Imagine the following scenario. You’ve been tallying up the miles on a weekly basis. You enjoy your runs, but the pace is starting to bore you. You want to pick up the pace, but think it would compromise the length of the run. Your race times have sort of plateaued, or peaked. If this sounds familiar, it sounds like you are in need of interval training.
Intervals are a special way of incorporating speed into your running regimen. It is a workout that alternates high intensity efforts (faster running) over a measured distance with lower intensity efforts (recovery jogging). An example of interval training might be doing ten 400s (one lap around an outdoor track) at 5k race pace with a minute of rest in between each repetition. “Rest” actually entails staying active with a jog, just slow enough to let your heart rate simmer down a bit. Ironically, in trying to break the monotony of your typical mileage cycle, you will most likely have to give up your running scenery in favor of the less exciting, but more speed friendly track.
The idea of interval training can invoke fear in some runners. “I’m not meant to run fast; that’s why I run [insert name of long race here],” they say. There are others who are convinced that doing anything other than normal mileage is more “intense” than they intend to be about running, and that a prescribed workout necessitates taking the fun out of running; however, those who have tried interval training would undoubtedly beg to differ.
Despite the repetitive nature of cycling around a track, intervals have wonderful potential for variety. You can vary pace, distance, rest time, or number of repetitions. The key to intervals is planning your workout ahead of time and sticking to it. Even splits (consistent pacing) are better than sprints that fade away. Naturally, it may take some experimentation to find out what kind of intervals suit you best. How hard you push it is entirely up to you, but the intention should never be an “all-out” effort. These faster workouts should not be done more than twice a week, because the body needs time for recovery. Interval training is hard work, but it certainly has its benefits. With any luck, you should be able to break a racing rut in just a few weeks. Interval training is also a great reason to take it easy the next day, especially if you’re feeling sore.
Setting up a workout for yourself can be a daunting task, so don’t be afraid to ask a buddy to do the training with you or help you with the timing. Set goals, and when you break them, make new ones!
Editor’s Note – Louise is a three season athlete for varsity sports teams at Div. III MIT. She runs cross country, and she is also a mid-distance runner during indoor and outdoor track. She currently holds the school record as an individual in the Mile, and shares the title for the 4x800m relay and Distance Medley Relay. A junior this year, she earned All-America status (Top 8) at Indoor Nationals in both prior seasons, and has high expectations for the upcoming indoor and outdoor seasons.