By Mike RicciHead coach of D3 Multisport and BT's official coach
The definition of an interval is the space between two events or a pause, break in activity, according to the Google definition. Most of us think of intervals as the super hard effort to get faster, whether it be in the pool, on the bike or during a run.
As a coach, having taught many beginners how to swim, bike and run, we base almost all practices using intervals. For a beginner swimmer, it might be a set of 25 yard drills, with a certain amount of rest. For the bike we may start someone on the trainer, and give them 5 minutes of pedaling and then a rest period before they start up again. And with running, we usually use a walk, run method with someone new to running. So, from day one of training we use interval training.
As we progress and increase the distance in running, we add more intervals into the training. Sometimes we’ll increase the distance of the interval, the time, the grade (uphill!) or all of the above. You can start intervals from your first day of running, but remember to keep the effort easy and manageable. You could start with 1 minute of walking and 15 seconds of running or if you are ready, something even a little longer. It’s all up to your personal starting point.
Intervals help a runner manage the intensity and learn to push at a pace that’s out of their comfort zone. This will allow them to run at an easier pace more comfortably.
There are many type of intervals sessions! Let’s give a few examples:
Any running over lactate threshold (LT) effort should be no more than 15-20% of weekly run volume for a runner. For example if you are running 30 miles per week, then less than 6 miles per week would be appropriate for intervals. The problem many athletes get into is running a 4 or 5 mile interval workout, very hard, but the total weekly volume is only 12-15 miles per week. That’s a recipe for injury and hopefully this article will help you avoid that!
The following are examples of intervals that you can incorporate into your training.
Strides: Strides are done to help cadence and form. Usually a typical stride workout would be a 10-15 minute warm up, then a 20 to 30 second effort at a current 5k pace. You don’t need to run faster than that if you are just starting out. You typically will try to get 4 to 10 strides, resting between each stride.
An LT workout might be a 1-2 mile warm up, then some run drills, then some strides (See above) and then a set of efforts around your 10k or your best 1 hour best effort run. A common example would be 3x5 minutes (3x5') at a 10k pace with an easy 2-3 minute jog in between. You may start out with 1-2 repetitions, and build up from there. Always cool down after this workout is over.
The same warm up as above would work, the main set could be 30 seconds very fast, with 30 seconds recovery, repeated as many times as you can. You may start out at 5 repetitions and build up to 30 reps over several weeks.
Hill Repeats: My favorite! Hill repeats are speed sessions disguised as super hard work. After a proper warm up, like above, you can run up a fairly steep hill (4-7% grade), for 2-3 minutes with the same effort you’d race a 10k with. Start out with 4 reps and build up to 10 reps. A cool down is always essential!
A Mixed Bag Workout:This workout will mix in everything from above and keep your workouts fresh. First, a 2 mile run warm up, then 4x50 meters of run drills (butt kicks, high knees, fast feet, etc.), then 4x100 meter pick-ups. An example of the main set would be 8x30 seconds on / 30 seconds off (rest), then move to a close-by hill for 4x2’ hill repeats. Then you could run 1 mile at threshold. Don’t try this workout unless you are comfortable with all the other sets. In addition, you can do this entire workout on the treadmill.
A final caution! Don’t rush into intervals – take your time, build your mileage slowly and wisely. When you are ready, start with some strides and then move into some hill repeats. The last two types of intervals you should do are LT and VO2 max. In reality, those types of workouts are over done by a lot of athletes, especially beginners. The real focus should be on running consistently, improving your run form and cadence, both of which can be done by doing strides. The LT and VO2 work is really the last 2-3% in fitness gains before a big race.
Mike Ricci is a Level III USA Triathlon Certified Coach and has been coaching endurance athletes since 1989. Mike founded D3 Multisport in 2000, and has slowly added top-notch, USAT certified coaches each year to handle the demand for high quality triathlon coaching. D3 Coaches have coached hundreds of athletes to their first triathlon and hundreds more to become Ironman Finishers. From 2002-2008, D3 was awarded the job of writing the training programs for the USA World Championship Teams. Mike currently coaches the four time defending Collegiate National Champion University of CO Triathlon Team. Coach Mike and his team of coaches also provide online support on the BT Forum for the Gold and Custom Level Coaching.