Standard Track Intervals are the bread and butter of a runners training program. They not only create strength and endurance, but provide confidence and knowledge of the pace and speed you are capable of running. While multiple variations of track intervals exist, such as Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals or extreme Armageddon Track Intervals, there is no substitute for standard interval training for runners of all levels.
Why Run Standard Track Intervals
From a physical standpoint, Standard Track Intervals increase speed, strength, and endurance. These components are worked during different phases of the interval training session. Speed is relative to the distance you are training at. Generally, when running track intervals you are training at shorter distances in repetition than your desired race distance. As an example, if you are training for a 5K and running 400 meter repeats on the track, the 400 meter workout pace will be faster than your mile pace for a 5K. Once you go to run a mile, you will have more speed since your body is trained to move faster than your regular mile pace.
Often confused with speed, the strength aspect of Standard Track Intervals is the required force to propel yourself forward and increase your leg strength and stride. This is essential for running efficiency as running strength allows a runner to cover more distance with each stride with less energy being expended for maximum running efficiency. It also assists with core strength to maintain proper form, especially in later parts of a race.
Endurance comes into play beyond the interval, and into the recovery period between each interval. It is imperative to not stop or jog too slowly during your recovery as keeping this at a reasonable tempo, perhaps 50-70% of your last interval, provides endurance gains while allowing running control (i.e. speeding up or slowing down without breaking your overall pace).
On equal footing to the physical gains of Standard Track Intervals, are the mental and emotional aspects. Running confidence is built by knowing the pace and speed you can run at, or possibly exceed, while emotionally being able to respond to surges or slowdowns in a race. When someone surges ahead, and you know your pace and that you have just run a fast 400 meter in practice, you will be ready to respond without doubt! Combine this with the mental toughness gained from intervals and you have a complete running package for race day.
How to Run Standard Track Intervals
While the premise is easy to understand, the Standard Track Interval workout still requires some careful planning in order to maximize effectiveness. This includes some key concepts and distances depending on the desired distance you are training for. In all cases, you should focus on running even to negative splits. That is, run the last interval at the same pace or faster. When you are able to run a consistent pace, you are increasing running efficiency.
Envision someone who runs the first mile of a race close to all out… they seldom win the 5K as they have expended the energy required for the next two miles. It is far better to run the first mile of a 5K strong but even, hold the 2nd mile at a pace close to the first, then close out strong over the last mile. To achieve this level of pace control and strength requires training track intervals in the correct manner. Specifically:
- A warm up and cool down of at least one mile each
- A set of Standard Track Intervals are typically between 4 to 12 repetitions of the same distance
- There are short, middle, and long distance intervals. These are generally distinguished as 100 to 400 meters for short intervals, 600 to 1200 meters for middle distance intervals, and 1600 to 3000 meters for long distance intervals
- The longer the distance of intervals, the less number of repeats should be undertaken. As an example, 12 x 200 meter repeats is appropriate for short intervals while 4 x 1600 meters is better for long distance intervals
- Common Standard Interval Training sessions include:
- 12 x 200 meter repeats
- 8 x 400 meter repeats
- 6 x 600 meter repeats
- 4-6 x 800 meter repeats
- 4 x 1000 meter repeats
- 4 x 1200 meter repeats
- 4 x 1600 meter repeats
- 3 x 2000 meter repeats
- 2 x 3000 meter repeats
- The recovery period between each repeat should be at 50-70% of the last intervals speed and equal to the length of the interval. To increase the challenge, reduce the distance of recovery between intervals (ex. 400 meters rest between each 1600 meter repeat)
- Interval training distance should be less than your desired race distance
- Longer distances, such as the Marathon, can still be aided by 200 meter repeats through the strength and speed they build
- Interval training should be done once a week, with a recovery run the day after
What to Avoid When Running Standard Track Intervals
The Standard Track Interval workout is not without risk of injury so it is imperative to be prepared and follow some common rules:
- Consult with your doctor before attempting Standard Track Intervals or any intense running training session/program
- Build a strong running base and gradually move into running track intervals
- Never static stretch before a workout as this can lead to pulled muscles and other injuries. Instead, perform dynamic stretches to gently warm up your muscles
- Don’t run track intervals if you are injured or recovering from an injury
- Don’t run track intervals the day after a race or intense workout
- If possible, don’t run track intervals alone but with a running club
- Don’t run with music as this can take away from the mental toughness and confidence building aspects of the workout
- Don’t run one way for the entire workout, but switch the direction by running the opposite way to balance out the strain on your legs
- Make sure you properly hydrate before your run and get lots of fluids, nutritious food, and rest after a Standard Track Interval session
- Don’t become discouraged if you don’t hit your desired pace, or you struggle to run even or negative splits, as it takes time to train your body to maximize efficiency and everyone has an off day
- If you feel like you are pushing too hard, or close to an injury, back off and call it a day. Your body is likely warning you of an issue