Interval Training Workouts for Distance Runners

If you are looking to improve speed, loose weight, or overall increase your cardiovascular capabilities, you should really consider interval training.  Interval training is essentially running faster than you normally would for a short period of time and then do a short rest jog or walk, then alternating again to faster run.

Interval training workouts may include short bursts of sprinting separated out by jogging; or interval could also mean a slow jog for someone that typically walks alternated by rest periods of walking.  So, the speed and intensity of the interval training will depend on the type of shape you are currently in and what your goals are.  This type of exercise could also be applied to other sports or activities, but I am going to specifically discuss the benefits for distance runners.

Benefits of Interval Training

Overall, interval training is a workout that can be used to increase your overall speed and endurance.  By training your body to run faster, you will slowly increase the overall mile pace that you are capable of running over long distances.  For example, if your average mile pace over the course of a half-marathon is 9 minute miles, you can improve your average pace by implementing interval training once a week into your running schedule.

This is particularly true if the only type of training you have done is tempo runs or nice and easy runs.  If you were to go out and run a workout of 4 x 1 mile intervals at a pace of 8 minutes with a 800 meter slow jog between them, you are training your body to run faster than your normal 9 min. mile pace.  Not only does this help your body get used to running faster, it also can extend your lactic threshold.

This lactic threshold is where the glycogen in your body becomes depleted and is when your legs and muscles will feel like they’ve hit the wall and are very fatigued.

In addition, interval training will burn more calories faster than normal jogging.  So, you can lose weight faster, increase speed, and improve cardiovascular endurance.

Risks of Interval Training

However, are there risks associated with interval training?  The risks are similar to running in general.  You should not over-train at the risk of injury.  Obviously, if your body is not ready to go out and run sprints, you shouldn’t over-work your heart.  In general, the workouts are more intense and should only be attempted by those that have at least built up some base.  If you have been running consistently for 4 to 8 weeks, you are probably ready to start implementing some sort of interval training into your work-outs.

In addition, because you will be running at faster speeds, you should ensure that you are well warmed up prior to the workout to ensure that you don’t injure yourself.

How often should you do interval training?

A typical training regimen is to run intervals once a week.  Some runners will do interval training workouts twice a week, but 3 or more days of intervals is typically too much. Obviously depending on your skill level and other factors will determine how often you will want to do speed workouts, but 1 or 2 times a week is very typical for distance runners.

A standard marathon training program will have you built up a “base” of running for the first 8 weeks or more before speed workouts are implemented.  At that point, these speed and interval workouts are typically just once a week on a “standard” marathon workout plan.

Who should do interval training?

As mentioned previously, interval training can benefit just about any athlete.  This could be marathon runners, sprinters, cyclists, swimmers, or others (obviously the interval would involve their sports such as on a bicycle in the case of cyclists).

Those individuals that are looking to increase their speed, agility, and overall performance should definitely look to interval training as a means to that end.  In addition, individuals simply seeking to lose weight or burn more calories in a shorter period of time can also benefit highly from these speed workouts.

Examples of interval training workouts

Overall, interval training workouts are alternating between fast and slow.  And in reality there are no “standard” workouts that everyone should follow, you can customize a plan to fit your needs.  However, here are few examples of interval workouts that distance runners might be interested in:

Workout 1: 5 x 1 miles (at 5k pace), jog/walk slow 800 meters in between

Workout 2: 8 x 800 meters (at 7 min/mile pace), jog/walk slow 400 meters in between

Workout 3: 4 x 400 meters (at 6:30 min/mile pace), jog/walk slow 400 meters in between. 4 x 100 meters (at 90% of full-sprint, jog/walk 2 minutes in between).

Workout 4: 2 x 800 meters (at 7:00 min/mile pace), jog 800 meters in between. 2 x 1600 meters (at 7:20 min/mile), jog/walk slow 800 meters in between.

Intervals on a Treadmill?

The great part about intervals is that you can do them anywhere!  You don’t need to be on a track outside, you can do speed workouts just as well on a treadmill.  If you look at the 4 workouts that I described above, there is no reason that you couldn’t accomplish the same thing on a treadmill.  Just set the treadmill speed to the mile pace that you want to run at and then slow it down once your have completed a set.

Overall, interval training workouts for marathoners or other distance runners can be an exceptional way to increase overall speed and endurance.

If you have any comments or questions, I would love to hear about them below!

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