Intervals: They are one element in what coaches sometimes refer to as “speed play,” yet these accelerated bursts in a run aren’t always exactly fun and games. They do, however, make you a faster runner, which isn’t exactly a ride on California Screamin’, but is still kind of fun, right?
Here is an interval primer if you’re thinking of giving them a whirl:
Consider doing intervals for the first few times on a treadmill. With the readout and buttons in front of your face, it’s easier to see—and control—your pace. It takes away the guesswork and intimidation.
The shorter the interval, the faster/harder you may run. This means 30-second intervals should be more intense than 5-minute ones. That said, never flail or overdo it. While doing intervals, you should always feel in control of your stride so never go all-out.
The work should gradually get harder, both in the wide and narrow view. If you’re doing six intervals, numbers one and two are “easy.” Three and four feel harder. However, five and six? You may be cursing our good names (which we are totally fine with, by the way). Likewise, if you’re doing a one-minute interval, the first 20 seconds are a cruise. The second 20 is a faster cruise and the third 20 is a leg-burning cruise. An interval shouldn’t feel hard from the start; in fact, it’s in the last third of an interval, no matter what the length, that you want to hit about 80 percent of your max.
Recover properly. Time between intervals usually takes two forms: either a specific time (two minutes) or a feeling (“fully recovered”). With either method, try not to stop moving; you recover much more quickly in motion. Resting your hands on your knees and begging for mercy is not a good recovery option. It’s A-OK to walk for a bit, then run easily, then walk again right before starting the next interval. If there’s a certain time between intervals, realize you might not feel 100 percent before you start another pace pick-up. If you’re supposed to recover fully, do that, but don’t milk it: too much time between intervals slows your momentum and actually makes them feel tougher.
Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell are the authors of Another Mother Runner and official contributors to runDisney.