Welcome to Day 3 of our Devoted New Year series! Today we are talking about intervals! These posts are brought to you by Meridith creator of Devoted Training; a 52 week faith-based training journal, and myself. We hope you enjoy!
The basic goal of interval work is to increase the pace at lactate threshold, which will make race pace faster. The limiting factor in most racing events is the accumulation of acid in the muscles and blood, which will eventually slow the runner down. If you can train so that your lactate threshold is higher, you can run faster for longer.
There are two schools of thought here (actually there are a ton of schools of thought on training, which is why it can be so intimidating). One is to train close to lactate threshold, meaning to train with a lot marathon pace work, and the other is a more polarized training, where you train faster than lactate threshold. There are no wrong ways to train, but many elites train with a more polarized approach. Remember, polarized training also means that 80% of our runs are easy.
The ultimate goal is to increase the length that you can run at a given speed. For race day, that is your race pace. There are a lot of ways to achieve this, and that’s the fun part!
You can plan your intervals to be time based or distance based. Not all workouts need to be performed on a track. In fact, it is beneficial to train on similar terrain as your race, and hills serve as a great strength stimulus.
Strides are the best way to introduce speed, and they should be implemented throughout any training cycle. Strides are 15-30 second bursts of speed as fast as you can go while still staying in control and as smooth as possible. They should not feel like hard work, and this is important because you are teaching your brain what fast looks and feels like. By practicing strides at the end or middle of easy running, you are teaching your brain and muscles to run more economically, which requires less energy and will get you to the finish line faster. It’s easy to add strides to any run because, done properly, they should not be a stress on the body.
Once you are ready to introduce longer interval style work, you can simply incorporate repeats, like 8×1 min, or you can start with a type of ladder or pyramid workout like 2, 4, 6, 4, 2 (minutes).
The goal is to start with shorter interval work and extend the interval time as your body adapts to the stimulus. A simple way to progress would be to advance from 1 min to 2 min intervals.
Week one: 8×1 min
Week two: 8×2 min
There are several ways that you can manipulate the quality of your runs to help you get stronger and faster:
- Increase the repetition distance (like the above example of 1 minute to two minutes)
- Increase total volume (increase number of reps. For instance 8x 1 min to 10×1 min.)
- Manipulate the rest between the intervals (a longer recovery time will help you learn how to clear some of the fatiguing products like lactic acid, while a shorter recovery time will help you learn how to use lactic acid products)
- Increase speed (and increase the ability to tolerate cumulative fatigue)
A really useful approach that can hit both VO2 (shorter intervals) and threshold work (longer intervals) is called a “blend workout” where there are two or more different intensities intermixed. An example would be the pyramid workout listed earlier of 2, 4, 6, 4, 2 minutes. The advantage to these workouts is:
- They bring speed and endurance together.
- Changing paces changes muscle fiber recruitment and lactate levels (faster paces produce more lactate and slower paces force you to deal with the lactate produced)
- They more closely mimic the metabolic stress of a race.
For athletes focusing on the precompetition phase of training to build speed, full recovery can be a helpful approach to intervals. This means very easy jogging between intervals, or even walking the recoveries. This will help you fully recover so that you can hit your main objective, which is to run fast and boost VO2. There are other benefits of working on VO2max, but primarily, as VO2 improves, so will your lactate threshold. The biggest benefit of shorter intervals is to teach your body to move efficiently. (Just a sidenote, raising VO2max doesn’t necessarily correlate to faster race times in research, but improved lactate threshold does show race improvements, so it will all come full circle.)
Do you feel ready to plan out your interval workouts in your training plan? You can take it week to week, or plan out all of your workouts in advance and adjust (or adapt, as Coach Brad Hudson would say) as you go. To get more into the science of training, a great resource is The Science of Running by Steve Magness.
At the end of the day, if this starts to feel overwhelming, just remember that running isn’t rocket science. Run fast sometimes, run slow most of the time, and change the stimulus often.
What’s your favorite interval workout?