A reader and club member, Jimmy asks: What is the definition of “Quality” when referring to “Quality Workouts”? Is it basically a pace fast enough that all important “thresholds” for competitive running are improved?
There can be several answers but I’ll give you mine that I base in various research results. The short answer to your question is yes, there are thresholds that can determine a “quality” workout. The most common terms thrown around are lactate threshold and VO2max. Anaerobic threshold is actually an outdated term (anaerobic by definition means without any oxygen)which is technically inaccurately used by most coaches and runners – so let’s avoid that one. But, it’s easier to focus on a pace instead of a scientific definition. I’ll use paces in this article – though they are based in the scientific definitions.
I have to be clear that all training is in context of a total training program, specific to the individual and specific to the goals (pace and race distance) of the individual. So, for a beginning runner starting out from walking; any jog constitutes a quality run. It is significantly faster/harder than the physical current condition. At this point, any running will improve conditioning as a runner.
A quality run can be any of the following: interval workout, speed workout, tempo run, hill workout, speedplay (Fartlek) workout, race pace goal run.
Interval workouts are best kept to a range of paces usually between an individual’s mile to 10k race paces.
Speed workouts focus on improving actual speed. These incorporate paces faster than mile pace up to full sprint paces.
Tempo runs should be run between 10k and 15k race pace (no more than one hour race). These are too often run too slowly and too far. Other than warming up and cooling down, the “tempo” portion of the run should only be 20-25 minutes of running. I strongly prefer erring on the faster end of the spectrum – 10k pace.
Hill workouts can come in several forms – passive, active on steep slope, active on gradual slope. Passive hill training (running a rolling hilly course at basically a continuous pace) is not a quality workout. It may be good training for a hilly race but it does not constitute a “quality” workout. Bounding repeats up steep grades builds power – definitely a quality workout. Long hard (5k pace effort) repeats up a gradual incline make for a great quality workout.
Fartlek or speedplay, provide a quality workout option by alternating all the various “quality paces” into one workout. Ideally, it should be done over varying terrain as well.
Related to both Fartlek and interval training, variable paced workouts are superb quality workouts. These are 30-30s, 100-100s, etc. they alternate hard paces with easier paces in a continuous fashion.
Finally, a goal paced run (particularly for those racing less than a half-marathon) is a good quality run. Since the half-marathon and marathon goal paces are substantially slower than all other high quality running the real determinant is the condition and background of the runner as to whether I would consider it “quality.” This makes sense of course. compare a 10k specialist with a marathoner. If each do a 3 mile “goal paced run;” the 10k specialist just ran 50% of his race and it was within the pacing parameters of a tempo run. Whereas, a marathoner just ran 3 miles perhaps as much as a minute per mile slower. It the marathoner did 13 miles of goal pacing on the other hand, it may require similar recovery as with the 10k-ers effort.
So, there you have it. We do assessments and establish target race goals to define what “fast” is. It gives us the pace capabilities and parameters to create a balanced training program. These quality workouts create the foundation for improved running. All other supplementary running should be easy runs which add to the training effect and foster recovery.