Experimenting with Progression Runs

If you want to run faster, you have to train faster, right?! I don’t have delusions of Allyson Felix speediness, but it would be nice to to run five miles in under an hour one day.

This past Friday I switched up my training plan last minute to try a formal progression run for the first time. Progression runs are basically any run that starts slow and finishes fast. Most runners do informal progression runs without thinking about it. When I run on the weekends, I always pick up the pace in the last few minutes knowing that the Mr. usually has something delicious waiting for me…


The possibilities for progression runs are pretty open-ended, but there are a few standard workouts that Greg McMillan, M.S., recommends:

  • Thirds – breaking up your run into thirds (based on time or distance) with each third getting progressively faster/harder
  • DUSA – the majority of your run is at steady, easy pace and then you pick it up for the last bit
  • Super Fast Finish – steady running for all but the last few minutes during which you go all out

macmillan progression


Progression runs are a great way for beginners to start increasing the volume of speed and stamina work in their training plans with a lower risk of injury or burnout. Because the majority of the run is spent at an easy or steady pace, your muscles have a chance to fully warm up before you start doing the hard stuff, meaning you’re less likely to tweak something by pushing too hard too soon. Since these runs are basically base runs with some harder effort tacked onto the end, they require less recovery time than an interval or tempo workout and the runner experiences less overall fatigue.

I went with a thirds progression run, and here’s what it looked like:

15 min: 5.0 mph, 0% incline, pace equivalent – 12:31  The first third should be easier than your normal pace so you still have enough get up and go at the end. For me, normal on a treadmill is 5.0 mph @ 2% incline. At a 0% incline, I felt like I could go for hours. The incline really does make a difference. I might have started a tad too easy.

12 min: 5.2 mph, 1% incline, pace equivalent – 11:18  This is a pretty big jump in pace, which is probably why I couldn’t make it for the full 15 minutes. It felt good, just a little faster than normal pace, but without leaving me out of breath or overly tired. I did take a 60 second walk break before moving on to the final third.

2 min: 5.4 mph, 2% incline, pace equivalent – 10:20; 11 min: 5.4 mph, 1% incline, pace equivalent – 10:55  I knew thirty seconds in that I had been way too ambitious. I could feel my legs struggling to turn over, and my breathing rhythm just couldn’t get in sync. I kept it up for a couple minutes, just to prove to myself I could, and then lowered the incline to 1%. Again, I think it’s crazy how much incline matters. Once I lowered it, the pace was still hard but comfortably hard. A struggle, but one that I knew I could get through.

I loved this workout!! Because I knew I’d be changing the pace up, it was easy to run on the treadmill without getting bored. For my next progression run I’ll increase the pace on my first third by a tad, maybe do a 5.0 mph at 1% incline, and see if I still have juice for the end.

Interested in learning more? Here are some great resources:

Do you use progression runs as a regular part of your training plan?

Always, Sierra

1 thought on “Experimenting with Progression Runs

  1. Pingback: Weekly Workout Recap 6/22 – 6/28 | Always, Sierra

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