What exactly is a progression run?

The answer to this question varies because there are multiple types of progression runs.

Each week I try to run at least one progression run – whether it’s during a regular weekly run or a long run.

The progression run I do each week is a start slow, finish fast run. I aim for each mile to be faster than the first. This means I have to start out at a very comfortable pace or else I will not be able to run faster each mile. It also means that the mile pace doesn’t increase at a rapid speed or I risk getting slower in a middle mile rather than getting faster.

These types of runs teach my body how I want to run in a race situation. I want to start out slow, slower than race pace, and I want to finish at race pace or faster.

When I first started running these runs it was not easy having each mile progressively get faster. These runs are about listening to your body. It might take months before you truly master what it feels like to push yourself a tiny bit faster each mile.

This type of run will also help you work on running on perceived effort. It doesn’t matter the terrain – you want each mile to get progressively faster. This works only when you are tune with what certain paces feel like. I don’t look down at my garmin during each mile. I only look down at it when I hear the split beep. Work on doing the same on your run.

Friday’s progression run: 46:19 – 7:41 avg

  • Mile 1: 8:10
  • Mile 2: 7:48
  • Mile 3: 7:42
  • Mile 4: 7:42
  • Mile 5: 7:39
  • Mile 6: 7:07

Sunday’s progression run: 1:02:40 – 7:50 avg

  • Mile 1: 8:23
  • Mile 2: 8:19
  • Mile 3: 8:04
  • Mile 4: 7:59
  • Mile 5: 7:36
  • Mile 6: 7:33
  • Mile 7: 7:24
  • Mile 8: 7:17


The other type of progression run I aim to do during each marathon training cycle is the thirds progression run. The first third of the run I run slowly, the second third of the run I run at an easy speed, working into a faster speed, and the last third of the run I attempt to get down to race pace and stay there for the remaining miles.

I like to do the thirds progression run on a long run, but this type of progression run can be done on any run.

If you want to read about more types of progression runs or for a more in depth explanation as to the benefits of them, you can check out McMillan’s site for the three types of progression runs he recommends for his athletes – CLICK HERE

Do you do progression runs? How do you do them?

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  1. I do not do your first type of progression run very often but what you call the Thirds Progression run I do VERY often in the marathon cycle. I think it’s important to teach the legs to run fast while tired but running an entire run fast takes too much out of you for the rest of the week. Can I steal your “Thirds” name? :)

  2. Can I just say.. I LOVE that you post your garmin stats on IG! I had to take last week off to nurse a nagging hip, but seeing your photos still kept me motivated!

    Nice work on those progression runs! They are probably one of my favorites! I enjoy them a million times more than tempo runs!

    Hope your family had a great weekend! Thanks for being such an inspiration!

  3. Progression runs are my favorite- although I’m pretty terrible at keeping the splits right! Your splits are perfect!! Wow- I’m jealous!

  4. I don’t think I came up with the *thirds* name :) McMillan calls it that too! So feel free to steal away :)

  5. Thanks Jenn :)

  6. This was so useful! I am adding progression runs to my training cycle, but I wasn’t so sure how to do them. Now I have a couple to try!

  7. i tried a progression run last week with my double jogger. each mile was 15-20 faster than the last & when i got my last split & saw that i’d done it, i whooped very loudly and scared two men going past me. :) such a great feeling!

  8. thanks for the explanation! I definitely need to add this to my training post-baby. I’m especially intrigued by the thirds workout. I think for me trying to run each mile would be harder, but certainly beneficial.

  9. Nice post Dorothy!! To answer your question yes, I do use progressions runs in my training. I primarily do them on my long runs and go back and forth between a thirds progression run and a makeshift progression run where I try to get 3-5 seconds faster in my pacing per each mile. Progression runs are my second favorite run behind tempo runs.

  10. This doesn’t sound like much fun!! I’m not sure I would be able to get myself out of bed for such early morning torture 😉

  11. I like progression runs a lot. I think they are so important in teaching your body pace and to run intuitively. It can be really challenging to do progression runs well. I like that you don’t look down at your watch until the split. On my last training cycle all I had was a timex ironman stopwatch and had memorized approximate mile markers on the route that I frequently used for progression runs. So most of those runs were ballpark estimates, but it still teaches you body good pacing and is great race prep. I’m hoping to get a Garmin for my birthday at the end of the month:-) Any recommendations for which one?

  12. Dorothy thanks for the info! I’m training for my 1st marathon and am trying to put together a plan…myself. I wish I could pay for a professional plan (like one from you or McMillian or SMART Project) I know you’re booked though….anyways do you incorporate the 20 mile run? How many times during your training cycle? I’ve been reading that some don’t recommend even 20….or only running it once….or a couple of times….I’m so confused!
    Any advice you can give I GREATLY appreciate it!

  13. I have not tried a progression before, but I have heard about them. Thank you for giving the details on how to do them. I am going to try it out. I really need to work on feeling what my pace is. It is so hard for me to do, sometimes I feel like I’m running at 8:00 pace and it could be 9:00 or even 7:30 pace. What the heck?! I definitely need to work on this!

  14. I try to do at least one a week as well, such great training! I also just did a post about this type of run – great info in here, thanks!

  15. I will try these progression runs for sure.

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