30-minute run sessions

Short of time to train and concerned you’re losing motivation? Don’t worry. You can still make huge gains in just half an hour. Andy Blow shows you how to maximise your run workouts


Just what is achievable in 30mins? Well, in conducting some internet research for this feature, we found that you can: ‘Get a fantastic loan deal approved’, ‘Have a professionally tailored suit lovingly crafted’ or even ‘Build a working cardboard hovercraft!’ However, as interesting as these time-filling ideas sound, they won’t be as productive for your upcoming race season as getting a really constructive run session under your belt.


Ron Hill was famed for getting his run training in almost anywhere. He ran on ships and in airport lounges to make sure that he never missed a session. Roger Matthews, Commonwealth 10,000m runner, had a 30min lunch break rigorously monitored to the minute by his boss and still managed a 5-mile run, pot of tea and a sandwich almost every day. We can learn a lot from these guys and not simply dismiss a 30min training session as ‘too short to achieve anything’ by following some simple ideas.

Firstly, identify the time slots during the day where you might be able to get 30mins to train: on the way to work? At lunchtime? After the kids have gone to bed? Next, decide on which aspect of your running you most want to improve – technique, speed, efficiency… (obviously out-and-out endurance will be difficult to improve when time is limited.) Thirdly, have a look at the following sessions and get out there. You’ll find that you’ll enjoy this type of training and gain so much more than you would just tapping out a steady jog or by ‘giving it a miss’ altogether.

100m repeats

Aims Improve running technique and efficiency at pace.
Warm-up 10-15mins easy running, gradually increasing pace.

Main set Run approximately 100m at a fast pace (75% of maximum effort), turn and jog back slowly. Repeat three times. After the third rep, walk back 100m and perform three reps at 90% effort with a walk back between each one. Then perform three reps, again at 75% effort, with jog-back recovery in between.

If you time each rep, you should find that the second set of reps at 75% effort will be much faster than the first without feeling more strenuous because you’ve really woken up the nervous system to running at high speed. Repeat the whole process – three sets of three reps – and follow with a cool-down jog.

This session is also a fantastic warm-up before running races to really get your body ready to run at a high pace. If time allows you can repeat this whole set any number of times for a very demanding workout.

Who will benefit most? Mainly sprint- to Olympic-distance competitors looking to work on speed and efficiency. Long-distance athletes can take the idea and extend the session at a lower pace to make it more specific.

Paired interval session

Aims Increasing efficiency and comfort at and above race pace.
Warm-up 10mins of easy running, gradually increasing pace.

Main set Using a measured course of between 200 and 400m, perform pairs of reps at or slightly above 5km to 10km race pace depending on your main race distance. After the first rep take 15secs recovery and start the second one. After the second rep jog back to the start of the first rep for extended recovery and repeat.

The exact number of reps will depend on the distance and your ability level but something in the region of five pairs of 400m would be possible for a good runner in a 30min session. The 15secs rest between reps enables a high quality to be sustained for the entire distance and a higher heart rate in the second rep. The longer jog recovery after each pair allows the pace to be kept high for each pair of reps.

Who will benefit most? By increasing the speed of the reps gently over time, triathletes competing over any distance can benefit from paired interval work. Sprint-distance racers would benefit from shorter, faster reps over shorter intervals with long-distance competitors doing longer reps at a slightly reduced pace.

No matter what your goal race distance, you can make great strides towards a PB in just 30mins

Acceleration run

Aims Running at or above race pace in a safe, controlled way.
Warm-up Included in the session.

Main set Start off running easy for about 1 mile. Increase your pace by approximately 15secs per mile as you go through the session until the last mile where you run at or slightly above 10km race pace. Make sure that you leave 3 or 4mins easy jogging at the end as a cool-down. If doing the session regularly, try to increase the pace per mile slightly each time you repeat it.

Who will benefit most? Racers at any distance can benefit from this session because it will raise lactate threshold and simulates the feeling of a race getting harder as it goes along.

Negative split run

Aims Learning to pace negative splits for racing.
Warm-up Included in the session.

Main set Choose an out-and-back route that’s relatively flat. For a 30min session, run out at a steady pace for 15mins, turn and run back, increasing your pace to get back in 12-14mins, leaving some time for a short cool-down jog. The difference in pace should be significant but not overly dramatic – try not to go from slow jogging to maximum sprinting – to maximize the overall benefit of this session.

Who will benefit most? Anyone who struggles with pacing properly during races at any distance – especially those prone to going off too hard.

30min fartlek session

Aims Improving top-end pace and turn of speed.
Warm-up 10mins of easy running, gradually increasing pace.

Main set Best done in an open area on a mixture of terrain – for example, parkland with hills, track and roads – and with a partner or small group. Take it in turns to put in efforts of between 30secs and 2mins at a fast pace, with the others having to follow wherever you go (no overtaking!). Take equal recovery jogs after each rep.

Who will benefit most? Sprint and Olympic athletes wanting to work on top-end speed and turn of pace. It also encourages a very competitive session between athletes of similar ability so can be a potent training method.


Andy Blow is a sports scientist, multiple Top 10 Ironman finisher and GB long-distance squad member