Thursday, January 8, 2009

All about intervals

Have I said lately how much I love running intervals?

Since the start of the year, I've gone on four runs and all have been outdoors. I haven't been to the gym since the day after Thanksgiving, which was a really bad experience because the day care part was closed even though I'd called ahead of time and was told it was open. I've been wondering lately why I bother with the gym membership since I don't lift weights anymore as all I do is run (yes, I know I should lift weights but I'm too busy wanting to run).

I realized, though, why I can't cut off the gym altogether: intervals. When I finally sit down to plan out my half-marathon training plan, I will include intervals in whatever I come up with. I know there's speedwork and tempo runs but intervals to me are just as important. The only way I can effectively run intervals is on a treadmill, and I don't have any plans of buying one anytime soon.

I picked up a book a while back on how to train with a heart rate monitor, since I've used one now for about eight months. I have found that training with my heart rate monitor has been the best thing for me since I have learned a lot about how my body works, when I have energy and when I don't, what's difficult and what's not, simply by measuring my heart rate. During distance runs, for instance, I'm at my best and in my comfort zone when my heart rate is in the 170s. If it gets higher than 180, I'm either nearing the end of a long run or have been pushing myself either intentionally or unintentionally.

This book, Training With the Heart Rate Monitor, dedicates some time to intervals. It defines intervals as "a systematic alternation of loading and recovery phases." A loading phase would be one in which you exert some energy and your heart rate is high. A recovery phase is a rest, a break where the heart rate drops and is lower.

The best part about intervals is this: if you use intervals effectively, you can improve your performance and endurance. I can attest to this, as I credit intervals for giving me the ability to maintain my peak performance after having run for 40-50 minutes or so. I'm used to running when I'm exhausted so that's nothing new to me. In fact, during my typical interval run I'm exhausted when I push myself the hardest - a 2-minute sprint when you are gassed is always a challenge.

Now, intervals on their own are great but when you couple them with the use of a heart rate monitor, they take on an extra level of significance. It can help you tailor your own workout system to meet your own needs. Everyone has a heart rate and everyone has their own limits within their own heart rate range, so anyone can use a heart rate monitor to figure out how best to work within their own heart rate zones.

Heart rate monitored training can help with these goals, according to the book:

- feeling for different paces
- familiarity with race pace
- gaining will power, stamina and endurance
- form tapering and development of competition-level performance
- improve lactate breakdown and tolerance
- maintenance and improvement of technique, running style
- increasing anaerobic capacity
- raise performance to individual limits

Interval training has a few stages: warm up, repetition of intense training and rest, and cool down. Usually the rest part in the middle involves walking so you don't have to run for an hour straight when doing intervals, and the intense parts usually don't last for more than a few minutes.

I've found that my own interval training routine has helped me in distance runs and when playing sports, mainly soccer. I can last for a couple of hours when playing soccer and tend to have as much or more energy than most of those who I play with, most of whom are younger and fairly active as well. It's also helped me in my soccer officiating, as I can run around all over the field for the duration of the game and have just as much energy and bounce in my step in the first minute as I do in the last minute of the game. Actually, I have more energy as the game goes on because I'm used to the run-rest-run-rest pace of intervals.

Anyway, intervals have been a key part of my training regimen, have helped me go from struggling to run 2-3 miles on a regular basis to having the ability to complete a six- or seven-mile run without feeling completely wasted and battling to finish.


Daniel said...

Right now, I feel like I am going to die when my HR gets above 155 or so. I wonder if it's because I am out of shape...but I thought it should skyrocket to like 190 when one is out of shape. For me, it's hard to get it above 160 or so but I feel exhausted (burning legs giving out on me, etc.) when it gets above 155 or so.

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