Over 4,000 years ago, when the Ancient Egyptians were designing their dream burial sites, they came across another sort of blueprint β€” a plan for a speed workout to train for long distance running. Long before Pheidippides’ famed run from Marathon to Athens, the Ancient Egyptians discovered that they could make the most progress and build the most strength by starting with short speed intervals, gradually increasing to longer intervals, and then finishing with shorter intervals that mirrored the first half of the workout. They called it the pyramid workout.

After looking at unstructured Fartlek training, we’ll turn to this more focused workout β€” one that is best done on a track or predetermined loop. Structured speed workouts like the pyramid workout are similar to Fartlek training in that they involve alternating between slow and fast running. However, while warm-up, cooldown, and rest periods are still just as important in running your faster portions optimally, structured workouts like the pyramid workout put a tighter focus on hitting even faster speeds during those intervals. When we hit those speeds, we start to understand and practice good pacing β€” a skill that will go a long way for runners at any level.

Before breaking down the pyramid workout, we need to think about how to gauge our speed. Often, interval speeds are associated with race goals β€” your target mile pace, 5K pace, 10K pace, and so on. How do you measure that? Practice, practice, practice β€” getting in more runs at those distances will help tell you what you’re capable of and what you can be capable of when you push yourself.

Once you have an idea of what those target paces are for you, you can assign paces to different intervals within the pyramid. That first short interval is usually run somewhere between mile and 5K pace, the second, longer one between 5K and 10K, and so forth. Like this!

  • Warm-up of one to two miles, easy pace
  • 400 m at mile/5K race pace
  • 1 minute rest (jog/walk)
  • 800 m at 5K/10K race pace
  • 2 minutes rest
  • 1200 m at 10K/half marathon race pace
  • 3 minutes rest
  • 1600 m at half/full marathon race pace
  • 4 minutes rest
  • 1200 m at 10K/half marathon race pace
  • 3 minutes rest
  • 800 m at 5K/10K race pace
  • 2 minutes rest
  • 400 m at mile/5K race pace
  • Cooldown of one to two miles, easy pace

If you’re not sure what those race paces are for you, no worries! Think of these changes in speed in terms of percentages β€” I usually run the shorter intervals at around 80 to 90 percent of my perceived maximum, while running the longer intervals at the 60 to 70 percent range. This mindset is good for newer runners, and it’s also good for runners coming back from injury or a hiatus from running who are a little removed from their old self. Speeds may increase or decrease over time β€” the important part is that you’re still going and still pushing!

There’s a lot more to consider with pyramid workouts, but the benefits are worth it! First, you’ll be practicing good pacing strategies. As with most workouts, you’ll want to find a pace that you can hold throughout an entire workout or interval β€” that thin line between overexerting your heart, lungs, and legs and staying at a controlled and sustainable pace. Do enough pyramid workouts, and you’ll develop an idea of what that line is for you at each interval. Figure that out, and you can start to move that line forward.

These workouts also improve your pacing by starting and ending with the shortest and fastest parts. At races and workouts alike, everyone starts off with tons of energy and adrenaline, and can have the tendency to start too fast. A key to success in both races and pyramid workouts is controlling yourself out of the gate and curbing that excitement so you have enough left in the tank for the end. By keeping enough in the tank, you also gain experience pushing yourself on tired legs. You develop and practice that final kick that carries you to the finish line and past all the others who have hit the wall and find themselves clawing their way to break the tape.

Though seemingly more intimidating than other speed workouts, getting the pyramid workout into your repertoire will build confidence in your ability to pace while giving you the strength and structure to take the next steps forward in your running. Experiment, adjust, and find what works best for you!