CTS Key Running Workouts

The following is an excerpt for CTS Coach Jason Koop's book "Training Essentials For Ultrarunning"

Running workouts such as endurance, tempo, and steady state are used by many coaches and athletes. All too often, these words can be confusing and fail to precisely describe the workout in question. At CTS, we use these words as well, but with very specific definitions so that our coaches can communicate with each other and with their athletes consistently and precisely. Throughout our running training plans, we use the following terminology to describe workouts and their associated intensities.

RecoveryRun (RR)

To be effective, a RecoveryRun needs to be very easy. All you’re trying to do is loosen up your legs and increase circulation and respiration with some mild activity.

Your recovery runs should be no more than 60 minutes; the typical duration I prescribe is about 40 minutes. Perceived exertion for a RecoveryRun is about a 4 or 5, so it’s not a leisurely walk, but it should be substantially easier than an EnduranceRun.

The frequency for RecoveryRuns depends on your training schedule, since this workout needs to be balanced with your harder training sessions, but I frequently have athletes run two or three of them in a week.

EnduranceRun (ER)

You’re going to spend much of your running time in the EnduranceRun intensity range. This is the moderate-intensity running time surrounding your focused interval sets, as well as the “forever” intensity for your EnduranceRuns that contain no specific intervals.

Perceived exertion for this intensity is 5 or 6 and will naturally vary with uphills and downhills. EnduranceRun durations range from 30 minutes to more than 6 hours.

A typical workout would be a 2-hour EnduranceRun. When you are running at this intensity, however, it is important to slow down when you begin going uphill.

It can be easy for your intensity level to creep up into SteadyStateRun or lactate threshold territory, and then you are adding training stress and using energy you may need and want later.

SteadyStateRun (SSR)

A SteadyStateRun workout pushes you to a challenging aerobic pace but keeps you below your lactate threshold intensity and pace. This intensity plays a very important role in developing a stronger aerobic engine because you are maintaining an effort level greater than your normal “forever” pace. You are generating more lactate and working to process it.

SSR intervals should be long and as continuous as possible, with individual intervals ranging from 20 to 60 minutes and total time at intensity for a single workout ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. A typical SSR workout might be two 30-minute SSR intervals separated by 5 minutes of easy recovery with light jogging or hiking. The RPE for SSR is 7, and as with EnduranceRun workouts, you need to be careful not to let your intensity level creep up toward lactate threshold territory on hills.

The important distinction between SSR and EnduranceRun is that the duration defines the intensity of the effort. EnduranceRun is at an intensity you could maintain from start to finish of a medium or long training run, whereas SSR is at an intensity you cannot sustain as long. 

TempoRun (TR)

TempoRun intervals are a crucial workout for making you a faster and stronger runner. The pace and intensity for these intervals are strenuous, and you will be running slightly below or at your lactate threshold intensity.

It has long been said that you can’t become a faster runner without first running faster in training, and that’s exactly what these intervals do. They help to drive the process of increasing the size and density of mitochondria in your muscles, improving your ability to process and utilize lactate. TempoRuns also increase your ability to manage core temperature.

TempoRun intervals should be run at an RPE of 8 or 9, and at this intensity you will only be able to run intervals of 8 to 20 minutes. Recovery periods between intervals should be half the duration of the interval, meaning a 2-to-1 recovery ratio, or 6 minutes of recovery between 12-minute intervals. Total time-at-intensity in a single TempoRun workout should range from 30 to 60 minutes.

Again, it’s the duration of the interval, the number of intervals, and the amount of rest that help define the intensity. The maximum amount of accumulated time for these intervals—in a single workout—is 1 hour; be careful not to exceed it. When you try to do too much at this intensity, you will naturally slow down, and the effort you are doing will be compromised. 

RunningIntervals (RI)

RunningIntervals are VO2max efforts lasting 1 to 3 minutes. The RPE for these efforts is 10. Because of the high intensity of these workouts, it is a good idea to warm up with 15–30 minutes of EnduranceRun and 6 to 8 RunningStrides (see sidebar on page 143) of 20 seconds each.

As you start the interval, accelerate over 15 to 20 seconds to the highest intensity you can sustain for the remainder of the interval. The recovery periods between RunningInterval efforts are purposely too short to allow for full recovery because part of the training stimulus comes from starting the next high-intensity effort before you’re completely recovered from the previous one. During the recovery periods, slow to a jog, or you can slow to a hike if you need to, but keep moving. 

Some athletes get confused by what “RPE of 10/10” means for RunningIntervals. When I say “as hard as you can go for the duration of the interval,” I’m acknowledging that there’s a difference between the maximum pace you can sustain for 1 minute and the maximum you can sustain for 2 minutes or 3 minutes. A maximal 3-minute interval will be slower than a maximal 2-minute effort.

One mistake some athletes make is to start a VO2max interval like a sprint. To reach VO2max, you have to max out your cardiovascular system, and that doesn’t happen the instant you leave the starting line. If you start a 3-minute VO2max interval with a 100-meter sprint, your skeletal muscles will fatigue so rapidly that you won’t be able to maintain an effort hard enough to continue ramping up your cardiovascular system. That’s why it’s better to work your way into the effort by accelerating over the first 15–20 seconds of the interval to the fastest pace you can maintain through the end of it. Will you slow down in the final 30–45 seconds of a VO2max interval? Yes, and that’s OK.

When these efforts are done correctly, you are running at a pace you can barely sustain for the duration of the interval, and slowing down slightly in the final 30 seconds of the effort is a sign that you’ve pushed yourself appropriately. 

Although these intervals can be completed on any terrain or on a treadmill, I recommend doing them uphill if possible. The incline is helpful for increasing the workload and enabling you to reach VO2max intensity more consistently. The total time-at-intensity for a single RunningInterval workout should be 12 to 24 minutes and the work-to-recovery ratio is 1 to 1, so a 2-minute RunningInterval should be followed by 2 minutes at RecoveryRun pace or hiking. A typical workout might be six 3-minute RunningIntervals with 3 minutes of recovery between efforts.

The important consideration with VO2max intervals like this is scheduling adequate recovery afterward. Although back-to-back days of VO2max intervals may be effective and appropriate for some runners or at certain times, the rule of thumb is to schedule only two (maybe three) VO2max workouts in a week during a focused block of this type of work. Leave a full day of recovery between workouts, so if you do RunningIntervals on Tuesday, your next RunningInterval workout should be no sooner than Thursday. 


RunningStrides (commonly called “strides,” “stride-outs,” or “striders”) are short, high-intensity intervals intended to gradually get the body used to operating at a high intensity. They are typically between 10K and 5K race pace for the 20 seconds. Rest between each RunningStride is 1 minute.