Progression Runs: The Art of Starting Slow to Finish Fast

Are you looking to improve your speed, endurance, and stamina while running? Training for a marathon and wanting to ensure that you pace yourself and have enough energy to finish the race? 

If you found yourself nodding your head in response to any of these questions, progression running could be just what you need to up your game and make the most of each run. 

Progression running is all about working through the gears. The aim is to gradually increase your pace and running tempo. It’s kind of like a negative split racing strategy, but applied to your training plan instead. The great thing about executing a successful progression run is that you will build not just your physical strength, but your mental toughness too.

Let’s take a closer look at why progression runs are such an important aspect of training, and how you can get the most out of them…

What is a Progression Run?

What is a progression run?

Progression running consists of starting at a slow and easy pace and gradually increasing your speed at varied intervals. With progression running, you can either increase your speed or increase your effort by implementing one of five methods that have been proven to be the most effective. 

There are no set rules for how long you need to run, and the rate at which you increase your pace or speed largely depends on your current fitness level and overall fitness goals. 

There are so many great benefits that you can enjoy by incorporating progression runs into your running routine. Here are just a few:

  • Progression runs are less strenuous than other forms of speed work. You set your own pace and find a method that works for you. 
  • Progression runs can be considered a warm-up that helps your muscles adjust to the activity level.
  • By breaking up a long distance into segments, progression runs significantly reduce the risk of fatigue that can occur early in a run. 

Progression Runs: The Top Five Methods

There is no right or wrong way to incorporate progression runs into your workout. However, a few popular, tried-and-trusted methods used by pro athletes can even help beginners use progression runs successfully.

Method #1: The 80/20 Breakdown

Possibly the most popular of all progression run methods, the 80/20 breakdown sees you enjoy a slower, more relaxed running for 80% of your total run time, with the last 20% being a push for maximum speed.

You may already be familiar with the concept of 80/20 running, and it applies to both individual training sessions as well as training plans as a whole!

Method #2: The 90/10 or Final Push

This method consists of a slow or moderate pace for 90% of the total run and a flat-out speed race for the final 10%. The 90/10 method is great for finishing fast and will help you train for any running event. 

Method #3: Faster Every Mile

The “faster every mile” method is the ultimate challenge that will force you to push yourself to the limit as you try to improve your time each mile you run. How many miles can you run whilst continuously increasing the pace?

Method #4: Breakdown into Thirds

Breaking down your run into thirds is a great way to get into progression running. This can be done according to time or distance and will see an increase in speed and effort by one-third. 

Method #5: A Game of Tens

If you really want to boost your speed and effort, try the ‘game of tens’. You will need a stopwatch for this one as you try to shave ten seconds off your previous time in each interval.

Progression Runs: The Bad Side of this Training Method

As with any other fitness routine or training method, there are, of course, negatives to progression runs that you should take note of before you start. 

Here are a few of the most common disadvantages of this popular training method:


Progression runs can cause burn-out if the runner pushes themselves too hard too soon. A slow increase in pace and speed is crucial to preventing fatigue early on in the run and also to prevent the risk of injury as your body adapts to the sudden change in pace.

Mastering the Technique

Successfully mastering progression runs can be tricky as your body tries to fight the natural urge to increase your speed and pace early in your run. Stay focused on your goals, and always start slow.

There’ll be plenty of time to bang in some faster miles later in the workout!

If you find yourself struggling to stick to the rigid template of a progression run, you may want to consider a more flexible strategy instead. We’d recommend the fartlek style of running.

Recovery Time

Progression runs are far more demanding on the body than regular running or jogging, so be sure to schedule recovery days between runs to allow your body to rest and recover. 

Are Progression Runs Easy to Maintain?

Many long-distance runners find it hard to execute a successful progression run as they tend to start harder than necessary. This goes against the core principles of progression runs and is fuelled by the need to increase your speed and pace early in the run. 

Adrenaline plays a big role in this, and runners will find the task of including progression runs into their existing routine both physically and mentally challenging as they adapt to a new way of running. 

Progression runs can, however, be executed by runners of all fitness levels and can be used to get the most out of a run. 

Top Tips for Successful Progression Runs

We’ve come up with a few tips on including progression runs into your existing running routine or schedule without worrying about changing it too drastically. If you want to start increasing your speed and pace, these tips might be just what you need to get going.

Tip #1: Warm-Up

Whether you are running a mile or a half-marathon, you should always start with a warm-up. A good warm-up will help prepare the muscles for the activity ahead and can help prevent injury or burn-out by stretching the muscles sufficiently. 

As muscles work in pairs, dynamic stretching is a good warm-up that you can try out. Dynamic stretching involves stretching while maintaining movement, thus giving your muscles the wake-up they need before you head out on your run. 

Tip #2: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The key to a successful progression run is to start slow and gradually increase your speed and pace. You can use one of the methods outlined above or develop your own as you work towards a specific goal.

If you are a beginner, choose one of the easier methods and switch it up once you get the hang of progression runs and successfully add them to your new running routine. 

Tip #3: Exercise Control

It can be hard to pace yourself when all you want to do is hit the ground running. Increasing your speed or pace gradually will drastically reduce the risk of injury or fatigue, so keep this in mind as you fight your body’s natural urge to run as fast as possible. 

This is particularly good training for Race Day when every runner tends to lose his or her mind at the starting line. It’s easy to set off too fast in a race. By exercising control in your training, you stand a better chance of controlling your start in a race situation with the adrenaline pumping.

Tip #4: Set Your Own Race Pace

Only you know what your end goal is when it comes to running. You need to figure out if you are running for the pure enjoyment of getting outdoors and keeping fit, trying to lose weight, or planning to participate in races and marathons. 

While keeping this in mind, set your ultimate race pace and try to hit it towards the end of your run. Don’t try to start this too soon into your run, as increasing your speed and pace too drastically can put severe stress on your system.

Tip #5: Schedule Recovery Days

Recovery time is just as important as running, so schedule a day to recover before your next run. Recovery days allow your muscles time to recover from the increased activity and prevent stress and strain injuries that many runners often suffer when they run too much or too often.

See our guide: optimal recovery and dealing with injuries

Tip #6: Go with the Flow

There are no rules when it comes to progression runs. You are in full control of your speed and pace, so choose a method that works best for you. Keep your fitness goals in mind too, and use these to guide you as you create a running routine that best meets your needs. 

Tip #7: Have Fun!

Running can be a really enjoyable activity that gets your behind off the couch and into the great outdoors. If you are not enjoying your run, you might want to rethink your goals and schedule. 

Running Gear to Help You Master Progression Runs

While it is not a necessity, a sports watch can help you improve your run as you set your pace and speed according to set times. This is especially useful if you are using the 80/20, 90/10, or other methods of progression running as you split your run according to time.

There is absolutely no need for a fancy watch that tracks your heart rate or counts your steps, as a good old digital watch will do. Bonus points if your watch has an alarm function to alert you when it’s time to increase your speed and pace. 

Remember to choose comfortable clothing and shoes designed specifically for running, as these will absorb the impact while running and reduce the risk of strain injuries and shin splints. Your shoes should be well fitting and allow airflow to keep your feet dry while running. 

Choose well-fitting clothes that do not ride up or shift while running and are made from breathable fabrics to allow for sufficient airflow and prevent sweat build-up.

Progression Runs: Start Slow and Finish Fast

If you want to increase your running pace and speed, progression runs are for you. The key to a successful progression run is to start slow and gradually increase your speed and pace as you progress, using one of the great methods listed above. 

Find a pace you are comfortable with, and make this your race pace. Remember to factor in recovery days, as you might feel a few normal aches and pains after your first progression run. But this, too, is normal and will improve with time as your body adapts to your new running schedule or routine. 

There are no set rules for progression runs, so find what works for you and stick with it. If you don’t like a specific method, move on to the next one until you are happy. And most importantly, have fun learning a new and exciting training technique to help you up your game and make the most of your run!

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

Photo of author
Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

Revel SPorts Contributor

Leave a Comment