Interval Workout By Chaim Wizman
Many long distance runners are not particularly concerned with speed. They would rather run far than fast. These runners prefer a relaxed pace to the feeling that their hearts are about to burst through their rib cage. Perfectly understandable. In truth, even the most hardcore Type A runner would do well to relax on a run every now and then. But if you want to run faster and improve your race times, there is simply no way around it. You will need to incorporate speedwork into your training program. But be forewarned. Speedwork can hurt. Not the kind of low grade pain that you feel when pushing through exhaustion on a long run, but the lung searing, gut burning type. However, if you are or aspire to be a serious runner, the effort will be well worth it. There is an undeniable, primal pleasure in running fast. And the most memorable workouts are the ones that leave you feeling like a worn out rag doll.
While there are many varieties of speed workouts, interval workouts are the quickest way to improve speed. Interval workouts involve running specific distances at a much faster pace than your normal training pace and then recovering either by walking or slow jogging before you begin the next fast section. So how far and how fast do you run your intervals and how long do you recover in between? The rule of thumb is that the shorter your target race distance, the shorter and faster your intervals should be. For example, someone training for a fast 5 km race, needs a lot of pure speed. Therefore, he would work up to doing 12 times 400 meter intervals at faster than his goal 5 km race pace with a recovery of 30 seconds between reps. Runners who are training for a half marathon or marathon have less need for explosive speed but need greater endurance than a 5 km runner. Therefore, their intervals are longer and also a bit slower. One of our standard interval workouts (and the one we will be doing tomorrow) is running 1000 meters hard six times and jogging 500 meters in between to recover. If your running over the summer has been mostly at a relaxed pace, the intervals will be something of a shock to your system. But here is the good part. The body responds to speed training with incredible adaptibility. As you accustom you body to the rigors of speedwork, you will notice that you will begin to feel more comfortable while running considerably faster. One way we try to keep the intervals interesting is to break up the larger group into smaller groups of roughly similarly paced runners. We then appoint a different runner to lead each interval. The rule is that no other runner may pass the runner leading the interval but the other runners in the group should stay right on his tail. If the lead runner's pace is too fast for you, you should run at your own pace but try to maintaina pace that is 15-20 seconds per kilometer faster than your tempo pace. Interval wworkouts should alway begin with a thorough warmup of at least 10-15 minutes and end with an easy cooldown and some gentle stretching.
In an interval workout, it is essential to carefully monitor the rest time (jogging or walking) (the term "interval" actually refers to the rest time, not the running time). Although you will likely feel the urge to keel over if you run the fast portions at the proper intensity, resist this urge. Jog slowly to maintain blood flow. This sort of active recovery also goes a long way towards preventing the soreness that often follows speed work. The objective of an interval workout is to increase your V02 max. V02 max is a measure of the amount of oxygen that the heart can pump to the muscles and the ability of the muscles to extract and use this oxygen. Your V02 max is roughly equivalent to the fastest you could run a 5k under optimal conditions. The optimal duration for V02 max intervals is between 3 and 6 minutes and most runners should do their 1000 meter intervals within this time frame. A secondary benefit of interval workouts (and all speed work for that matter) is that if forces you to recruit your muscles to run with a more efficient running form. You have to have a good stride rate and length and you have to pump your arms when you run fast. You can develop bad habits when you are slogging and this will help you overcome those bad habits. Incidentally, as an endurance runner, you should very rarely be running faster than your 5k pace (VO2 max). Doing so, will build up a high degree of lactate in your muscles and shorten the duration of your workout. Remember that the marathon is an aerobic event with more than 99% of the energy you use in the marathon supplied by your aerobic system. It is therefore important to train with an eye towards achieving the physiological adaptations that are specific to achieving success in the marathon.