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Chasing Potential - Intro to Intervals

 Thursday, July 14, 2016

It's been almost a month since my last post (oops!) so my workouts have progressed a bit. Coach MK Fleming is helping me to prepare for a couple of summer 5K's, so I get to sprinkle in some intervals and "neuromuscular development" into my training. That's a complicated way of saying we're training my legs to get ready for faster training, without having too much intensity yet. My next two races are both hosted by Life Time so I'll get to see many of our Life Time Run trainees there and each will be a good fitness test. I'm planning to run the Twin Cities Orthopedics Minneapolis Torchlight 5k Run on July 20th, and the Gildan Esprit de 5K in Maple Grove on August 4th. As I'm getting started on a little interval training, here are some tips about intervals and how they can help you run faster. 

What is an interval? The term "interval workout" typically refers to a run with multiple hard segments separated by easy rest segments. For today's blog, I'll share three different categories of interval workouts, with three very different goals. As MK says, "we need to understand and respect the recovery... People tend to forget about it and get excited about speed. It's about moving through the recovery instead of lying down."

Walk/Run intervals: You don't have to be a "serious" runner to do intervals. Walk/run intervals are a great way to get started as a newbie, or to include if you're increasing your long run duration. Check out my "Running Recipe" article for a walk/run interval progression for new runners. Adding walk intervals between run segments is also a great way to increase your long run duration without excess stress. For example, a 1 minute walk interval every 10 minutes will stress different muscles, and can help delay fatigue. Some runners enjoy using this method to break up the run, while others would rather just run. Either option can work depending on your preference!

Threshold Intervals: There are many different "thresholds" in running. Each represents an intensity where the body transitions between different systems. At Life Time, we focus mostly on the Anaerobic Threshold (or AT), which is easy to measure during an Active Metabolic Assessment. AT refers to the point at which the body switches fuel systems, from being a hybrid (burning fat + carbs) to essentially just burning carbohydrates. We can track the heart rate where this occurs, and base training zones off that. Interval workouts in this category typically have very short recovery, forcing your body to learn to buffer lactate quickly. Here is an example: 

  • Warm-up 10 minutes. 
  • Run 10x2:00 hard, where your HR creeps up just over AT. Recovery is just 1:00 between reps.
  • Cool-down 10 minutes. 

My college team did a version of that workout weekly during Cross-Country season. At 7,544' of elevation, it was painful but effective! It wasn't the "fastest" workout we ran, but the short recovery meant I was seriously sucking air between (and during) the later repetitions. I'm not ready for such short recovery now, but my weekly interval workout has some resemblance despite a slower pace and longer recovery time.

VO2max Intervals: The goal here is to increase the amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. These intervals are pretty fast but certainly not a sprint. The pace will typically be close to 5K pace (for intermediate - advanced runners). Recovery is longer than between threshold intervals, with 2:30-3:00 rest being typical. An example is: 

  • Warm-up 10 minutes
  • 5x3:00 at 5K race pace with 3:00 walk or jog recovery
  • Cool-down 10 minutes

My current interval workout is more of a re-introduction to intervals, as I'm not ready for the intensity of VO2max intervals or the short rest of threshold intervals. I'm just happy to be starting some faster-paced running! MK finds it a "good way to build without breaking" while I prepare for harder workouts down the road. 

  • Warm-up 10:00 slow jogging
  • 2:00 hard running followed by 2:00 super slow jogging
  • Repeat the 2x2 five more times for 24 minutes of intervals
  • Cool-down 10:00 slow jogging

Here is what my last week looked like. 

  • Monday - Gentle 30 + 5x30m accelerators + TA Marching: My boys needed to work off some extra energy, so I got all 3 kids outside. My oldest was on his bike and the 4 year old was running with me. Baby was in the stroller, so it was a wild "workout." We ran & rolled around the neighborhood for a bit, and then I parked the stroller on a soccer field while I got the boys to do "sprints" with me. That was as good as it would get for 30 minutes of movement + accelerators. I wrapped up the workout with TA Marching, which is another core exercise to fire up my TVA. I'll have to get a picture for a future blog post. 
  • Tuesday - Rest + TA Marching: Easy!
  • Wednesday - 2x2 intervals (see above): We had thunderstorms the night before and the trail was a wet mess of leaves & branches, but I did what I could with a few "hurdles" along the way. 

It was an absolutely beautiful morning for a run despite the debris!

  • Thursday - Rest Day + TA Marching: Done
  • Friday - 50/50 Sharpener: 20 min warm-up, then 50m sprint, 50m float until my form breaks down. 30 min cool-down. I'd hoped to do these on our local track, but I found it closed.

  • The nearby baseball field had to suffice, but it didn't feel as controlled and I had to guess on the distances. These are all about what MK described as "neurological stimulus that leads to speed."
  • Saturday - Recovery 30: Another busy day, so I squeezed in 10 minutes of jogging on the way to volunteer at the Life Time Tri - Minneapolis, and another 10 minutes on the way back to my car. As MK says "I'll take it!
  • Sunday - The SUPERAMAZING 1:35 Long Run - First Hour (HR cap 140), 1:00-1:20 (no HR cap), 1:20-1:35 (HR cap back to 140): This would have been far more amazing if it wasn't almost 80 degrees and humid. I kept the heart rate in check early, and tried to pick up the pace at 1:00 as allowed, but it was too hot to sustain it. I decided the smart choice was to back it down and just finish out the run at an easy pace. My average pace was still under 9:00, which makes it my best "hot day" long run yet. 

Enjoy your summer running! Feel free to comment on my #ChasingPotential Facebook posts on our Life Time Run page if you have questions or topics you'd like to see addressed.

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Rebekah Mayer, National Run Training Manager at Life Time Fitness. Follow me on Instagram at rebekah800, on Twitter at @rebekah_mayer and our team at @lifetimerun. Find us on Facebook at