Interval Runs 101

What’s Included?

  • What are Interval Runs?
  • Types of Interval Runs
  • When & how to use them?
  • Rest periods

What is an INTERVAL RUN?

Interval runs are a form of speed work in which one strategically incorporates periods of high intensity work & periods of rest or low intensity work in a specific way to elicit the runner to build new fitness levels, cardio endurance, strength, and speed. Interval runs can come in MANY forms because there are SO many variables, so it can be easy to get overwhelmed with how to use them – especially if you’re a new runner! But as with ALL things running-related, it’s important to remember that there is no “right” and “wrong” way to do it – rather, there are some helpful tips and guidelines that you can use in order to ensure that your interval runs are appropriate, meaningful, and helping you to get towards your goals as a runner!

So, let’s dig in!


Types of Interval Runs

Interval runs are often repetitive in nature & they can be measured and structured using two different options:

Measuring By Time

30 seconds & 1 minute intervals: Often used by newer runners or for “fun” speed workouts. They can also be used at the end of a longer run or workout as a “finisher” to practice some speed after a runner is already fatigued. Since they’re shorter in duration, it’s possible for a runner to move at & hold higher speeds for the entire duration of the interval. These are often done at a harder RPE (7-10) & followed by shorter periods of rest. Often used by runners of shorter distance races where speed is necessary (sprinters, 1 mile, 5K)

2-5 minute intervals: Often used for practice with harder efforts & pacing for newer runners. These can also be used by more experienced or longer distance runners if used with minimal rest between sets. Since they’re longer than 1 minute, they’re usually done at a little lower of an RPE intensity (5-8). These are also used primarily by shorter distance runners (sprinters, 1 mile, 5K, 10K)

5-10 minute intervals: Often used for practice with endurance, pacing, and building cardio. These can be incorporated into longer workouts for longer distance runners (10K, Half marathon, marathon) as well as used by shorter distance runners during their harder workouts. Usually done at a lower RPE intensity (5-8). This length of interval will require a bit more strategy & pacing from the runner in order to keep a steady speed without burning out.

10-20 minute intervals: Often used by longer distance runners (10K, Half Marathon, Marathon, Ultra) in order to practice endurance, pacing, and build cardio. These need to be strategically paced & are often part of longer workouts that build in intensity throughout (progression runs). Done at a lower RPE intensity (4-7) to practice race pace.

Measuring By Distance

Intervals measured by DISTANCE also come in endless varieties. Runners use shorter or longer intervals to elicit different changes & achieve different goals depending upon what they are currently training for & WHY they’re doing the interval workout. Here are a few common DISTANCES used for intervals:

200 METERS: Used primarily by newer runners or shorter distance runners. They can also be used at the end of a longer run or workout as a “finisher” to practice some speed after a runner is already fatigued. Since they’re shorter in duration, it’s possible for a runner to move at & hold higher speeds for the entire duration of the interval. These are often done at a harder RPE (7-10) & followed by shorter periods of rest. Often used by runners of shorter distance races where speed is necessary (sprinters, 1 mile, 5K). Can often be repeated a higher number of times due to the shorter distance.

400 METERS: Used by a wide variety of runners (both new and experienced) to practice harder efforts & build cardio endurance. Are often repeated a large number of times for experienced runners & a lower number of times for newer runners. Can be combined with shorter rest periods to make more challenging or longer rest periods to decrease challenge level. Done at a relatively high RPE (6-9)

800 METERS: Half mile repeats need to be controlled & are often used to build endurance and stamina. Require much more control and pacing & done at a lower RPE (5-9) & build in speed or effort throughout. Often used by longer distance runners (half marathon & marathon) during harder speed workouts. The amount of rest is often very important in determining the challenge level of the overall workout.

1600 METERS: 1600 repeats are often used by half marathon and marathon runners & incorporated into other runs like tempo runs. These require specific pacing strategy from the runner in order to hit the desired paces & are more challenging in nature. Often repeated less times & done at a variety of RPE levels (5-8). The amount of rest is often very important in determining the challenge level of the overall workout.


When and How To Use Them

With SO many options – it can be TOUGH to design or choose interval runs that are appropriate for you. However, it can be helpful to look at it from a goal-perspective. Below are a few common RUNNING GOALS & some suggested interval runs. Please note that these are simply GUIDES, not RULE BOOKS. Since everyone is SO different & has such unique goals, it’s important to consider how you FEEL, where you’re currently at (experience-wise and within your training), and what you enjoy!

Just Having Fun with Running or New to Speed:

Start with just a few repeats (1-5) using shorter intervals (1-3 minutes or 200-400 meters) with plenty of rest. As you gain experience with intervals, you can increase the challenge level by reducing the amount of rest between the speed portions, adding some time, adding some distance, or increasing the number of repeats that you do!

5K Training:

Do a few repeats (1-8 depending upon your experience level & fitness level) using shorter intervals (1-8 minutes or 200-800 meters) with adequate rest. As your training progresses, you can increase the challenge level by reducing the amount of rest between the speed portions, adding some time, adding some distance, or increasing the number of repeats that you do!

10K & Half Training:

Use a higher number of repeats (8 or more) when doing shorter intervals (1-3 mintues or 200-400 meters) with shorter rest. Use a lower number of repeats (5-12) when doing medium intervals (4-7 minutes or 800 meters) with adequate rest. Use lower number of repeats (3-8) when completing longer intervals (1K or 1 mile) with adequate rest. As you progress in your training/gain experience, you can increase the challenge level by reducing the amount of rest between speed portions, adding repeats, and increasing the effort level.


Rest Periods

Each interval run will specify the amount of rest needed between sets. The amount of rest is just as important as the running portion of the workout since different amounts/types of rest will allow for varying amounts of recovery before the next repeat. Generally, there are a few considerations when choosing HOW MUCH and WHAT TYPE of rest to include in your interval runs:

  • In general, typically recovery or rest intervals should be anywhere between 100% and 50% of the work period (for example – someone should rest between 30-60 seconds for a 1 minute repeat & should rest anywhere between 90 seconds to 3 minutes for an 800M repeat that was done in 3 minutes).
  • For shorter distances and durations, typically less rest is necessary between repeats
  • For longer distances and durations, typically more rest is necessary between repeats
  • For harder efforts, typically more rest is necessary between repeats
  • For lower efforts, typically less rest is necessary between repeats
  • As someone builds endurance and progresses in their training, typically the amount of rest is reduced between repeats
  • For newer runners, typically more rest is necessary between repeats
  • It’s OKAY if you need to take additional recovery sometimes – that’s often better than skipping the workout entirely! YOU know your body best.

Need help with how to structure your workouts to build speed? Check out our AIM 1:1 COACHING program to get specific runs tailored to your level & goals!

Amy Haas
Run with Aim, LLC
UESCA Certified Running Coach
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
NASM Certified Nutrition Coach

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