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Should Your Running Workouts Only be Hard and Easy

BY Hal Higdon

To achieve peak performance, do either very hard or very easy workouts, limiting the mid- intensity ones.

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I recently came across a Runner’s World article: Go to Extremes. It suggests that to achieve peak performance, do either very hard or very easy workouts, limiting the mid- intensity ones. I would love to hear your thoughts on that idea.


In seeking to offer the correct answer, I did a quick Google search and found the article from the December 2013 issue of RW online. (See link above.) Yep, I couldn’t agree more. Author Alex Henderson suggests that many runners fall into the valley between high intensity and low intensity. Their hard workouts are not hard enough, and it’s partly because their easy workouts are too hard, thus they come into the hard workouts less rested than should be.

If you look at my Novice 1 marathon programs, you will quickly recognize that the hardest workout of the week, the long run on Saturday (followed by cross training on Sunday), is bracketed by days of complete rest on Fridays and Mondays. The second hardest run of the week, the “Sorta-Long Run” on Wednesdays is bracketed by easy runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. As runners move through my intermediate and advanced programs, the pattern remains.

When I coached high school track, one of the key workouts was 3 x 300 meters on the track, flat-out with 5 minutes walking (complete rest) between. In terms of heart rate, that put the runners up into the 95-100% zone. That was a workout I borrowed from Olympic 800-meter champion Tom Courtney, who was a teammate of mine on a European trip. Coaching cross-country, my flat-out equivalent was 5 x 1 kilometer on a loop trail in the woods. Again, 5 minutes between. That sent everyone home tired and sometimes sore. The day before this buster workout, however, I often would take the team (boys and girls) on a run of 4-5 miles where we spent more time chattering than trying to outsprint each other. The day after, another easy run.

Hard & Easy: The great University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman achieved tremendous success with that approach, coaching some of the best-ever American milers. Still works today.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.