Intervals Shmintervals

Ah, interval training, a cornerstone of every runners regime. The basic principle of interval training is that the workout pings back and forth between low and high intensity, with the actual time, speed and number of reps varying depending on exactly what you want to achieve. The rewards include a more efficient oxygen uptake, better anaerobic performance and (to put it in the most simple of terms) faster feet. A typical interval session might look something like this…

8 x 400m @>;5k pace (200m active rest)

So in this example, we’d run for 400 metres at a pace a bit quicker than our normal 5k speed, followed by a walk or jog for 200 metres. Then we’d do it all again seven more times.

There’s an awful lot of science behind intervals, and an experienced coach would precisely tailor the programme to the needs of each individual runner*. But I’m not an experienced coach – I’m barely even a qualified simpleton, and so in my usual inimitable fashion, I just tend to make it up as I go along.

“Aha”, you say, “Making it up as you go along, eh? What you’re doing there is actually fartlek (Swedish for Speedplay), a more relaxed, organic style of interval training in which the runner varies the intensity based only on feel and whim”. Well no Mr CleverTrousers**, it’s not fartlek (which are basically just hippy intervals) because this is me you’re talking to and things are rarely that straightforward in my odd little world.

I do most of my intervals on the treadmill at work, mainly because if I try to do them outside I invariably forget I’m supposed to be doing intervals and end up just running at a steady pace for a bit. I know my Garmin has all sorts of training modes designed for this very purpose, but I can’t be bothered to read the instructions, and shouting “INTERVALS!” into it doesn’t seem to work and just makes that lady with the Labrador look at me as if I’m a bit weird. So my treadmill intervals (or treadmintervals) tend to occupy a sort of limbo, neither as carefully structured as normal intervals nor as carefree as fartlek. Every time I fire up the treadmill I find myself ensnaring myself within a convoluted and slightly deranged set of rules, like a boardgame devised by a sleep-deprived four year-old who’d spent a month being fed nothing but wham bars.

An example treadmintervals session might be…

5 minutes of gentle jogging to warm up.

1200m at tempo speed (which is easier said than done for someone who, despite my very best efforts, still doesn’t really understand what tempo speed is)

300m recovery (100m jogging, 100m walking, 100m jogging)

5-4-3-2-1 intervals (e.g. 500m @13.5 km/h, 400m @14km/h, 300m @14.5km/h, 200m @15km/h, 100m @15.5km/h, with 300m recovery between each)

That last bit would be quite straightforward, except I then start bringing in other rules. For instance, I might decide that I can trade off the last 50m of an interval in exchange for a slight increase in incline, but if I do this more than twice in a session I have to pay a surcharge of an extra 500m at tempo pace at the end. Also, I might decide to invoke various power-ups, such as an extra 100m added to the interval if a rapper in a silly hat appears on the gym telly. My mind starts to move as quickly as my legs, as I feverishly calculate an exchange rate between speed, time, incline and rest. So then, I can buy extra rest at the cost of some added speed later on, but the amount of increase depends on how late in the session I use it, and that in turn depends on a hundred other variables. The purpose of this is really just to occupy my mind while plodding away on a (really quite boring) treadmill, but while lost in the moment I feel like Rain Man let loose on the stock exchange, struggling to keep up with my brain and forgetting things as quickly as I come up with them.

Anyone know the Swedish word for “Speedplay of a tortured mind”?

Regardless of the figures on the screen, I come out of every interval session feeling like I’ve worked my tiny furry buttocks off. Most workouts are followed by a moment of blissful reflection as I sit on a bench in the changing rooms, too exhausted to move. The last time I did this, my legs were so slick with sweat that as I leaned forwards my elbows slipped off my thighs and I punched myself square in the mouth, just as a cleaner walked in. There aren’t many ways you can style that sort of thing out.

* Whereas an experienced tailor, on the other hand, would precisely add a nice Italian silk lining to the vest of each individual runner.
** That comment was obviously aimed at Justin Clevertrousers, the acclaimed sports journalist, so apologies if it doesn’t apply to you.

PS: Get your bums over to the twitter. I’m @borntoplodblog on there.


12 thoughts on “Intervals Shmintervals

  1. Sounds very scientific (well, you know what I mean, basically I was left going “whaa?” part way through). You also want to check, as it’s easy to mistake furry buttocks for mossy buttocks, which can be easily caught by sitting on damp rocks.

    Thanks for the sponsoring – you’re a fine chap. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be on the local news at the rescue chopper pulls of a daring landing after my calves explode 20 miles into it. I say plan, but it could happen after 2 miles, which wouldn’t be enough to justify a camera crew…

  2. Absolutely brilliant! I know exactly what you mean about trying to find ways to make treadmill sessions interesting… If the TV at your gym is anything like the one where I used to go, the “rapper in funny hat” power up must be quite a common occurrence.

  3. My interval sessions, despite having a proper plan designed by a running coach, generally goes to shit within about 2 minutes of starting them. I tend to run at the following speeds:

    1. Really, really, really fast, to the point where I can’t breathe, see or hear.
    2. A bit slower than the above, can generally see where I’m going. Definitely can’t breathe any better though.
    3. Bit slower.
    4. Bit slower than that.

    • When I’ve tried to run at any particular speed, it ends up being either “too fast, you’ll never keep that up” or “too fast, though you’ll inevitably slow down to something you can manage”. I need to train myself to run slower than that, there must be something slow enough that I can keep up all day, though I suspect that speed is called “walking”.

  4. OMG, I just laughed out loud reading about you punching yourself in the mouth. I’m at work. I’m not supposed to read blogs. Stop it!!! You crack me up, as ever. Well written. Hat’s off to you… 😉

    • The thing that made it worse was the fact that in the seconds leading up to the punching incident I was actually thinking how awesome I must look. Glowing with the knowledge that I’d just pushed myself to the limit, steam rising from my shoulders, well-earned sweat dripping from my nose as I sat forward – I must have looked like something out of a Right Guard advert.

      …Then “oof!”

      In one slippery self-uppercut I’m back to looking like some sort of lycra-clad Frank Spencer, as per usual 🙂

      • OK, I need to stop reading your stuff at work. Boss just walked in with me giggling to myself… Not good. Well done on getting the intervals done though, meant to say that before! 😉

  5. Pingback: Less fart, more heart | Born to Plod

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