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Tips for Starting an Interval Program

Aug 17, 2007
If you are a runner and not doing interval training at least part of your racing season, you are not even close to performing to your potential. Here are some basic guidelines and recommendations to get you underway to faster times through intervals!

1. Establish your endurance base first. 2-3 months of consistent training, 8 miles per week minimum, low to moderate intensity.

2. You need a stopwatch and a measured distance. I recommend 400-800 meters if you are training for distances of 5K and farther. If you do not know, 400 meters is one lap around the local high school track.

3. Beginners should do no more than one interval session per week. I suggest mid-week, which allows sufficient recovery before a weekend race or long run.

4. Shoes- I like to run intervals in the shoes that I race in. Light weight with less support. This is a relatively short workout.

5. Pace- Slightly faster than your 5K pace. If you are a 9 minute miler, your goal pace for 400 meter intervals is to keep them under 2:15. Be conservative at first- 2:05-2:10 range.

6. The single most common mistake is getting carried away and running the first couple too fast. The goal is to keep them all within 5 seconds of each other.

7. Your recovery as a beginner should be 2 minutes.

8. You have 4 options for making your interval workout tougher:
- increasing the number of intervals
- decreasing the rest interval
- increasing the length of each interval
- running them faster

9. The following is a sample 6 week progression that a 9 minute miler might apply to interval training using all 4 options.

Week 1: 6 x 400 in 2:05-2:10 2 min rest
Week 2: 6 x 400 in 2:05-2:10 90 sec rest
Week 3: 8 x 400 in 2:05-2:10 2 min rest
Week 4: 8 x 400 in 2:05-2:10 90 sec rest
Week 5: 4 x 800 in 4:20-4:25 2 min rest (longer rest is ok for this workout)
Week 6: 6 x 400 in 2:00-2:05 2 min rest

10. I like to recycle back to one specific workout to test fitness. In this case it is the 6 x 400 workout. After 5 weeks you should find that you are able to run your intervals at a much faster pace. By this time you will have developed a feel for pace so run
this workout hard and see what you have. You should find after a few short weeks that you are much faster, and more importantly stronger (your ability to maintain a faster pace)!

Regular interval training leaves you with any number of options. For example, many runners like running ladder workouts. 200 meter, 400 meter, 600 meter, 800 meter, than back down, rather than running the same distance all the way through each workout.

Another word of advice- pick out a key race to peak for and schedule your intervals accordingly. After your big race, back off a bit before rebuilding another progression.
About the Author
Dave Elger is a well respected health and fitness authority now working for the Wasatch Altitude Training Center in Mountain Green, Utah. For Wasatch Altitude Training Center.
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