Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Getting into Intervals

As the weather gradually starts to improve, more and more people are going to start planning long distance races into their schedules.

In the midst of winter, the thought of spending longer than 5 minutes running outside is enough to make you want to rustle up a hot chocolate and pretend that humans were never designed to run in the first place.

However, the appeal of long distance races seems to grow exponentially with the increase in temperatures, meaning now’s the time to ramp up your training. 

One of the most valuable training methods to utilise in your quest for a new PB is interval training, which refers to training using a mix of short, high intensity effort combined with slower, recovery phases throughout a training session.

The benefits of interval training are myriad, but one of the prime advantages is that you can squeeze more quality training into a shorter period of time (especially valuable seeing as it’s dark by 5pm). Interval Training will also allow you to maintain some semblance of a normal working and family life.

Integrating an interval training session into your weekly training schedule will definitely put you on an accelerated course (pun intended) to improved fitness and race performances. The science behind this interval-based wizardry is that interval training has the ability to increase your anaerobic/lactate thresholds; the premise of this can be neatly summed up with this nifty little infographic

As any running aficionado will be well aware, the term anaerobic means ‘without oxygen’ in plain English.

Working at an anaerobic level is a result of lactic acid accumulating in your system as it cannot be broken down quickly enough, which sends you into oxygen debt. For any gluttons for punishment, you can reach this anaerobic level by doing any form of exercise at a really hard effort, but you are unable to stay at anaerobic level for long periods of time.

This is why interval training makes use of intense bursts of short effort, and the more you train at anaerobic level, the more your own body’s anaerobic/lactate thresholds will improve; this will result in significant gains in your speed and endurance.

The following example of an interval training plan can be easily incorporated into your current race plan (or just as a substitute for a normal run if you aren’t training for anything in particular). As a responsible running contributor, I must advocate that you are adequately hydrated and properly warmed-up before your interval training session.

Another handy piece of advice is to invest in a proper running watch to help you keep track of your interval times and pace; my personal favourite is the Garmin Forerunner 410, which has a built in GPS and has more features than you can shake a stick at. I got mine from Uttings Outdoor, but if the Garmin is a little too pricey for you, there are plenty of others out there to choose from.

When performing interval sprints on either the treadmill or the track, the basic unit of measurement is 400m with 45 seconds rest.  Start by doing 16 reps of 400m at slightly quicker than race pace with 45 seconds rest in between; the following week, do 8 reps of 800m with 90 seconds rest in between.  You will gradually work your way up to 3 reps of 2000m, with 225 seconds (3 mins 45) rest in between; then you start to decrease the distance again.  The following table should provide you with a handy guide.


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