Training phases

The mix of training you do each week depends on your goals, your experience and your abilities.  But the mix will not be the same all the time: it evolves over time in the build-up to your target race. 

Track running improves your form - photo by David Knight

Track running improves your form

A simple training programmes can be built up using four distinct phases:

  • Base
    Every programme needs a solid foundation of aerobic fitness and endurance.  During the base period, you build up to about three quarters of your peak weekly mileage and long run distance while concentrating on aerobic running. This phase typically lasts from 4 to 8 weeks.  During the end of the base phase, runners may start to include some light hill training, fartlek and threshold runs.
  • Strength
    In the next phase, we add hill training, and if necessary leg strength training in the gym, to build up strength and reduce the risk of injury. In this phase we begin to increase the threshold run and fartlek training.  This phase lasts 2-4 weeks.
  • Speed
    The focus then shifts to speed sessions, including one or two interval training sessions each week, while maintaining your threshold runs; if necessary, you may cut back a little on aerobic running. Beginners should beware of doing too much speed work at first because of the risk of injury. This phase lasts 3‑6 weeks.
  • Peaking and tapering for racing
    During this period, you reduce training volume, but maintain the quality of running (for example, by maintaining the same speed but running shorter distances).  The length of the taper varies from a few days for a 5km to 3 weeks for a marathon (see Chapter 11). The peaking phase for shorter distances can last for 3-6 weeks, during which time you may race several times before the intensity and stress of racing takes its toll.

Note that while these training phases are not wholly distinct, there should be a clearly recognisable change in balance in your training over time.

The following table shows roughly how long each phase should last.

Table 10.5 Approximate length in weeks of training phases

Phase 5km 10km Half Marathon
Base 4 – 6 4 – 6 5 – 8 6 – 8
Strength 2 – 4 2 – 4 3 – 5 3 – 6
Speed 3 – 4 3 – 4 3 – 6 3 – 6
Peak 3 – 6 3 – 6 2 wk taper 3 wk taper
Total 12 – 20 12 – 20 13 – 21 15 – 23


Easy weeks

Most runners benefit from cutting back for an easy week, one week in four.  In these weeks, the runner should reduce the mileage to about 75% of normal weekly mileage, while maintaining the speed and quality of the sessions.  These easy weeks give your body a chance to recover.  If you try to train continuously for more than 12 weeks, without some respite, the chances are that you will get ill or injured.  It is much better to plan to take an easy week than have one forced upon you.

3 Responses to Training phases

  • Wow, this is so right on the mark! Reminds me of Arthur Lydiard’s training, which I have followed all my life. Lots of new ways to train these days but most of them, in my opinion, reflect the big picture of endurance, strength and speed work before the play of racing. Thanks for this page alone!


  • Neel:

    Hello Owen. That’s a very informative article you have written. Few days back I was writing an email to one of my friend who wants to run a half. It was then that I stumbled across your piece. I have now converted that letter to a blog post with the link to this page. Hop you don’t mind.


  • Mo Va:

    Thank you Owen for the information in this page. Question? I am in my base phase of training and running already 52 miles total last week and planning on completing 54 this week. I was struggling before during 5K and 10K’s races since I think my aerobic endurance was just not there and I was doing only about 20 miles per week and too much speedworks which caused many injuries. Do you think I should do one more week at sub 50 miles total and then cut to 75 % of that mileage into my fourth week in this program for rest and recovery and just then move into phase 2 introducing hills, some speed training and strength into my program? Thank you for your comment into this if you have the chance. plan race in 12/21/14, a 10k.

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