Interval Runners UNITE!

When I attempted training for my 100-miler in 2017 I switched to interval running for long runs. While my training crapped out quite a bit which kept me from reaching 100 miles that day, I still have found myself continuing interval running. Whenever I try to pick up running again.

What is interval running? Well – it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some serious runners-for-speed do fast/faster running intervals to increase their lung capacity/oxygen intake. But in my world? (It may come a surprise to you, but I am not a runner-for speed.) It means doing your runs in walk/run intervals.

Now, if you go through training on something like a Couch to 5K app or through your local Fleet Feet store, they may encourage intervals to transition from being a Walker to being a Runner. But I have come to think that maybe it’s okay to just always be an interval runner, and here’s why:

The hardest thing about running consistently is the stress it causes your body doing the same repetitive step on a hard surface over and over again. Now, you can change that up yourself by doing train running which is one of my favorite benefits and why I make sure to always incorporate that into my training. With trail running, your surface (dirt/gravel/mud) is softer and the nature of the terrain means (rocks/roots/creeks) that ever step you take is different. If you run for 45 minutes in your neighborhood you’ve taken the same basic step on the same hard surface (remember: road asphalt is softer than concrete sidewalks) for 45 minutes. If you run on the trails you’re on dirt and ever step is a different length and a different angle as you dodge around obstructions.

Also bonus to trails? If you’re like me you can make a “Walk The Ups” rule and so you get built in walk breaks on every uphill!

But – if you can’t trail run? Intervals are another GREAT way to break up that monotony and to protect your body from the strain of the repetitive steps of running. Because when you switch to walking? You’re impact becomes softer AND your stride/step becomes different. So…if you’re out for 45 minutes of INTERVAL running, only 22.5 of that (depending on your intervals) is the same hard pounding running step.

I found that every long run done with intervals took less recovery time the next day than when I had been just running non-stop for the entire distance. And it’s because I broke up the time and distance between two different types of steps, one being a lower-impact step, so my knees and hips did not sustain as much repetitive hard impact.

For right now, as I do half-marathon training with Nikki, intervals are how we do every long run. We’ve stuck with 1-minute run/2-minute walk intervals for most of our training. We tried about a week of 2/2 intervals and she HATED it so we went back. Last Sunday we did 1:15 run/1:145 walk and it was fine too. We may stick with it.

For us, that should give us a 3-hour half marathon. But, I’ve known people who have done interval 2-hour half marathons. Intervals don’t equate to “slow” at all. It is a common misconception that all interval runners are going to be in the back of the back, and maybe a lot of them will, but I assure you that all interval runners are not the same. You may find you are FASTER doing intervals because you can sustain a faster jog and if you are a fast walker (like I am) then you may be surprised how fast you can be doing intervals.

Now…how do we do it? Well – we use this intervals app. It is set up for thinks like Squat intervals where you do like Jump Squats for 30 seconds and then rest for 8 rounds. BUT! You can make it a walk/run interval timer just fine and I like it because it gives us a 5 second warning (“5 seconds until run”) and then tells us EXACTLY what to do (“Run for 1 minute”) so that when you get tired you don’t have to stress out about not paying attention.

This is what our settings page looks like.

We just pick a high number of “sets” to get us through our longest run but you can set it exactly if you want. We can also do this same thing on our Garmin watches, but that’s not necessary. You just need a phone to do intervals and I find my voice prompt from my phone is loud enough in my side pocket of my leggings. Nikki can’t always hear it, but I can!

I’m still challenging myself once a week or so to do a full-run run because I would like to be able to run a 10K without stopping, but I’m not stressing out it right now. It if works into my schedule? I try to do a 3-mile run without stopping, but if I’m too tired or it doesn’t feel right? Then I just maybe change up my intervals a bit to do more running than walking.

The trick I’ve decided with Nikki – and something I want to apply to myself doubly – is that I want to enjoy this activity so I’ll do it forever. And interval running? Doesn’t stress me out. If I find I’m struggling? I just adjust the intervals, no big deal. It still gets me OUT the door doing SOMETHING and for now? That’s all that matters.

3 Comments

  • Hillary

    I am doing Couch to 5k and I am finding the intervals really, really helpful to keep me motivated and going, and for it not to feel like it is just too hard to get running again.

    Now if the weather would just cooperate so I could actually go outside and run.

  • Samantha

    I briefly had a (free) subscription to Runners World, and one of the main guru guys who writes a lot for them is all about the intervals. He trains professional athletes and has them alternate between running and walking. Of course, I hear HIIT is all the rage now. It seems like several local exercise places are advertising that. I used to run a lot (as in number of days per week, not distance). I’m eight months pregnant right now though, so if/when I get back into running I’m sure I’ll be doing the walk/run thing. When I was running though, I always felt like walking was cheating somehow and that I had to run the whole time or I couldn’t say I “ran” three miles. I’m feeling differently about that these days. 🙂