In high school and college interval workouts were hard. I really dreaded them because they often times required your max effort and they simply hurt. By the middle of the workout your lungs were burning and your legs were like jello. The short rest periods in between sets went by fast but they were just long enough for you to get anxious about the next set coming up. Often times I found myself feeling sick about how many more there were to do. Interval workouts are important if you want to become a faster runner. In this blog I will outline what interval workouts are and what types you can incorporate into your training to help you achieve your race day goals. Intervals do not have to be extremely stressful and you can look forward to doing them without the burden of dread and anxiety that many people feel about them.
Intervals are shorter distances that you run at fast paces. There are all kinds of interval workouts that specifically target a goal pace and distance. For example, you might have an interval workout that focuses on running a 5k pace. The workout might include running a dozen quarter mile repeats on a track or road at 5k pace with about 90 seconds of rest between each one. I have done interval workouts at all kinds of race distances and paces. Obviously a mile to 5k pace workout works more on my speed as a marathon runner and a half marathon to marathon pace workout works more on my threshold and race day pace. As a marathon runner I do have interval workouts of all varieties and not just half marathon and marathon pace. When I run faster paces the distances I run in each set is usually shorter and the total mileage of the workout is shorter. For example, if I did a mile pace workout it might look like this: 10X200 meter runs (a total interval workout of 2,000 meters) at 40 seconds for each 200 meters. I would rest for 60-90 seconds and then run another one.
A longer interval workout might look like this for me. I might practice my marathon race pace by doing 3X3 mile repeats at 6:20 pace for each mile or a total of 19:00 for the three miles. I then rest for about 5 minutes or until my heart rate is around 120 and then I begin the next set. Whenever I do an interval workout I usually run a few miles to warm up and a couple of miles to cool down. These miles are nice and easy. You will want to also stretch out and be lose.
A lot of my interval distances are quarter mile, half mile, and mile distances. However, I’ll also do distances like 600 meter, 1,000 meter or 1 kilometer. You can do any distances you want really. You can also mix up the distances in a workout. For example, I might do a 10k pace interval workout and it would look like this: 3X1 mile repeats at 6:00 mile pace with 3 minutes rest followed by 4X800 meter repeats at 6:00 mile pace with 90 seconds rest, 8X400 meter repeats at 6:00 mile pace with 60 seconds rest, and then 4X200 meter repeats at 6:00 mile pace.
Why do we run intervals? Obviously it is important to not run the same workouts everyday. You need days like these to push the pace and to learn how to run fast. It is also important so that your muscles and mind is use to different paces and how to be strong through those paces and distances. Practicing race pace is good so that your muscles and mind can remember what to do on race day. I do faster intervals so that my race pace doesn’t feel hard to run and I mentally know that I have another gear in my arsenal if I need it on race day. Intervals helps your muscles deal with lactic acid build up as you push through the workout, it helps improve your VO2max, and it works on all aspects of your total fitness.
Interval days are meant to be hard days so you do not want to do a bunch of these every week. In fact, I only usually do one but you can do a couple of them each week. To help ease the stress of intervals I will plan them out ahead of time so that I can mentally be ready. I don’t like sudden surprises. I will also take the first two or three sets easy or at least I try my best to mentally and physically ease into the intervals knowing that I want to be strong through the middle and back end of the workout. I know I can give my best effort with the knowledge that tomorrow is a rest day. It helps to have those short rest periods in between sets as well. I use those rest periods to hydrate, stretch out, do some breathing exercises and psych myself up for the next set. I always go into each set working hard to stay “relaxed” as long as I can for each interval.
Other ways to make interval day more fun is to lace up your lighter and more responsive shoes and wear your race day type apparel. You have to look the part right if you want to go serious and fast? If you physically and mentally prepare it will help you a lot when it comes to the anxiety and pressure that comes with hard workouts. Learning to tackle these hard days head on will also benefit you on race day. You’ll be ready to get after it when the gun goes off! I hope you take interval days seriously because these could be the key to helping you not only feel fit and fast but your next PR could be right around the corner.