One of the workouts I like to give my runners is applicable from the very beginning of a training block to the near end, and it is also suitable for runners of all abilities. The workout is a set of specifically timed intervals I call “On / Off’s”.
The workout consists of a period of “On” running, generally a race pace or faster effort, with a period of “Off” running, which can be a recovery effort of varying degrees. Depending upon the ability of the runner or where they are in their training block, the workouts are listed as the following:
:30 / :60
1:00 / 3:00
1:00 / 2:00
1:00 / 1:00
2:00 / 2:00
3:00 / 1:00
The differences among these interval sessions are the ratio of time “On” compared to time “Off”, so some workouts can be short efforts of faster running with longer periods of recovery, while others are longer efforts of faster running with shorter periods of recovery. Again, the workouts are given dependent upon the individual runners abilities, for what distance they are training, and where they are in a training block. The intervals will also be listed as either 4 x, 6 x, 8 x, etc., or a specific distance such as 4 miles, 6 miles, 8 miles.
The benefits of these workouts are varied, but primarily teach the body to efficiently utilize and flush lactic acid consumption in the muscles, while increasing speed and endurance. Psychologically, these sessions compel the runner to keep pushing as the fatigue slowly builds, whether from effort or starting too fast, as is often felt during a distance race.
As the runner gets deeper into the workouts, they will likely notice their heart rate spiking earlier during the faster effort, while the recovery will take longer to achieve, sometimes leading into the next hard effort. Muscles will continue to fatigue and concentrating on efficient form becomes increasingly important. Overall, the warning signs we often feel as a race wears on are felt towards the end of this workout, but the recoveries allow for the desired physical adaptations to occur without necessitating extra recovery as a race effort does.
The trick with this workout is to run the first harder efforts comfortably and not push too hard with the stored up energy, as the fatigue will continue to build with each successive effort and become harder towards the end. A most successful workout will leave the runner fatigued at the end of the last intervals, but the pace for each hard effort will be relatively similar. If the runner starts drastically losing speed during the hard efforts, it’s likely they ran the first intervals too hard and compromised the desired adaptations.
From personal experience with these workouts, I find them to be great confidence builders as the recoveries make the efforts physically and psychologically bearable, but the total distance covered at a quick pace is highly encouraging. I’ve certainly felt the muscular strain from these workouts the next day, letting me know the effort was considerable, but also felt the strength built during longer endurance based workouts in the weeks to come.
Whether easing into a training block and getting accustomed to faster efforts or putting in considerable speed and distance deeper into training, these intervals apply to all runners and achieve valuable physical and psychological adaptations.