Interval Training

Hi, im new to running.

I have been trying to encorporate intervals, into my training (I am training for the Hastings Half Marathon) as I have been told this is the best way to improve your speed, for long distance running.

I have been using mydigitalcoach, which has been brilliant, however I am struggling with how many times a week I should be doing interval training, as opposed to 'long distance' runs and at what stage in my training should I be doing interval training?

Help me please! image


  • Are you following a training plan? how many days a week do you run? how far can you run on your long run? and what do you want to achieve, to get round running all the way, or to improve your time?

  • If you are just starting out, or doing intervals for the first time, its generally best to keep to one session per week.

    Intervals run at a fast pace can be tough on your body - more than you can sometimes tell at first - so its an idea to give yourself a few weeks to get used to the pounding before considering 2 sessions per week. Even then, your other session should maybe something like hill reps or shorter intervals.

    As BR1an says though -  need more info on you as a runner to give proper advice!

  • Katy - as a beginner, you shouldn't really be doing interval training. I was advised by a physio, who is also a running coach, that in your first year of running, you shouldn't try any speed work at all. It's quite tough on your legs so you need to have conditioned them first with lots of miles in order to prevent injury. I've read similar advice in a couple of books too, the essence being no speed work until you've had a year of running consistently 16-20 miles per week or have banked 300 miles.  Once you're at this level, you can start speed work with easier drills such as hill repeats or fartlek, once a week.

    What I'd suggest is work hard on building your base mileage. It sounds counterintuitive but the more slow miles you run, the faster you'll become overall.  Run at least three times a week, four would be better, and make one of your shorter runs around 30 - 45 seconds faster than your slow pace.  

  • Agree. Don't worry about interval training if you're new to running. Just build up time on your feet and enjoy it. After the marathon then maybe start a program involving some speedwork, maybe for a 5k to start with. See the training section and Moraghan's thread on  training for the correct distance for more.

  • Thank you guys thats helpful, I will make take at look at the training section.

    What I probably should have said is I am new to running, but not new to exercise, I do consider myself to be of a high level of fitness, so didnt think that Interval training would have too much stress on my body (I might be wrong!)

     The problem im having is, generally sprinting im fast, and I can run for a long time (I have already run 1 half marathon) but over long distance im very very slow!!

    I generally run at the same pace the whole run, but when I try to speed up, I get tired alot quicker then if I run further but at the same pace! does this make any sense at all?

  • Katy - however fit you are, as a beginner you really shouldn't put your body under additional stress by speed-training. As mentioned, this was advice I was given by a physio. He said it frequently leads to over-training injuries. Increase your distances, your time on your feet, have one faster (but not fast) a week, and see what happens. Don't forget, you're a beginner, it won't all happen at once. Running takes time.
  • Katy - you may be fit, but are your knees, hips, ankles and associated muscle structure ready to be pounded to beyond and back by fast intervals? Are your joints sufficiently toughened and conditioned to take the impact? Intervals do tend to hurt a bit!

    If you can already run half marathon distance than you are probably ok to begin some form of intervals - as long as it wasnt just the one race, with no training!

    I would assume that you already run regularly and have done so for some time?

  • Hi

    Hope you don't mind me joining this thread but I too have just started interval training and after reading some of the advice on here, not sure if it is something I should leave for a while.  I started running in April 2010 (9 months ago) as a total beginner, and in July did a 5K race, in September a 10K race, and am doing my first half marathon in 5 weeks.  I joined a local gym a couple of weeks ago and the PT there suggested I incorporate some interval training in my short runs (twice a week).  I do one minute fast, then one minute slow, for 20 minutes.  I've done it for a couple of weeks and did see an improvement in my shorter distances time, however my first long run (since I started them) today and my legs just felt more tired than usual.   I'm not sure if it was just one of those days or whether the interval training is too soon for me and I need to strengthen my legs with distance first. 

    Any advice is greatly appreciated


    JESS x

  • 1 min fast 1 slow is speedwork. If you're training for a half marathon then tempo runs would be more suitable. After a decent warm up (15-20 mins) try a mile at your intended race pace, then a minute or two recovery. Aim to build up to 5 or 6 miles of this (probably not time in 5 weeks).

     It's hard to say though without knowing how much running you are doing.

  • Thanks Chubby Bloke.  That's great - I'll give that a go.

    I'm averaging around 20 - 25 miles a week : a 4 mile, a 5 mile (mid week), long run around 10 - 12 miles on Saturday, then an easy run between 3 to 5 miles on a Sunday

    THanks again


  • Maybe incorporate a couple of  tempo miles in your 5 miler? It could be worth building a few strides into your 4 miler or towards the end of your Sunday run as well.
  • AHh brilliant - thanks for that.  I'll try that this week

    J xxxx

  • Katy - for a half marathon event, you should be amore focused on improving what is called your "Lactate Threshold". This is the amount of lactic acid in your blood created as a by product of burning blood sugar (glycogen) and oxygen.

    The higher the concentration of lactic acid you can withstand at higher heart rates, the longer you can sustain faster running.

    The best way to train your body to cope with lactate in the blood is by running at speeds which lift your heart to approx. 85-88% of maximum heart rate. This speed is beyond the point where you can hold a conversation. You'll probably struggle to speak more than a couple of words at a time, or short phrases. But it is less intense than feeling like you've got to stop at any second because you are going to hurl.

    Lactate Threshold, or "Tempo" runs, should be done at a speed that you could consistently maintain for about 30minutes. Some have described this as 'comfortably hard'. A good tempo run will allow a mile or so to warm up, 30 mins of hard running, and a mile or so to cool down. This does not produce anywhere near the levels of stress on muscles, tendons and joints as interval running does.

    If you find 30 mins at these speeds to hard in the beginning, you have two choices. Either slow down a bit, or turn the 30 mins into 3 x 10 min chunks, and in between you can run at a much slower recovery pace for a couple of mins before starting the next fast section.

    A good balanced running programme will have you doing several types of runs:

    - recovery runs (65-75% of MHR)

    - longer runs (75-85% of MHR) - some people argue for doing these even slower and I can see these sense in what they say

    - tempo runs (85-88% of MHR)

    - interval running (88-95% of MHR) - only recommended for serious training for experienced athletes and those focusing on shorter distance racing (5Ks, 10Ks etc)

    Hope this helps. image

  • I have found this page a great help, thank you all!
  • Yeah I have found it a help too - thanks!

    I have just been bumbling around running for just over a year; maybe running 16 miles a week when I have had the time and have completed a couple of 10k races. I am entered in the Great Manchester 10k in May and want to beat my time from last year so I have been trying out some intervals whenever I run on the treadmill (about once a week as I hate to waste my gym membership!). I find it helps cure the boredom of running on a treadmill, but also I have found it hurts my legs! I have been running for a couple of km slow at 10.5kph then doing increasing 2 minute intervals of up to 17kph which feels like it is the fastest I can manage. My hrm has me going well over what should be my maximum hr for my age! Is this usual? Also, my legs ache a bit for a few days after - I am 40 and was quite unfit up until last year so maybe I am overdoing it a bit...
  • Great info Guys, this has helped me a lot. Thanks.

  • Good book: 'Run Less, Run Faster' (Amazon)

  • The reason to take it easy on interval training is

    1. It increases the chance of injury


    2. It increases the chance of overtraining.

    Is it either, or both of these?

  • Well I'm doing intervals once a week for my HM training (Windsor in May). I have mixed feelings about intervals: they are MEAN and they are NO fun but I can see my speed picking up overall.

    I'm only doing them now because I'm already trained for the distance, having done a HM last week. I did not train for distance and speed all at once. (Hurty). With my second HM I am aiming to get under 2hrs (from a pesky 2hrs 2mins). Been running seriously about 5 years, aged 40, want to be running when I'm 70, NEVER doing a marathon...)

    Every third week I do hill repeats instead of intervals (yey). I also do a tempo run (4-6 miles), a long run (8-12 miles) and a little recovery run (gossiping with a friend) each week, so I've taken all the advice and I think it's pretty balanced. Apart from the cross-training. Can't be arsed with cross-training (lazy bad girl).

    I would advise that you listen to your body.  I think experience tells you the difference between "tired because I'm getting fitter" and "tired because I'm wearing my body down too much".

    I do find the intervals tire me out for my longer runs but I need to slow them down anyway. So I'll keep going for now. If anything's going to give me injuries though it's the intervals. I tried them in last year's training, found that they wiped me out too much, so I dropped them. Feel better this year, but again, intervals are taking me to the edge of my energy. And I will drop em like hot cakes if I feel it's going too far. 

    I think there's a halfway house though, (which I might go for if intervals and me don't get on again) - perhaps you could just carry on with your normal runs and add a small speed element to one or two of them. A minute's sprint at the end of a long run. A couple of 5-min blocks of extra effort here and there (fartlekky fun). Hills are also a form of speed work don't forget - your legs won't know the difference.

    No matter how fit you are before you start running, it's fitness-for-running you need to build. I have been AMAZED at how my body keeps adapting. Every year I feel better and better and stronger and stronger - and I'm the other side of 40! Running has taught me so many life lessons and taking the 'long view' in life is one of the most important.

    Sorry gone all preachy. I'm off for a donut.



  • Some good advice on here... I'm just about to start interval training this week so will be interesting to see how I get on.
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