Improvement by interval sessions

When hearing about interval training and interval sessions these days, you may get the impression that this type of training is something new. This is not the case, because different types of interval training is known to have been used since the 1930’s.

Emil Zatopek
Emil Zatopek (Picture from Wikipedia)

One of the famous long distance runners who used interval sessions systematically, was Emil Zatopek (1922-2000). He set several world records on distances from 5000 m up to 30 km. The highlight in his career as a long distance runner came when he won 3 gold medals during the Olympic Games in 1952, in Helsinki. In the period from 1948 to 1952 he won every race above 10 000 m which he participated in.

He had some “cruel” interval sessions that are not suitable for normal people, and hardly enough for top athletes even today. During two weeks he ran 50 x 400 m with one minutes break between, every morning, and the same in the evening, every day. The speed is not mentioned, but it is reason to believe it was quite high. This meant two hours of effective running in high speed every day! He was one out of very few who could take this amount and intensity of training, and it took him to the top among athletes. Several well known long distance runners have probably tried to copy Zatopek, but without success.

What is interval training?

Interval training is just a common term for training performed by having repeated sessions with high speed, with easier running in the periods between these sessions. There are numeruos variants of interval sessions, only limited by your imagination.

Anyway, if you shall take advantage from interval training, you need as a start to be able to run 30 – 45 min at an easy speed and without breaks or walking.

Long intervals

Long intervals increases the aerobic capacity. The purpose is to improve the transport of oxygen to the working muscles. When doing intervals it is smart to control speed and intensity, and to avoid running too fast. If you run too fast it can destroy your endurance. To do this correct requires some experience, so I recommend that you run somewhat slower than you think, rather than too fast, during the intense sessions. Myself, I always used to watch out so I was able to run the last sessions faster than the first, and I could always have been running 1-2 more sessions without any problem.

Ingrid marathon

My experience from my time as the best long distance runner in the world, is that my hard sessions were performed in the high part of zone 3, around my threshold limit, (meaning zone 3 on the 1-5 scale for training intensity zones). A pulse watch may be of great help, but then it is important to know what your threshold pulse actually is. The max pulse only tells you what your max is, it is not relevant and stay away from focusing on it.

Recovery during the easy/pause session is just as important as the speed for the intense session. If you are not ready for an intense session after the pause (which shall be active by jogging/easy running), you are running too fast in the intense part.

Short intervals

Short intervals is another form of interval sessions, which is suitable also off season. Short intervals means many short, intense sessions, with short breaks in between. I did a lot of these during my time. Then I could run in higher speed than my normal speed, which was quite fun, but the pauses were then very short, so if the pulse became too high, was not able to sun all the sessions I had planned. Meaning that I watched out so I never became “acid” due to accumulation of lactic acid. This is so important!

Interval training is a good way of training if you want progress in endurance sports. It is however a problem that too many are training intervals too hard (too high pulse), and/or too frequently.

Where your are performing the interval sessions is up to you, but I recommend to have a good variation between terraing, track and road. Variation is always a key word within training.

Good luck!

Read more about interval training and training for running here:

Author: Ingrid Kristiansen

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