Interval Awareness

Intervals involve hard runs for short times or distances followed by recovery jogs so it's helpful to have a watch to time each interval. Photo by Michael Lokner.

Intervals involve hard runs for short times or distances followed by recovery jogs so it's helpful to have a watch to time each interval. Photo by Michael Lokner.

Until recently, the last time I ran intervals was during track and field practice in high school. I’ve read plenty of articles about interval runs and there are some great folks on Twitter to learn from whose focus is interval training. The last few weeks of my triathlon training plan have included threshold interval work-outs. According to the plan this means to run for three minutes at 5K pace followed by a three minute jog. The first session I repeated this three times and the next three sessions I was to repeat four times. Each interval session begins and ends with a little over a one mile jog which happens to be the distance from my house to the local track, quiet convenient!

The first round of intervals were eye-opening. Even though I’d been preparing my body for speed with strides and tempo runs, attempting to maintain what I thought to be my 5K pace for three minutes was much more challenging than I thought it would be. I’m sure that part of the problem is that I still don’t know my actual 5K pace. My goal pace is 8-minute miles but I have not measured that on the track. I measure my 5K pace by my form, the length of my stride, the little extra push from my arms, and my breathing. I’m so familiar with my 9-minute pace that I feel like I can tell when I’ve pushed past that to something faster and that is what I consider my 5K pace.

Even though finishing that first set of three intervals was a tough work-out, I instantly felt the better for it. My runs later that week felt improved and my overall times seemed to get better as well. The next session of intervals was to repeat that work-out four times. I decided that the during the first session I had set out too fast. Rather than maintaining a pace I feel as though I was trying to sprint through those first three minutes and so for my second interval session my focus was on trying to maintain a faster pace alternated with the recovery jog. By the time I got to third set I was tired.

On the third set I stopped five seconds short and felt frustrated as I went through the recovery jog. For the last three minutes I decided I would tack an extra five seconds on as “punishment” for having stopped too early on the previous set. I pushed hard on that last set and toward the end of the three minutes I could feel in my breathing the effort I was exerting. I no longer had controlled breathing and gave a little cough here and there just trying to breath. As hard as that last set was recovery seemed to kick in instantly. My jog was fine and the mile cool down home was comfortable.

Before my next interval set I happened to read an article in Runner’s World with some great tips on speed and interval training. The author spent some time training with a local high school cross country team to learn how to improve his own training. One of the tips in the article from his running partners was that in interval training, it’s almost guaranteed that you will push hard on the last set. Knowing that, their suggestion is to push your hardest on the penultimate set because you will still be likely to push hard on the last set just to finish.What tips do you have?

I made that Runner’s World tip my goal going into the next session of intervals. My other goal was to achieve a better level of consistency and maintain the same 5K pace during each set. I think by the time I’d get to the third set my pace would slow down just a bit (which I gauged by the fact that I didn’t get as far around the track in the same time) and I also think my first two sets are still faster than they should be. Lo and behold, because I had set my mind to pushing hard on the third set in addition to the last set, my pace consistency improved and I was mentally prepared to power through the last two sets.

Like any kind of running, running intervals correctly takes practice. I have a love/hate relationship with intervals–I love the chance to run faster and I love that they have improved my other training runs, but I definitely hate that I am just not up to snuff with my interval performance. That being said, if intervals ever become easy I know I’ll know I’m not working hard enough.

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  1. Pingback: Hill Work-Outs: Form, Focus, and Breathing for Running Hills | Health and Running

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