image description

Training & advice

Progressing your interval training

In order to cover your target race distance more quickly than your previous attempt you have probably introduced interval training into your programme. To continue to improve you will need to steadily progress this trainng over the short and long term.

At present your interval training may well look different depending on whether it is summer or winter and whether you are trying to improve your leg turnover or your speed-endurance but you should also think about how you will continue to improve both of these areas over a long period of time.

Before you set about planning your training programme you need to decide on a short term and long term goal. Most runners find it easy to set the short term goal but don't look any further than that. Ask a runner what they want to do and you will hear responses such as "I want to run the next Virgin London Marathon"  or "I want to complete a 10k this summer". But what will they do after that? Surely running doesn't stop there! Most runners will set the next goal once they have achieved the first but why not set a series of goals so that you can put some long term plans in place and then progress your training over a long period to keep yourself motivated and enjoying your running? If you always do the same you will stay the same so start planning to be the best you can be and think about how long it may take to get there!

By doing that your interval training sessions can be mapped out  and help you towards those targets. Go on! Be brave....what events would you like to do in five years time?!

As you work towards a race or an event your interval training can become more "event specific" and as you work towards getting fitter year on year and towards your long term goal you will be able to handle more repetitions and so more volume.

Short term progressions

At the start of a phase of training you will probably work towards building an aerobic base. This may consist of some Long Slow Distance (LSD) and possibly some interval training where the pace during the repetitions is quicker than it is on the slow or steady runs but the intervals of easy running or walking between allow you to recover slightly and so hold your form and maintain the quicker pace.

Some typical sessions could be:

6 x 3 minutes of fast running with 90 secs slow running or walking in between

4 X 5 minutes of fast running with 2 mins slow running or walking in between

As you get closer to your short term goal and your speed endurance improves your mission should be to run the repetitions at the pace you are aiming to hit in your target race in so, over time, you should be covering more ground during each effort.

If you are aiming to run 25 minutes for 5km (5 mins per kilometre) you may start the training phase running less than a kilometre during the 5 minute efforts but as you get closer you should be moving towards that 1km marker. You may want to do the repetitions measured on distance rather than time, in which case, 4 x 1km may start off with your times hitting 5:10 for each effort and over time you speed them up to do them in 5:00 per effort.

Once you are in the final three weeks of this phase of training and race day is looming you may want to cut back on the number of repetitions so that you can actually run them faster than race pace. 4 X 1km may become 3 X 1km but you are running as hard as you can during each effort to cover the distance in 4:50. If you know you only have 3 efforts to run, when you are used to doing 4 you will be able to push hard on each one as the session will seem short and easy. You should keep the recoveries the same so that, on race day, 5 minutes for each kilometre feels easy and you are able to string 5 of them together, no problem!

Preparing for race specific sessions

These faster, shorter sessions may feel easier in that they are over more quickly but they are very demanding and will feel more intense than those that you have been doing during your build-up phase. You should ensure that you conserve the energy needed before the session, plan your nutrition and use recovery methods afterwards. Immediately before the session you should warm up thoroughly and cool down afterwards. You should run these sessions in the shoes that you are going to use for your target race or event. If you have developed an efficient running style where you strike with a flat foot or on your forefoot and you land with your foot underneath your hips you may want to use a minimal or race shoe that will not only allow you to run more economically but condition your muscles, tendons and ligaments for the hard race you are working towards.

Long term progressions

Where the key to improving in the short term is increasing the speed of your repetition sessions, the long term progression should be frequency and volume. Year on year you will stay motivated and focussed on your running if you are improving your fitness. If you take the sample sessions above and progress them they could take the following course:

Year 1 - 6 X 3 mins/ 4 X 5 mins

Year 2 - 6 X 4 mins/4 X 6 mins

Year 3 - 5 X 5 mins/ 3 X 10 mins

Each of these sessions are made up of efforts over the same duration but you can alter the duration to distance (as suggested) or you can alter them to be run over different times and distances during the same session. For example:

1 X 1 min, 1 X 2 mins, 1 X 3 mins, 1 X 4 mins, 1 X 5 mins, 1 X 4 mins, 1 X 3 mins, 1 X 2 mins, 1 X 1 min equals the same duration as 5 X 5 mins. This adds variety to your programme and keeps things interesting!

So, now that you understand how to progress your sessions over the short and long term you can start to design your training programme. Good luck for a long and rewarding running life!