So, spring is here, the race calendar is beginning to fill up, and that can only mean one thing.
Yes, it’s time for interval training, the runner’s very own, personal, customized hell.
Volume training – the long, slow runs you do all winter, gives your body the endurance to complete a race. Interval training gives it the speed to win. Like a lot of runners, I don’t do speedwork year-round. In the off-season I give my body time to recover, and work on running style and endurance. But when the warm weather gets here, it’s time to learn how to suffer.
I have a loop in my subdivision that’s almost exactly a kilometer. So, yesterday I went out and ran round it once. Nice and slow, and taking the opportunity to drink a lot of water. I’d be needing that. First time round, 4 minutes and 24 seconds, a half-marathon kind of pace.
Six minutes after starting the first loop, I did it again. 4 minutes, 15 seconds this time.
Then again. Down to 3:37. Speeding up a little too much, better dial it back a bit. Drink as much water as possible between repeats, breath deeply to get the heart rate down before it all starts over.
Next time, 3:57. Bit more controlled. Time to crank it up a bit. On the six minute mark a started again. Focus on breathing, keep lifting your heels, don’t tense up. Let your body do the work. 3:29 this time. Now we’re into fast race territory.
The six minute mark comes round again far too soon. Off again – try to hold that same race pace. 3:28, hard but bearable.
Crank it up one more notch. The next loop falls in 3:17. Gasping for breath at the end, finish off my third water bottle. Pour some of it over my head to cool off. Pretty much maxing out, but I’m sure that heading out I was thinking ‘you know, I have one more gear in my legs…’
Ok, time for the hardest push. Full throttle, no holding back. On the six minute mark, start the watch and sprint to full pace. At this point I can’t keep my legs relaxed, I can only think about breathing as hard as possible to keep the oxygen getting to my muscles and keeping my leg turnover high.
We get two things from interval training. One, of course, is teaching our body to move quickly. But the other is getting used to pain. When I’m in the final straight of a 5k race and my body is screaming to stop, I want to be able to tell myself ‘I’ve been here before.’ And I’m there now – cranking out a pace faster than I’ll ever do in a race. My eyes start to close, I can’t see straight, I’ve got just enough concentration to veer round the kids playing in the road on the back straight. Halfway round. Three quarters.
I round the final bend, breathing on every other foot strike. Try not to tense up, hold your stride, keep driving for the line.
I cross it in 3:09. I manage to keep upright and head into the house for more water. My wife is a little alarmed that my gasping for breath can be heard throughout the house and that I’m incapable of speech for several minutes, but personally I’m very satisfied that I’m only a few seconds down from my peak of last year.
Then after a drink I head out and do four more loops.
Welcome to spring.