Interval Sessions and Speed Work

These are the bread and butter sessions for track runners but also play a really important role at all distances, even ultra runners. Intervals sessions are run fast with variety of paces and recoveries. The running part is the repetition and the recovery is the interval between each repetition. We will also often break the sessions up into to sets of repetitions with longer rests between each set.


This is the training component when you often run much faster than race pace. Your lactic acids levels rise much higher than in other workouts and from time to time you work to your maximum effort. The idea is to increase your maximum speed and also the speeds you can maintain over varying distances for a variety of durations.


The methodology of internal training that we use we call multi pace theory and it’s similar to the five pace theory used by the likes of Frank Horwill and Peter Coe. This is when you train at two additional paces either side of your main race pace. We have adapted the title multi pace rather than five pace as we believe there are more than five paces that you need to train at. 


The multi pace theory is underpinned by the fact that the various paces you run at all have a knock on affect right through from your maximum sprint to the pace you can maintain in a marathon or beyond. The reason for this is due to the impact faster running has on your running economy at slower speeds. There are many physiological and neurological adaptations that contribute to this improved economy together with the changes in your running style or form.


Lactic acid levels will rise considerably higher during intervals and you will be improve your ability to tolerate high levels of lactic acid. You will also be operating at your maximum heart rate.


It’s very important to balance your mix of interval sessions so that they all ultimately support improvement over the specific race distance. To do this you must run over a range of paces and distances. Additionally, for serious racers you are also working on additional attributes such as change of pace to cover surges during a race and your finishing speed or kick.

Examples of interval sessions:



This means repetitions of ten times four hundred metres with forty five seconds of recovery between each repetition. 



This means two sets of eight times four hundred metres with forty five seconds of recovery between each repetition and five minutes rest between each set. 


I use the annotation of lower case r for recovery in seconds and higher case R for minutes. I also use brackets to denote recovery and square brackets to denote rest between sets.

Both rest and recovery can be static where you are stood or active when you jog slowly, or a combination of both. This is denoted as follows: 10x400m(200m jog r).


Here are some examples of the types of intervals we do:


        Intervals / Repetition

                Track, Road, Off Road/Trail (used throughout the year)



                Road, Off Road/Trail (mostly used in winter)



                Road, Off Road/Trail (used in winter and through to early summer)


        Mixed Tempo Intervals

                Track, Road, Off Road/Trail (used throughout the year)




During the recovery phase in a session your body will be working hard to bring everything back to resting levels. Lactic acid clearance continues and can even rise further during recovery, the heart rate gradually drops, etc. In fact some people control the recovery wth the use of heart rate recovery. 


The recovery and rest periods between reps and sets are really important as together with the overall number of reps being run they will determine what pace you can run at. This is best explained with an example.


5x1000m (90r)

Due to the relatively short 90 second recovery these 1000m reps will be run at round 5k pace.



Due to the slightly longer 3 minute recovery these 1000m reps will be run at around 3k pace.


You can see that the session is the same with only the recovery changed. The increased recovery allows for a faster pace. 


During sessions we will sometimes run at one pace as in the above examples or sometimes we’ll use multiple paces. 


3x400m (60r) [5R], 3x1000m (90r) [5R], 3x200m (60r)


With this example I have varied the pace by altering both the recovery and distance.

The 400m reps with 60 seconds recovery will be run at about 1500m pace, the 1000m reps with 90 seconds recovery will be run at about 5k pave and the 200m reps with 60 seconds recovery will be run at about 800m pace. 


As the athlete goes up in race distance then the volume of the interval sessions tends to increase. So for instance, when primarily racing 5k many of Jo’s sessions were between 7k and 8k in overall volume. When she moved up to the 10k her sessions were more like 8k to 10k in overall volume.


Due to running more than one session a week Jo would shift the emphasis on each of the sessions. So for example on the first session of the week we might do something like: 2x5x1000m(60r)[5R] which will be a good 10k race pace workout. Then the second session of the week might be something like: 2x8x400m(35r)[5R] - [6R]3x200m(60r). This session has 400m reps with short recovery but Jo is typically able to run them at between 5k and 3k pace. After the 400m reps are completed she takes a slightly longer break of 6 minutes and then runs some fast 200m reps for speed. These will be run fatigued but she aims to go close to or just under 30 seconds for each. This just adds a little leg speed at the end of the session.


As the year progresses the emphasis of the sessions will develop with more orientation towards volume in the winter and faster work in the summer. Many coaches split their year into distinct blocks using a method called periodisation. This is the more traditional approach with higher volume winter training and lower volume faster training in the summer. Jo and I do not use this approach as we like to include small amounts of faster work in the winter to increase the overall quality of winter training. We also carry the volume much deeper into the summer than most athletes.