These are the staple diet of long distance runners, although (particularly in the early part of a training year) they are useful for all runners right down to those competing 100m.
The length and pace of a run will be highly variable dependent on a range of factors, split into two 'categories'.
- Is this to be a slow or fast run, or even a recovery run?
- Is it a Tempo Run?
- What is the athlete’s main event? There is no point in a sprinter running 15 miles as a steady run, for example.
- Time of year - again a sprinter will find hard runs useful in the winter, but may well only use slower steady runs over a very short distance as a recovery in the summer.
- What is the level of the other training being achieved that day/week?
- What is the aim of the session? Do I have a specific physiological or psychological goal?
It is often suggested that running on grass, woodchip, etc. is a lot better than running on concrete as it decreases the impact on the athlete's legs. Whilst this is true, with the advent over the last 20 years of far more cushioning in running shoes, sometimes running on roads may be better as there may well be better lighting at night and less chance of an uneven surface. Obviously, if out running at night it is advisable to wear white or reflective kit.
One important thing to think about when choosing a surface for your steady runs is the surface upon which you will race. If you are going to compete in road races then there is little point in doing all of your running on grass, as you won’t be prepared for the conditions you will race under. Similar reasoning applies to those who will primarily race on the track or over the countryside.
Equally, if you are running races that are likely to be hilly, then including hills in your steady runs is something that is advisable (remember any target times you set yourself will need to be adjusted accordingly).
If (and only if) you can find a surface that is soft and reliable (grass or sand), and where you know there is going to be not danger of sharp objects, it can be useful to do some of your short runs (very short until you are used to it) in bare feet - this is good for educating the muscles that we use to balance correctly around the foot and lower leg area.