Can you imaging winning the gold medal in the 5,000 meter run at the Olympic Games? What about the 10,000m run? Or how about just trying to finish a marathon? Now imagine winning the gold medal in all three of those events during the same Olympics, all within the same week, while setting an Olympic record in each race. And if that’s not impressive enough, the Olympic marathon will be your first ever marathon.
Sounds impossible, right?
Emil Zatopek, nicknamed the “Czech Locomotive,” became the first and only person to accomplish this. And he did it at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympic. In February 2013, Runner‘s World Magazine named him the “Greatest Runner of All Time.” He was known for creating a brutally tough training method known as interval training.
In this article I want to explore with you what interval training is and how it will help you make your wildest fitness dreams come true.
What is Interval Training?
Interval training is a type of running workout that focuses on short, high intensity effort followed by a relaxed recovery jog. The workout should leave you fatigued, but if you stick to the recovery pace, not completely spent. This workout is a great way to break the monotony of long runs. The higher intensity also helps burn more calories in a shorter period of time while improving aerobic training adaptations at a faster rate.
Two adaptations that interval training improves on are the body’s lactate threshold and VO2 max. My last article, Lactate: The Great Misunderstanding, does a great job on explaining what our lactate threshold is and how it shouldn’t be confused with lactic acid. In short, increasing this threshold helps delay the onset of fatigue. VO2 max is a measurement of how much oxygen our body is able to intake and use. Improving our VO2 max helps our body sustain aerobic (running) efforts longer and allows us to run faster. Below are a three tips and workouts to help get you started with interval training.
Your 3 Basic Interval Training Tips
- Find Your Fitness Level – A lot of workouts will describe running at “your 5k pace” or your “half marathon pace.” You don’t necessarily have to know your pace for every distance out there but running a 5k or a mile time trial will help give you an idea of where you stand.
- Practice Pacing – The first tip says “run at your *blank* pace.” If you can’t hit your times the workout will suffer and you won’t realize the maximum benefits. Interval training is about a fast, yet CONTROLLED, effort. Make sure you can control your pace.
- Stay Disciplined – Some workouts can get repetitive when you are running 8 x 400m or 10 x 200m repeats. These workouts will seem easy at first with a recovery jog in between. The key is to use the whole recovery time and stick to that pace, even if it feels slow! Trust me, you’ll wish you had later in the workout.
Interval Training Workouts
- 5-8 x 400 meter repeats at 5k race pace with 400m recovery jog. This is a great workout that helps create faster leg turnover. The not-too-short, not-too-long distance also provides a great interval to practice your pacing.
- 6-10 x 200 meter repeats at mile pace with 200m recovery jog. This workout does a great job targeting those “fast twitch” muscles and simulates the end of a race. This is a workout where you must practice your discipline.
- Mile Repeats. This can be run at a number of paces and should respect the race distance you are training for. Mile repeats help give your body a taste of what it’s like to run fast for a long distance. It is a staple of high school cross country and a must for any marathoner.
Before I go, I want to mention a rule of thumb when it comes to weekly mileage. To help prevent injuries and over-training, the amount of interval training in your plan shouldn’t exceed 5% of your weekly mileage. That means if you run 20 miles a week, you should only run a total of a mile at a hard effort. This rule doesn’t include the recovery jog. So make sure you tweak the interval workouts to fit your training plan or better yet, consult a coach to help you!
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Until next time, stay fit, stay healthy.