If you wanna get faster in a race you need to run faster in training. That simple fact is well appreciated among athletes and coaches. But there wasn’t or still isn’t a consensus on which training method delivers the best results. In this post I’ll try to describe some reasons why you should consider interval training to increase your race pace.
This is in my opinion the greatest benefit of running fast intervals with slow jogging for recovery in between. You’ll achieve much more in much less time compared to moderate running or tempo runs. Several studies (like this one) have been conducted all over the world around this topic and the results are mostly the same: You can reduce your time spend with working out by up to 50% and get better results as well. Sounds unbelievable right? Well the flip side is that training fast pace intervals is much harder and more intense than just doing moderate training sessions. When you only run with the same slow pace over and over again your body adapts pretty fast and doesn’t get the stimulus to improve. If you change short, fast intervals with phases of recovery your body needs to learn to recover quickly and you’ll be able to run even faster.
Another big upside for interval training is the variety you get. As running slow at the same intensity can be pretty boring, intervals are a much more entertaining workout. Changing your speed several times during a training run can make you feel like you worked out for half the time that you actually did. This fact found also scientific proof in this study that was published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.
Not only is interval training in general more enjoyable than steady paced runs, you also have a lot of different variations to this training method. Here are just some of the many ideas:
With HIIT the idea is to reduce training time to a minimum. After a warm up period you run intervals at nearly your maximum intensity but just for 30 to 40 seconds interspersed with slow jogging or walking for 15 to 20 seconds.
What I usually do when running intervals is to speed up to around 90% of maximum intensity for one or two kilometers and recover for one or two minutes. The intervals are not as intense as on a HIIT session but it probably trains your body better when you try to improve for longer distances.
Running at a higher intensity doesn’t necessarily mean running faster. You can also do some hill repeats on which you run up a short hill and walk back down for recovery.
Another great way are Fartlek runs that offer a playful attempt on interval training. For more information about Fartleks check out this article:
What the Hell is a Fartlek Run?
Besides the efficiency and benefits regarding improved endurance at VO2max, interval training has also some health benefits. Not only your performance improves better with less time needed but also your blood pressure and cholesterol concentration show better values after just a short period of interval training. High intensity intervals also burn a lot of energy in no time compared to moderate runs. Your body burns mainly carbohydrates on the fast intervals and fat in the recovery phases. Also your body is in hyper repair mode after an intense interval session and keeps burning more fat for up to 24 hours after the workout which is great to lose some weight.
As great as interval training is, also a word of caution is needed. Most coaches suggest that you do most of your training volume at low or moderate intensity. So try to run 80% of your training miles below 80% of your maximum heart rate and just do intense training runs once a week. Also give yourself a day off after a heavy interval training session. If you overdo it you risk overtraining or even injury.