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Interval training

What are intervals and how fast should I run them?

Definition of intervals
Intervals are a type of speed training with spurts of faster running (intense effort) followed by slower running (recovery effort). They might also be called repeat workouts in some literature. The pattern can be regular (measured or timed), as with traditional intervals. Examples: one minute of fast running followed by one minute of recovery; 800 meters fast running followed by 400 meters recovery. Intervals can also be irregular – fartleks – which means “speed play” and is just random hard efforts interspersed into a training run.

When to do intervals
Intervals can be a valuable part of any training program. They help with speed, form, running economy, fat-burning, and more. These runs are typically done once a week and are considered a quality day that should be sandwiched between either easy days or rest days.

Pace goal of intervals
Pace goals vary by race distance, ranging from a bit faster than 5K pace for 5K training to goal pace for half marathon and marathon training. The secret to getting intervals to work for you is to carefully consider the amount of rest you take between each repeat. Recovery is, of course, important, but getting enough – but not too much – of it is the key.

Training method Recommendations
Hal Higdon In Higdon’s advanced marathon plan, he advises intervals, like Yasso 800s, just about every other week. As such, he recommends following the pace guideline of running these 800s using the “same numbers as your marathon time.” So, a 4:00 goal finish would mean completing the 800s in 4 minutes.
Jeff Galloway There is no formal interval training as part of Jeff Galloway’s plans. However, the method itself involves a lot of walk/running, which are considered intervals. For more on pacing for this overall approach, see point six (Run-Walk-Run Ratio) on this plan.
FIRST In the FIRST marathon training plan, key workout number one is intervals with recovery. These intervals should be run an average of 45 seconds faster per mile than 10K race pace, then scaled accordingly. Recovery times vary per workout.
Hanson Method This method values intervals between 2 and 8 minutes in length at a pace that’s 95 to 98 percent VO2 max, which is the amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise.
Pete Pfitzinger Pfitzinger says intervals (typically between 600 meters and 2,000 meters) should be run as close to “95 to 100 percent of current VO2 max as possible.” As well, the recovery period should be in a range of 1:1 to 2:1 – enough to recover properly, but not to slow down.
Jack Daniels Jack Daniels details that intervals between 3 and 5 minutes in length are good. As for pace? “Real close to max heart rate.” (In his words: 97-99 percent VO2 max).
Greg McMillan McMillan incorporates various intervals into training, including fartleks, cruise intervals, and tempo intervals. More specifics – including pace – for each can be found here. And to figure goal paces for different workouts, try his calculator.

Intervals in a nutshell
Many plans calculate the pace of interval workouts using VO2 max. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, you can learn more about using it to your advantage for various race distances. Generally, the speed at which you run your intervals should be intense and make you somewhat winded. A recovery effort should allow you to rebound and perform more hard efforts, thereby fatiguing your body and allowing you to acclimate to running at faster paces. Intervals are an important part of competitive training plans, but they are also just as important for the everyday runner looking to improve race times.

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Written by Ashley Marcin.

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