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Aug 18, 2018 - 12:29 AM  

Running Tips - Intervals

Running Tips - Intervals

Contents Basics Intervals Injury Other Factors RaceDay Internet Index Forums

Strideouts Rhythm Power Hills The Session Fartlek

The concept of interval training was first developed by a Czech runner called Zatopek. He believed that as the heart was a muscle it could be trained like any other. The best training, he decided, was a series of stress-rest repetitions where the heart rate was increased then allowed to recover. He did this during the late forties and was way ahead of his contemporaries who were mostly favouring long, slow, distance (LSD) type running. Zatopek's method's culminated in him winning the running triple crown (5000m, 10,000m and marathon) at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic's. A feat never again repeated by anyone. Since Zatopek's time there have been much study and many variations of his methods. Today however there are no top class runners who don't use interval training at some time during race preparation.

Intervals consist of a series efforts followed by active or passive rest usually at a pace faster than a continuous type training run. There are four things that you can alter in an interval training session. They are distance or time, rest time or distance, effort, and the number of repetitions. Each of these can be varied to tailor the interval session to a persons individual goals.

Interval sessions are also quite stressful on the body. They should be followed by a relatively easy training day and more than one of these sessions in a week should be left to the elite athletes. Also as it is quite jarring on the feet/body the softer the surface the better off you are from an injury perspective. Softer surfaces are also slower than hard surfaces so times will be affected. Races are also usually on hard surfaces such as roads so a small percentage of your intervals should mimic race conditions.

I will briefly outline the some generic types of intervals and what they best train. Many different coaches have different names for these types of sessions. I will try and use the most common names.

Stride-Outs/Form Intervals

These are fairly short intervals of between 50m and 200m whose primary aim is to improve your running efficiency. They get your body used to travelling much faster than you are going to race. The theory is that if you continually do this then some adaptations will occur which mean that running slower will be easier. They can be done at any time during a season but are common in the week leading up to a race with long rests to get your feet moving faster.

Rhythm Intervals

These are the most common form of intervals. They are run at a pace just faster than race pace with a fairly short rest between each interval. Sets above 10 repetitions are not uncommon with Rhythm Intervals. If you are training for a 10km event an example of a Rhythm interval session would be 8 x 400m with 1.5mins rest between each interval run at 5km race pace. Although intervals ranging from 400m through to 3000m can be used when training for any event, normally the longer the event you are training for the longer the length of the intervals you would do. Marathon intervals are typically 800m, 1000m, and 1500m.

Power Intervals

These are directly aimed are increasing both the strength of your muscles and your VO2max and are designed to be run near your VO2max. For these intervals you run quite fast (95%) and have a longer rest. Also there are normally less repetitions than Rhythm interval sessions. You may have as much as 5 minutes rest between each interval in a power session. I prefer these sessions early on in the lead up to a race. This is to have maximum effect on VO2max early. Later on I switch to Rhythm intervals to fine tune the Anaerobic Threshold.

Hill Repeats

These intervals are vary hard and have significant effect on strength and power development within your leg muscles. Most muscles have two types of fibres: - fast twitch and slow twitch. The fast twitch are used when you run fast and to train them you can run fast, or..... research has shown that hill work strengthens them as well. Fast twitch fibres are recruited by the amount of power exerted by the muscle not its speed. Hills and intervals both require a high power output. They are also useful if your race will be on a hilly course. Different muscles are also used in hill running compared to racing on the flat. Strength is also more important in the hills. The idea is to have a series of hard uphill efforts (say 6-8) jogging/walking down the hill in between each repeat. Remember to take it easy on the downhill, the eccentric action required can cause injury.

The Interval Session

Intervals are much more fun if they are done with a group. They are hard sessions and is helpful to have other people to pull you on and to provide moral support through the sometimes gruelling sessions. They can also be made quite fun with many different variations possible on the main theme. You should also be sure to both warm-up and cool down thoroughly and a do series of slow accelerations to ease you into the session. Some people also stretch.


A discussion on Intervals would not be complete without mention of Fartlek. This form of training was developed in Sweden and means Speed Play. It is an unstructured form of intervals where you run fast and slow for as long as you like. The length of the “fast” bits can range from 30 seconds to a few minutes. It is typically done in a hilly country area with grass and dirt tracks where you can run with the wind being as playful as you can. 

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