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The Basics of Endurance Sport -Part 3 Interval Training

By Tom Daugherty

Read This First…
Remember before starting any exercise program to consult your doctor.

Interval training, sometimes called “speed work” is one of the most commonly practiced regimens of the distance runners arsenal. But it is also a key area, that if practiced incorrectly, amounts to little more than wasted time & effort. This is one area where many athletes & coaches make huge mistakes by not understanding the purpose & focus of this type of workout.

The training pyramid

Before you can have even the slightest idea of how to design your interval workouts you MUST know the race distance & pace you are ultimately gearing toward. The body is very specific in its adaptation and interval workouts should be done in a very specific fashion. Most often athletes & coaches haphazardly design or sometimes just copy their friends workouts leading to non-specific bodily adaptations that will have little impact on the ACTUAL race they are preparing for. Therefore, be certain of your goal race distance and be very familiar with the pace you are currently capable of at that specific distance.

Now, interval work is simply breaking the race into smaller parts and attempting to finish the parts at your goal race pace (which should be an attainable new pace). Keep in mind, the longer the intervals (up to race distance) AND the shorter the recoveries between intervals the more specific the workout. For example, a miler doing 10 X 200 meter repeats is NOT as specific as doing 4 X 500 meters (assuming equal recovery). Theoretically speaking, a workout of 1 X (race distance), at race pace, would be the perfect workout. Now, Start with something you know you can do and progress with workouts that progressively breaks your goal race into longer and fewer parts, with as little recovery as you can muster, then as the season progresses you should be able to lengthen the interval distance as well as shorten the recovery times between.

Your actual race performances determine the pace you run interval workouts. You may run slightly faster than race pace but nothing is gained by running a lot faster. Remember, the body is very specific in its adaptation. The body uses energy very differently at differing durations & intensities. Therefore, if you find your race pace to be easy to hold for each interval then perhaps you should be shortening the recovery OR lengthening the interval NOT speeding up the interval! When your race times come down… THEN you will have a new interval pace!

Tips & Warnings

  • Stick to your race pace for the GOAL race distance
  • Progressively lengthen the interval
  • Progressively shorten the recovery between

By Tom Daugherty

For a large part of my life I studied everything I could get my hands on to improve my own running performances. With over 30 years experience and national class performances of my own, I am well suited to get you well on your way to some awesome PR’s! I’ve studied exercise physiology, got well acquainted with some of the top runners in the world (World record holders & #1 rankers – picking their brains to understand what they were doing) and was even a subject in a university lab study (“lab rat”) on runners. Where, by the way, I recorded a Max VO2 of 78 and body fat composition of just a smidge over 4%. Anyway, let’s get on with the training, as that’s what we’re here for!


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