Intervals: Good ’till your heart pops!

Hiya folks,

Since I managed to get myself into good enough shape to run a half-marathon, I’m trying to maintain and improve that level of fitness.  So far, I think I’m doing an ok job at it.  I was able to run the Tri-State Tough Mudder without too much difficulty, and aside from the scrapes and bruises, my body didn’t suffer too much for it.  But running can still be something of a task if it’s the same course day-in and day-out, so I like mixing it up.  My new favorite would probably be quarter-mile intervals.

I like this workout for a few reasons.  You’re not doing the same thing for too long a period (as opposed to say, your long run).  You’re running fast, which I think everyone would agree is more fun than running slow.  And at least for me, it’s a difficult enough workout that I can’t really think about anything else while I’m doing it.  This was a particularly nice factor this past week.  It had been a lousy week, I was feeling really stressed and pissed off, but about 45 minutes later, I was feeling SOOO much better.

Here are the basics:
1.  10 minute warm up run.  Don’t skip this.  I’m really bad about warming up, stretching, and cooling down, but I DO take the time to warm up before speed work, because you’re going to be pushing your muscles hard.
2.  Run a quarter-mile hard.  Hal Higdon recommends your 5-k pace.  I go for my desired 5-k pace, which is definitely faster than what I could sustain right now.  To track your distance, the easiest thing to do is head to a track or use a GPS enabled watch.  If you don’t have either of those, don’t worry about it, just find some metric that will keep you on track.  Maybe it’s 3-4 blocks, or 10-12 telephone poles along your route.  Use Google Maps/Google Earth or Garmin Connect to help plan it.
3.  Run two minutes easy.  By easy, I mean whatever pace that lets you recover enough to maintain your target pace during the 1/4 mile hard portion.  While you’ll get a bit more out of it if you keep jogging, you can certainly walk for this part.
4.  Repeat steps 2-3.  Increase the number of repeats by one each week.
5.  Do an easy 10 minute cool down run.  I find that as long as I actually make it part of the workout, I have an easier time performing this cool down.  I usually use the warm up to get me over to the river, then run the intervals up the river and back, and finish with an easy jog back home.

It’s interesting (to me anyway) to see the splits for this.  Here’s what I turned out on Friday (7 Intervals):

I had a hard time keeping my pace on the intervals.  Not really sure why.  The week before I did six intervals and I don’t think I missed my pace on any of them.  Also, I could really feel my lungs and heart working at the end of the quarter-mile.  I guess that’s just one of the vagaries of day-to-day running.  And of course you can see my recovery pace dropping.  But I felt damn good afterwards!

Anyway, if you find yourself bored with your daily loop, throw some speed work in there.  It’ll give you some variety, and with the blood pounding in your ears and your lungs heaving for more oxygen, you ought to forget whatever else it is that’s bugging you today.  Go get ’em!