How to Run Your First Interval Workout

by Coach Ashley Sollenberger

3 key points on how to run your first interval workout:

  • Find your pace
    • If unsure, start a little slower
    • Aim for consistent paces
    • Finish knowing you could have done 1 more
    • Outright exhaustion isn’t the goal
  • Good warmup
    • Easy running for 5-10 min or more
    • Dynamic stretching
    • Some shorter fast bursts to race HR
  • Use a track or uniform stretch of road
    • Consistent pace requires a consistent surface and distance
    • Useful to compare efforts over weeks or months
    • Accurate distance
how to run your first interval workout

In high school, I remember hitting the track with my basketball teammates for a pre-season workout.  I had run around the soccer field in the fall, so I thought I was fit.  

We ran around the track as if each effort was a race, I had no idea how to gage my effort, other then I knew the workout was to be hard.  Surely the coach would be impressed if I beat my teammates for each rep.  Faster, Faster, Faster, was the goal.

The workout was brutal.  With each effort, my legs became more Jell-O like, my shoulders burned, (why?), my lunges heaved, and all I could think about was the end.  When would the torture end?

After the last rep, I sluggishly walked to the gym, where we were going to play some basketball.  I needed new legs, as my current pair was in no shape for any form of basketball.  My first shot was at least 3 feet short of the basket and fell harmlessly to the floor.

I had run my first interval workout.

If you’d like to experience injury or extreme fatigue with minimal training benefit, please repeat my folly, if you’d like to experience an interval workout meant to build your speed and progress your endurance please read on.

Before talking on any type of interval workout you should have completed weeks to months of regular easy pace running.  The amount of preparation time will vary among athletes based on age and prior running experience.

Once you have completed the necessary base buildup, you are ready to begin developing speed through interval workouts.  For an endurance runner, an interval workout typically consists of efforts as short as 200 meters to as long as 2 miles or more.  These efforts are repeated several times and will enable the athlete to accumulate several miles of hard, fast running.  Again, the total distance will vary based on experience, and goal race distance.

Following are some tips to running a successful interval workout.

  1. Find your pace

Ideally, you would base your workout speed off of a current race, but beginners often won’t have raced yet.  Therefore pick a pace that feels comfortable for the first rep.  Once completed, did your breathing and heart rate stay under control?  If so, you may want to run your next rep a bit faster.  After each rep, consider how many more reps you plan to run.  When finishing the last rep, you should feel like you could have done one more, but you are glad you don’t have to do another.  As you gain experience, you will begin to learn how to adjust your paces for 200s or 400s, versus mile repeats.  Like everything, finding the right pace takes practice.  Be patient, and aim to slightly speed up during a workout, and slightly speed up from week to week until you find your pace.

  1. Get a good warmup

Adults should not step on the track and hit full speed.  Aim for at least 10-20 minutes of each, comfortable running to start.  Then transition to some dynamic warmup exercises.  Skips, high knees, but kicks, leg swings, squats, and lunges are all good movements.  These exercises gently loosen and stretch your muscles while also increasing your range of motion through your joints.  Finally, complete 4-6 reps of faster running over a short distance.  Anywhere from 40-80 meters.  This again moves your body through an increasing range of motion, and also helps to elevate your heart rate for the work to come.  Rest for 30-60 seconds between fast bursts.  

  1. Find the right location

A track is ideal.  Often the public can gain access to high school or college tracks.  A track ensures each rep is the same length and the same distance, which greatly helps in determining pace and effort.  If you don’t have a track nearby, find a stretch of road or trail that is flat, has limited curves, traffic, or other obstacles which could impede your running.  Set up a start and end point.  In a pinch, I will use road signs and telephone poles for these.  If I would plan, a mark with chalk would be perfect.  These markers are important as they establish a clear distance and allow you to focus on the run.  You cannot maintain a constant effort when repeatedly checking your watch.

Use these tips to run your first interval workout!  Train smart, run fast!

Published by fastmaster262

A nationally ranked master marathoner focusing on a holistic approach to training and coaching. Marathon PR 2:53:13 in 2018.

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