top of page


Training isn't all about pounding the same streets every day at the same pace. There are other options, although these can be more relevant as your training develops. In the first instance you should increase time on feet, but when you're ready you can mix it up with some hills, intervals and fartlek! Yep, we'll explain what that is. Remember to always stick to your training plan.

Mixing up your training can make a real difference to your motivation and sometimes it can be just what you need if things are getting a bit stale. It needs to be well managed and you mustn't do this too early in your schedule. Some are also much more challenging than others. Seek advice and don't do too much too soon. Here are your options:

Hill training

Most of the world's leading marathons, like Berlin, Paris, Chicago and London are run on very flat courses, while others like New York and Boston do have the odd hill, but are predominantly flat. Hill training might seem an odd addition to your training, but there is a reason for it. Hills can build leg strength and aid in the development of your cardiovascular system that can't be achieved in the same timescales on the flat. There are many approaches to , with some runners simply selecting routes with a certain number of hills, while others train using one or two key hills and run up and down them a number of times and for an agreed period of time. This can be extreme but it can have significant physiological benefits. It is not something for beginners, but when you're looking to improve your times it is a great option. Many of us have no choice when it comes to hills as we have to run them anyway, but at the start of a plan try and keep them to a minimum. Add more hills as you get stronger.

Fartlek training

The term 'fartlek' has taken on legendary status within the running world. It is actually Swedish for 'speed play', which in itself can still be confusing. It is again more for runners looking to improve their times, than those more interested in a 'get you round' plan, where the time isn't that important. Speed play is the use of markers on your route for bursts of quicker running. For example, you may run past a line of trees or lamp posts and you can alternate your speed between them; fast between one set of two, a slow recovery jog between the next two and then fast again between the following two. This technique can have major benefits in developing both the heart and lungs, but it can also have a major downside if not managed correctly. Many beginners pick up injuries when trying fartlek training, so take advice from someone who knows what they're doing with this type of training before trying it out.

Lamp posts are great for fartlek training!

Interval training

Interval running is of more interest to runners who are looking to trim a few minutes off their best time than those competing in one of their first events. It involves repetitions that are timed, often on a running track. Runners will complete track circuits, or part circuits, in a certain time, have a break and then do it again. Over time there will be improvements in the time taken to complete the reps (hopefully!) and in the recovery period between the reps. Elite athletes will all incorporate a significant amount of interval training, within their training programmes, but it will be very well supervised by their coach. Do not try serious interval training without some support and stick to an agreed schedule. Running clubs are the ideal environment for this kind of activity.

The track is a great environment for interval training

Resistance training

This type of training is based around the lifting of weights in the gym, either free weights or using fixed machines. It is not a core activity for beginners, as most training time should be focused on building the endurance base needed for the challenge ahead, but if you do want one session a week in the gym and you have time for it then resistance training could be for you. Ask your gym instructor to devise a programme for you, taking into account your running programme and the work that you'll already be doing on your legs. This form of training will give you an all over body workout and will work muscles that running won't impact. It will also help your core stability, which is important in injury prevention.

Cross training

In the post on the principles of training, the principle of specificity was detailed. This is the need to focus your training efforts on running, in order to develop your body in the best way to deal with your running challenges. If you have four sessions a week to train, you would not spend three of them swimming, another one cycling and then turn up on race day and expect to finish comfortably. The focus needs to be on running. However there are benefits to bringing cross training into your programme, albeit on a limited scale. Cross training can relieve pressure on your legs as you get deep into your training, so helping to prevent injury. Importantly it can also prevent boredom. There may come a point in your programme when you feel like a break from running. While you should keep this break to a minimum you can substitute some running sessions for cross training and you won't lose your running fitness, but not too many. Don't decide you want to swap two weeks of running for two cycling; that won't work. It may keep you fit, but it will not maintain your running fitness to where your training plans needs it to be. Cross training is a great way of staying fresh mentally and physically, but not more than the odd session a week.

The best forms of cross training are cycling, swimming and cardio workouts in the gym, like the rowing machine. Give you heart and lungs a really good workout in the gym and you will feel invigorated; ready for your next run!

Keep your running exciting and try new things, but only when you're ready and with the support of others.

bottom of page