Q How do speed sessions benefit me? I’ve tried things like 400m repetitions at 5K pace, but as I never seem to be out of breath at the end of the session, surely they’re not doing me any good?
Many people think that they only need to do interval sessions to improve their outright speed. And while quicker times are one of the benefits of intervals, they’re also vital for runners who simply want to improve their endurance. That’s why not every interval session needs to be a lung-burster.
To improve your endurance, you need to become very efficient at utilising oxygen. Interval training is a superb form of developing this ability. This is where longer intervals, run at race pace (anything from 5K pace for 400m intervals, up to half-marathon pace for mile repetitions) can really help. Just because you’re not gasping for breath when you finish, it doesn’t mean that a session hasn’t been helpful.
If you try a session that’s geared towards improving your basic speed, and do it correctly, you’ll be out of breath at the end. Try short distances with short recoveries. For example, if you’re finding sessions too easy, you could run 6 x 400m with only 20-30 seconds rest. If this is still too easy, increase the number of repetitions. Alternatively, reduce the recovery time between each interval – start with a one-minute recovery, and reduce that by five seconds each time.
Heart rate monitors are also useful, because they’ll give you an idea of how hard you’re really working. Running repetitions at 85-95 per cent of your working heart rate is ideal for outright speed, while 85 per cent is good for speed endurance.
—Bud Baldaro, RW Contributing Editor