and the goal of quick recovery from this workout will not be achieved.

As a beginner, the top end of the workout should not get much faster than your marathon pace, as shown in the example above. However, for more advanced runners, the last section of this progression run can venture into half marathon pace. 

Depending on your fitness level, experience, and goal race pace, your values will vary. You can adjust any of these workouts accordingly. 

Another example of a progression run is to add it to your weekly long run.

#2 Progression Long Run

In this workout, your faster running is more limited as the total time will be longer than a run you do during the week. 

Again, split your long run up into three equal parts. This time, you will run the first ⅔ of the run at an easy pace and the last third at a hard pace.

If you are a beginner, you can run the harder section at marathon pace or slightly faster, as a more advanced runner could run the last ⅓ at their half-marathon pace. 

Let’s take a peek at the chart for this one, based on the same goal, a 4:05 marathon, and a long run of 1:30. 

Phases of Progression RunRate of Perceived ExertionPaceHeart Rate Zone
60 minutes Easy 6:24 – 7:02/km Zone 2
30 minutesHard5:38- 5:48/km Zone 3
Progression Runs Guide Ramp Up As You Go

#3 Fast Finish Progression Run

This progression run provides a valuable race day benefit, and you will literally race to the finish line! 

Run most of this run at an easy pace, leaving only between 4 and 6 minutes at the end for your hard close, you will be running faster than in the previous progression runs because the fast running time is much more limited. You can think of a 5k race pace or effort for the last section. 

This will help with muscle memory in hopes of a fast race-day finish. It also comes with psychological benefits as it trains your body and mind to finish strong. 

Let’s take a look at a 60 minute run with an intense, fast finish:

Phases of Progression RunRate of Perceived ExertionPaceHeart Rate Zone
54 minutes Easy 6:24 – 7:02/km Zone 2
6 minutesHard5:09/k (5k race pace!) Zone 4
Progression Runs Guide Ramp Up As You Go

The hard effort at the end is intense, however, if you are an experienced runner and practice this specific pace, or hard running on a regular basis, you should not have any soreness or fatigue the next day so you can continue training as usual. 

That being said, if you are a beginner, or are simply not used to doing such intense speedwork, you may feel a bit sore the following day. Only take on this type of progression run if you are used to these speeds. If not, work up to it!

#4 Multi-Progression Runs

Another fun way to mix up your workout is doing several shorter progression runs in a single session. Try splitting up your total workout distance or time in four. Do four short progression runs with a recovery or walk in between sets.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Phases of Progression RunRate of Perceived ExertionPaceHeart Rate Zone
3 minutesEasy 6:24 – 7:02/km Zone 2
3 minutesModerate5:48/km (Marathon Pace)Zone 3
3 minutesHard5:38/km Zone 4
2 minutesVery Easy Walk or rest Zone 1
Repeat progression 3 times
Progression Runs Guide Ramp Up As You Go

How to Add Progression Runs to Your Training

Adding new workouts to your program will depend on your level, how often you run per week, and your current goal.

You can start out by adding one progression run per week into your training schedule and choose your paces accordingly based on your level and race pace goals.

Even though progression runs should not cause fatigue, schedule them sandwiched between two easy runs to ensure you are in tip-top shape for any speedwork or long runs later in the week. 

Spice up your training and give these workouts a try; you’ll be glad you did when you start reaping the benefits!

Progression Runs Guide Ramp Up As You Go
Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

2 thoughts on “Progression Runs Guide: Ramp Up Runs + 4 Progression Workouts To Try Out”

  1. Dear Katelyn, there’s something that I’ve been wondering for a long time and your opening line touches on it.

    As you very well said, the list of possible workouts for us runners is extensive. You listed six and didn’t even include easy runs, which has been repeated over and over that they should make up the bulk of your weekly miles.

    Every article that I read explaining any type of run says “you should do these once or twice a week”.

    Well, if we are supposed to rest two days a week, how could we possibly incorporate seven types of run in a week, even more so if two out of the five should be easy runs??

    • Hi Robert,
      Thank you so much for your comment.

      I know, there are so many options and so many types of workouts that it’s impossible to fit them into just one week. I include one to two specific speed workouts per week, and the rest of my running days are easy. The progression run examples in this article are ideas that you can work into your weekly training, but just one at a time, per week. Schedule them in according to your specific training plan and goals.

      Let me know if I can be of more help.


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