Intervals – runners hate to love them and love to hate them!
Interval training is simply broken down into “Repeats” and “Recovery”. “Repeats” are harder running efforts in our anaerobic zone for a designated distance (most common) or time. They are followed by a “Recovery” period where the run is easy and allows our heart rate to settle before embarking on another “Repeat” effort.
Benefits of Interval Training
Interval training is used to improve our ability to run in our anaerobic zone (oxygen debt zone!) and our ability to clear lactic acid.
It is also great for helping us practice race speeds without putting too much stress on our bodies. This is why the most common distances for intervals are short(ish!) at 200m, 400m, 800m, 1200m and 1600m depending on our fitness levels and goal event (5k-10k to marathon/ultras). We can also perform them time-based.
They are also a great form of speed work and well known to improve running economy. They help us learn how to run with ‘relaxed’ speed as well as improves our ability to pace ourselves which is so important for longer races.
How We do Intervals
- As always, we start by performing a good warm up of at least 10 minutes long
- Then we do some strides of 50-80m for 4-10 sets to get our legs activated and ready for a faster run.
- We choose a distance or time that we would like for our repeats. We like to use any of 200-400-800m repeats for improving our 5km times; 400-800-1200m repeats for 10km and 800-1200-1600m repeats for the half-full marathon. But realistically speaking, we can use ANY distance or time that we feel comfortable running at a harder effort for and that we do repeatedly. This may be only 50-100m or 10-20secs at first and that’s more than okay. The goal is to start and then progress upwards!
- We choose how many Repeats we are going to do in the workout. They typically range from 4-10 repeats. We don’t always feel like we absolutely have to complete what we have designated ourselves though as it will depend on how we are feeling that day in terms of recovery from previous workouts as well as many other intrinsic and extrinsic factors. So we do not let it get us down.
- We run our designated Repeat with relaxed speed – we aren’t doing hard, full effort sprints here. They should feel hard but not all-out.
- Then we recover by running a relaxed easy pace for half the distance we have just run for our Repeat or for the time spent running the Repeat. For example, if our Repeat was 800m, then we would recover by running an easy 400m. If our repeat was a 1 minute duration, then we would recover for 1 minute. As our fitness improves, recovery periods can be reduced but keep in mind that the repeats need to maintain their quality and intensity.
- We repeat step 5 and 6 until all of our intervals are completed. We try our best to maintain a consistent pace for our repeats with the goal being that we are running the same pace in our last repeat as our first. If we find that our pace is not consistent and slowing down as we do more repeats, we will consider slowing down our pace for the repeats or increasing our recovery periods.
- Finally, we finish the session with some strides and then cool down with a light jog for at least 10 minutes and rehydrate.
Pyramids & Ladders
Intervals can be spiced up with some variations to break the grind. These are called pyramids and ladders and we’ll explain how to do them here:
A Pyramid workout features Repeats of increasing distances to a peak distance before decreasing back down to the initial distance.
For example the repeats could be structured as follows:
200metres – 400m – 800m – 1200m (Peak) – 800m – 400m – 200m
A Ladder workout moves either up or down set distances for the repeats. For example a progressive structure such as 200-400-800-1200-1600m (end) or a regressive structure such as 1600-1200-800-400-200m (end).
We can customise the Pyramid and Ladder workouts how we see fit according to our current fitness.
Key Tips We Need To Know
The aim of the workout is to feel like we’ve made a good, solid effort on each interval at around target pace but not to have reached absolute maximal efforts as this would be too taxing, more difficult to recover from and risks injuries!
We should always, always complete our interval sessions feeling like we could do another 1-2 intervals without compromising speed or form.
By all means we should have goals paces for our intervals (either at current race pace or 10-20seconds faster) but we must avoid the mistakes of locking in rigid times for set distances or setting a rigid pace. We should not go all-out on our repeats and should not make our recoveries too short. We absolutely do not race when performing our intervals (especially if our peers are far above our current level)! These things are not helpful to our running and can lead to disappointment and overtraining. Remember that we are working to improve our running strength, conditioning and health for the long term.
We stop our repeat if we find that we are struggling or unable to maintain our paces or if our running form is breaking down. From here, we reconsider our the pace that we want to run for our repeats or our recovery period and try again. We always stop if we feel there may be a potential injury risk though.
Intervals are best performed on uninterrupted terrain. We highly recommend using a local running track, sports ovals or recreational park. It is much easier to measure the distance run in these locations as well as limiting distractions. It is also unsafe to be running at high speeds on the road/footpaths as we or others may miss spotting a dangerous situation in time!
Most of the aforementioned locations generally have well-maintained grass to run on which is our preferred interval running surface to reduce the risk of injuries associated with running hard on harder surfaces (especially concrete!). It is so much less taxing on our bodies as well which speeds up the recovery period.
Grass is also my preferred running surface to reduce the risk of injuries associated with running hard on harder surfaces (especially concrete!).
Before You Go Running Off:
Keep in mind to limit your hard and intense running, such as interval training, to ~20% of your program and making the other ~80% slower and aerobic efforts to optimise your training whilst reducing your risk of overtraining and injuries!