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Is Interval Training Something for Every Runner?

“I feel the need for the speed”, so let’s hit those speedy intervals, or perhaps the cinema beckons…

Yet is interval training for every runner and I guess the question is should you be doing them?  If so how and where to start.  So let’s take a look at what they are and the variations.
Interval Training, or Repetition sessions are so often misunderstood and when purely executed they become ‘junk miles’ and in doing so rapidly increase the risk of injury or over training.

Good examples of an Interval session would be to visit your local athletics track and start running reps.  So a straightforward example would be

6 x 400 meters with say recovery of an easy jogged lap.

The more experienced and fitter will be adding sets.

Two sets of 6 x 400 meters, with 45 secs recovery between reps.  The recovery between the sets could be 4 mins.

Some Common Misconceptions

Let’s start with the biggest mistake. Intervals should not be run as fast as you can.  Run till you drop sessions are a waste of time.  The second, mistake many make is an assumption that because they can say, race 5k then they can go straight into a set that equates to that same distance. Again, this is likely to induce fatigue something that is not your friend.  If you teach your body to run into fatigue then it will learn to recognise the signs of what’s to come and protect itself.  It does this by slowing you down – what good is that?

Intervals are also about you, so in trying to keep up with someone faster than you is again not such a good thing. Believe it or not a sub 16 minute 5k runner can run the same session as a 25 minute 5k runner – one will just finish sooner.  (That has it’s advantages as they can get the kettle on!)  So it’s really important to run your pace.
For me, if you plan your session correctly then yes, interval training is something for everyone.

Why Interval Train?

There are clear benefits.  Yes, if run correctly with a little planning they help develop speed or your ability to keep speed going for longer.
They also help with your running form, especially towards the end of a race when let’s be honest, even the best can get a little raggedy.
Part of this speed development comes from the fact that you are also developing your bodies ability to be effective in utilising and clearing lactate acid.  All of these things the body will adapt too.  It takes a little time though.

The body’s adaptation process takes place on recovery days and during rest time, including sleep. An exhausted body will not adapt as quickly as one that is only a little fatigued – something that should always be remembered.  So interval sessions that leave wanting more, with only a little fatigue can be a good thing. This will ensure your body will learn and train itself to recover and adapt effectively.

So all in all in you may not always feel quicker finishing an interval session, yet your body is adapting. Therefore your efficiency improves and you are faster!

Is Interval Training Something For Everyone? You don't have to be a youngster to benefit either.

How Fast Should Intervals Be?

Here’s the thing.  No faster than your current known race pace. So if you run 20 minutes for a 5k then that would be 2 minutes for 500 meter intervals.  Conversely, if you are looking to develop a 50 minute 10k race time then that would be 5 minutes per kilometer, or 2:30 for each 500.

There is no point in running intervals at a speed your body cannot yet run over a given race distance

The rule here is fairly straightforward only run intervals at a given and known race speed that is current.  There are plenty of charts and phone apps to help you calculate your race pace from a known time and distance.  They are reliant on your fitness being spot on for each distance that you are predicting though.

There is a growing argument and in fairness something I have always believed in. This is that running your intervals a little slower than race pace can also be highly effective.  There is so much less fatigue.  I would also add that you can run your intervals to heart rate, although for this I would definitely recommend a Lactate Test.  (Check out AcceleratePerformance.co.uk)

So How Many Intervals Should you Run?

This very much does depend on your experience and also how much you currently train.  You also have to remember if you are not used to running weekly session at your race pace then your body will find these hard. As a result you will be moving quicker so pushing harder. Your range of movement will increase so stretching things out a little more.  So some caution is a good thing.  Fartlek, is a great precursor to hitting the track.

If this is your first interval session then play safe.

Consider your first session to be half the distance of the race distance the session is designed to help.  Perhaps a little less for 10k specific training.  You can build the distance every couple of weeks. In addition start with one session per week, no more.  You are looking for progressive adaptation not progressive speed!

What About Recovery Time Between Each Interval?

This is always a tough one.  For 5km and 10km pace try halving your interval time. So if you are running 2-minute 400’s then start with a minute easy walk / jog / walk recovery.  Yes, as you become fitter and more used to this work load you can drop the recovery time.  You will find fitter athletes will require as little as 30 seconds.

What About Over-Distance Sessions?

These can be highly effective. Simply this means that you are going to run a total interval distance greater than the race distance the session is designed for. In doing so you will build into this style of session over time.
It is also worth considering dropping the target time a little and / or increasing the recovery time. Another option is to split the session into two or perhaps three sets, ensuring plenty of recovery time.  The key is to not just to keep the pace the same, also the effort. This is where a heart rate monitor can come in handy. As your effort increases so does your heart, as with fatigue towards the end of a set.

Are Multi-Paced Sessions a Good Idea?

Yes! They are also good fun.  Again another type of session to build into.
You could start with two sets. The first set at 10km pace and then the second set at you 5km, with shorter distanced intervals.
Another way of using multi-paced sets is to run a longer rep at say 10km pace and then a shorter rep at 5km pace, alternating these as you go through.

Multi-Paced Session:
4 x 1km @ current 10km pace, 60 seconds walk / jog / walk recovery
4 mins walk / jog / walk recovery between sets
6 x 600mts @ current 5km pace, 60 seconds walk / jog / walk recovery

In Summary

The key remains don’t become overly fatigued from these type of sessions as there simply is no gain.  This is the human body we are talking about not a racing car. As long as you plan ahead and for each and every session you should see improvement. This really does mean ensuring the correct current pacing is utilised, not your ‘wish’ pace.  With newcomers to Interval sessions using differing race paces as your target at different sessions is a great way to start.  Then you can focus in on your race specificity.

Yes, I do think that interval training can offer something for every runner.

Interval Try Out Time: If you would like to join in a session for the first time, then why not come along on the 2nd June 2022. We will be running a coached session that will be tailored to every attendee based on experience and their current racing pace.  You can also test a pair of Carbon Shoes should you want too.  Details HERE >>

Carbon Shoe Test Day & Interval Session

About Run Stu

Accelerate Performance and Healthy Run Coaching, Heart rate, Periodisation, Strength & Stability. Business owner @accelerateuk Coach to #TeamAccelerate The open road, fell, moorland and high places. Sunny days, days the wind blows and rain is horizontal - 'You're Alive!' Twitter and Instagram: @RunStuCoach

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