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Interval Running - The Workout You Love and Hate

Interval running is running at anaerobic pace. It is taxing for the body.

Interval workouts bring results however, so incorporate these workouts into your program!

Don't feel like reading? Then just watch this quick video which will explain it all to you:

Before you start doing intervals, you should be able to run at easy pace for at least one hour. Yep, first build your base, then do speedwork.

And even then, my advice is that you do a speed workout only once a week. That is enough if you are training for longer races (10K and up).

Interval running workouts are taxing, hard sessions. Too many of them in a week will make it too hard to put other tough workouts (long runs, lactate treshold runs) into your schedule.

What is Interval Pace?

Interval pace is faster than your lactate treshold pace. It is the pace at which you feel lactic acid building up in your legs. You will not be able to hold this pace for miles and miles without having to slow down.

As with other paces, your heart rate monitor can help you in establishing proper interval pace. Read more about heart rate monitor use in the heart rate monitor training section.

Not using a heart rate monitor? Then go by feel. It is a pace which will leave you out-of-breath. Not quite an all-out-attempt, but it is not far off.

Why Do Intervals?

Interval Running Intervals help to improve oxygen delivery to the muscles.

When you run fast, your heart needs to beat faster.

It needs to pump more blood (oxygen) to your running muscles.

Your muscles need to work on absorbing that oxygen as efficiently as possible.

So, this speed trains your body in getting better at oxygen processing.

That sounds great, but why is this good?

The more oxygen which is delivered to your muscles, the faster and the further you will be able to run.
Your muscles need the oxygen to function. If they don't get enough of it, they will not work as well for you.

So, How Many Intervals Do I Do?

Like with all kinds of new training, if it is your first time, start cautious. And go from there.

Maybe the first interval session you do only consists of four 30-second intervals with a 30-second or one-minute jog in between.
Of course, your total run would be longer than four minutes or so, you'd add a warming up and cooling down to the mix!

But yes, start with not too many intervals and not too long ones. Take it from there and build up slowly.

If you are a starting runner (this is your first year), do 30-second to 1-minute intervals with a 30-second to 1-minute recovery jog in between.

More experienced? Then you can do longer intervals. The longest being 5 minutes is the general belief. Of course, when you do longer intervals, your recovery jogs should be longer in between as well.

As a general rule of thumb: make sure the total distance spent running at interval speed in your workout is about 3 miles / 5k maximum.

So, for example, 12 x 400m intervals or 5 x 1k. Not 10 x 1k.

Why not?
It's quite simple. When you want to do way more mileage, it will become increasingly difficult and even impossible to keep on doing the workout at interval speed. You'll simply get too tired and slow down.

It's really about the quality of the workout. Your interval workout doesn't get better from more intervals. It gets better from doing the intervals at the right speed.

So, don't do endless intervals thinking you are getting better. Your speed will suffer.

Making Your Intervals A Little More Comfortable

When you have done interval sessions before with a simple stopwatch as your tool, you would have experienced that same restless feeling that I used to get. Constantly looking at the watch. Is it time to change pace again?

Now I have been able to make my intervals a lot more comfortable with the Gymboss.

The Gymboss interval timer registers not one time, but two.

So suppose you are doing an interval session in which you run 4 minutes and then jog 3 minutes.

Then you simply enter those times in the Gymboss, attach it to your pants / shorts and start running.

As soon as one of those periods ends you get notified.

This happens via a beeping sound (soft or hard) and/or a vibration.

Then you simply change pace until you get notified again.

It is so simple, but what a difference it makes! You do not have to look at your watch anymore. You can just concentrate on doing the work. It has helped make my interval sessions a lot less restless.

I now always use the Gymboss when I do my intervals. It's very cheap. Worth its price of one workout, let alone if intervals are a regular part of your exercise routine!

Click here for more information about the Gymboss interval timer.

running quote

Interval Running Workouts I Do

Interval Running I prefer the 10K and the half marathon.

For those races I usually run 800 to 1500 metre intervals.

I let the distance vary each week.

Somehow I feel that is right.

I don't want my body to get used to the same interval distance.

Many runners do 400-metre intervals. Sure, add them in occassionally, but even for 5K-race-preparation I suggest to go a bit longer than that. 400 metres is so short!

A longer effort resembles better what you have to go through in a race.

Now, some of this is already mentioned above, but just "ramming the message home"... :)... the key rules I follow when doing my interval workouts are:

interval running workouts rules

  • Vary the distance from week to week; don't always do 400m intervals. Don't always do 800m intervals. Vary the distance.

  • Make sure the intervals are a maximum of about five minutes in length. You can't do a 10 minute interval. It simply means you are going too slow. An interval workout needs to be so taxing that you can't do much more of five minutes of running at a time.

  • Make sure the total length of the speed workout is about 5k in length (just over 3 miles). Again, doing an interval running workout is taxing. Make the speed part of the workout much longer will simply make your intervals slower. These workouts are about quality, not quantity. 

  • Make sure the speed in the first interval is equal to the speed in the last interval. This is very important. Don't run the first interval like a madman, and then slow down by a few seconds or more every consecutive interval. Try to keep speed as even as possible throughout the intervals.

  • Do one interval workout per week, max. There are periods in training when I don't do any interval running. But when I do I virtually always limit it to one workout per week. Note that this is a function of the running I do. I like 10k and half marathon races. For those, I think, one interval session per week is plenty. You could do more if you run very short races. 

  • Warming Up and Cooling Down

    Because it is faster than easy pace, a good warm-up and cool-down are needed for an interval workout.

    So, make sure you check out the article on Most Important Running Stretches (click pic below). It contains good stretches and more information about warming ups and cooling downs.

    And of course, for plenty more tips you really need to check out all the other information in the running training section.

    After all, interval speed is only one of the running speeds available to you; for races 10k and up I'd also argue it's probably the least important speed! So, make sure you read the following pages as well:

    running stretches easy running tempo running workout

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    > > Interval Running

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