All runs are not created equal. Giving each run a specific purpose can help keep you on track, reach your goals as well as be liberating.
Sometimes the sole purpose of a run is to workout the frustrations of the day. Depending on the runner, a good long run might help clear the mind, while another runner might choose to attack a 10 x 200m hill workout. Both can achieve the same outcome...peace and contentment.
I have an acquaintance who is a pretty good runner, actually he's pretty dang fast. Well, fast that is when he's not injured. You see, every run he runs is a hard run. He's very competitive and that sometimes gets in the way of practicality. He's never trained with me, but sometimes runs with the group. I laughingly tell him he needs to stay away from my runners. I'm kidding...well sort of. Really, I don't won't my runners thinking you have to run yourself into the ground to be a "real runner." I'd rather have smart runners not injured runners.
This is no more true than with many of my marathon training runners. For some it's a challenge getting them to come to the understanding that every run doesn't have to be a hard run. Each run in my training plans have a purpose. Some are hard and quick to help increase VO2Max (the body's ability to utilize oxygen at max effort). Others are hard but not quite as fast. Their purpose is to build pace and endurance needed to sustain that pace. Others are long and slow. These have the purpose of building mileage and endurance. While still others are even slower and easier but shorter with the purpose of recovery.
We're all guilty at times of not wanting "other runners" seeing us running "slow." In the back of your mind your wondering if they may think you're not as fast as they are, or worse, maybe they're smirking at your pace. I've always liked the saying, "You can't judge a book by it's cover." I think that same philosophy applies to running....."You can't judge a runner by his pace."
Any runner worth his or her salt knows that a short slow recovery run is just as important as that gut wrenching 10 x 800m interval workout.
Giving each run a purpose from the get go, helps release you from the worries of what others will think. You're on a mission, knowing that each purposeful run will ultimately help you reach your goal. Even if you're not in training for a race, giving each run a purpose will help motivate you and keep you from getting injured so when you do want to train for a future race you'll be in shape to do so.
Below are some "Purposes" you can apply to your weekly runs.
The Social Run: It's vitally important to get with your running buddies solely for the purpose of running and catching up with each other as well as then heading for the post-run bagels.
The Long Run: The purpose of the long run is build endurance and increse your cardio fitness for the long haul. This run is usually about 1-minute slower than race pace. If you feel the need for speed, save it for the end or near the end of the run. It's very beneficial for your body to know that you can pull up the pace later in a long run. So increase the pace up to or just past race pace within the last 2 miles of the run. But...make the majority of the run at a conversational pace. You're building mileage.
Easy Run: These runs help you build that weekly mileage and build a strong base. They're not fast nor very long runs. They are run at a conversational pace that's a little faster than your long run pace.
Speed Workouts (Intervals): The purpose of intervals (be it 800s, fartleks, hill repeats, or another workouts) is to increase VO2max and push out your lactate threshold. These runs help build pace. This type of run is run at a non conversational pace.
Speed Workouts (Tempo and Progression Runs): These runs help build pace, but they also help to build endurance to help sustain the increased pace. You'll run hard but not quite as hard as in a shorter interval workout.
Steady-State Runs: The purpose of this run is to help bridge the gap between the tempo run and your easy runs by giving you experience running a little faster than your easy run pace but not as fast as your tempo run pace.
Recovery Runs: This run usually follows the day after a hard speed workout or long run. A recovery run is usually very slow (slower than easy run pace) and usually a fairly short run in distance. The purpose of this run is to help loosen up the body after that hard workout from the prior day.
REST: Yes, you should consider a Rest Day as a running day. It's equally important. You need a couple rest days each week for your body to rebuild.