If you are a runner who tracks their performance and want to become faster on your favorite distance, you should keep reading.
At the moment, my favorite distance is 10 km. It is a distance which currently fits perfectly into my daily life. With having an engaged worklife, wife and two kids I need to find the sweet spots in between to hit the road. Running long distances is often saved for the weekends.
Some time ago I did a 10 km race and ended up at 48 minutes. I was definitely not satisfied and planned to work on it. Everybody told me that interval sessions are definitely needed to increase my speed. I was always a bit reluctant - simply because I enjoyed my steady runs so much. I didn't want to put any structure in it. You could also say, I enjoyed my comfort zone :-) Which isn’t always a bad thing.
Some months later I did a race again. Same time. Okay, now I wanted to change something. I did some research on how to effectively get into interval running without making a science out of it.
I also asked in forums and what not. As you can imagine, I got many different suggestions. Some recommended to look at the lactate threshold, some to look at my heart rate, but most recommended to work with pace. Okay, pace it is.
Now, I had to find out how to make this training effectively. I was recommended a pace calculator developed by running legend Jack Daniels, named by many as the best running coach in the world.
Let me explain how to apply his calculator for your running to jump into interval running very easy. But before, let's quickly make an excursion to briefly explain what tempo training and interval running really are.
Tempo Training and Interval Running
Interval training is a type of tempo training. Before you start doing tempo training you should have a solid baseline endurance, running 10-15 km should be not a burden for you.
To speed up, you should begin with some easy tempo variations. Just change your speed during your typical run from slow to fast. Some people call this “Fartlek” run, that´s Swedish for “playing with speed”.
Also, you could try an incremental increase of speed on your favorite distance. This means, push your limits on the last few kilometers.
Another version is, to do a speedrun where you try to keep a higher than normal speed on a predefined distance.
That sounds all very straight forward. So, what is interval running then?
In interval running you change between high speed sections and slow jogging parts. As you will not be able to keep that speed for a long distance, you simply break the distance up and slow down in between. The goal is to stay as long as possible in the fast intervals. So you have two options, you can either increase the number of speed intervals (e.g. 10 intervals instead of 5) or you can increase the length of one interval (1,000 m instead of 600 m per interval).
Doing intervals between 3-5 minutes means, you are working at your max level of oxygen intake. Just imagine you’re running a 5k in the shortest time you possibly can realize, then you possibly are at your maximum of O2 consumption.
Let's have a look at how to start.
How to Find Your Interval Speed?
Let's start by looking at the calculator from Jack Daniels. You can find it here.
First, you have to ask yourself at what distance you want to become faster. The length, speed, and number of intervals will vary depending on your target distance of course.
So let's get back to my example. 10k distance. Current time: 0:48 h.
The calculator now calculates various times for this performance. Also, it calculates ideal training times. Also for interval sessions.
As I am training for a short distance of 10 km, I should go for rather short intervals of 400 or 600 m. When looking at the table above it shows me the pace I should go for different distances. I decided to run the 600 m intervals. Based on this, I should run training intervals of 2.42 or faster on 600 m to improve my speed. If you feel better with 400 m you can of course start there.
The slow jogging in between should be shorter than your interval time. Remember, your goal is to stay longer in high speed then in slow jogging. So try to go for 50 - 70 % of your interval time. In my case it would be at around 1:50 min for the slow parts.
How many intervals should I run?
It depends on your fitness :-) If you are doing it the first time, you will quickly realize that it can be a really tough training. Of course, it depends on the distance you chose. I decided to go 6 or 7 intervals in the beginning and it seemed perfect. After some sessions I realized that I was beating the 2:42 already with my 6-7 intervals.
Now, I have four options to take it further.
- I can increase the speed per interval further and stay with 6-7 intervals
- I can decrease the time of slow jogging breaks between the intervals
- I can increase the distance per interval
- I can increase the number of intervals
I decided to work with #4 first. But of course, all have a valid point. To be honest with you, I can't tell the difference between the four. I am sure Mr. Jack Daniels could :-)
I also remember doing #2 when running in a University Club ages ago. I remember our coach was decreasing the “pause time” incrementally. When you first start the pause run is 2 min long, but in the end it is only a few seconds. I remember it to be really hard but a lot of fun. You are testing your limits.
No matter which route you take, enjoy it. You will see that is can become quite addictive - especially, as you see improvements in your speed reveal themselves quickly. This is magic. I am looking forward to my next 10k race, to push myself step by step forward.
Have fun and let us know your experiences in the comments below! You can also tag us in your runs on Instagram: @runamics_