Do You Ever HIIT It?

This week hasn’t exactly been a textbook training week for me. Work has been unexpectedly busy; I stayed in the office later than normal on several nights this week, did some teaching on Saturday and out of the corner of my eye I am haunted by the sight of a mini Everest of essays which are taunting me to start the climb of marking.

I love my work, I really do; but like all things in life, it can sometimes get in the way of other things. As a result, I’ve simply not been able to find the time to fit in some of my scheduled workouts this week.

On Tuesday I returned from work late and hungry and was in no state to tackle the tempo intervals which my training schedule demanded. I opted for a quick, hilly fartlek run instead and mentally postponed the intervals until Thursday, hoping I’d have more time then. Naturally, when Thursday came my workload (and associated mania) had only grown: when I stumbled into my little house on Thursday evening (out of the darkness and the pouring rain), a quick glance at my watch confirmed that provided I ate dinner straight out of the fridge and while standing up, I could spare a whopping 30 minutes for a run before having to resume my ascend of the mountain of marking. (Sadly, the latter does not pass for a hill workout!).

Thankfully, there is one running workout that I can comfortably complete in the space of half an hour, including warm-up and cool-down: the hard-hitting 10x100m sprint repeats. I really don’t like being in a situation where I genuinely can’t complete a certain workout, but I’ll be damned if I don’t go out and do what I can to come home sweaty, stinky and gasping for breath regardless.

How I feel after a sprint workout:

run hard

Although my running efforts are very much geared towards the training for endurance events, I still see much value in a sprint workout: in addition to directly improving leg strength and running form, it also increases the odds of being able to fathom that charmed sprint finish at the end of a marathon.

While it’s hard to pick up a running magazine these days that doesn’t contain at least one reference to the supposed neigh magical qualities of the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session, the concept is hardly a new one; in the 1970s the great Seb Coe already ran HIIT sessions.

New is only the fact that a number of recent research studies have reported evidence that HIIT training might be superior to traditional endurance workouts in improving athletic performance – hence all the hype. However, the same research also suggests that there are individual variations in how well athletes respond to this type of training, which may have genetic underpinnings – so even the true deciples of HIIT training acknowledge that it doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

Personally, I believe in the importance of continually working on many aspects of my running fitness; including strength, endurance, stamina, balance and flexibility. For me, sprint sessions are therefore an important, even if occasional part of my training as an endurance athlete. However, just like any other workout, I believe that sprint repeats contribute to improve my running fitness primarily within the context of a well-rounded training system, rather than being a magical quick fix in and by themselves.

I’m curious: what do you make of the HIIT-hype? And to the endurance athletes amongst you, do you include such workouts in your training regimes?

Finding Speed

“If you want to be a successful runner, you have to consider everything. It’s no good just thinking about endurance and not to develop fine speed.”

–          Arthur Lydiard

Sometimes, when I’m apprehensive about doing something, I find that I have engaged my worryingly extensive repertoire of avoidant coping skills long before I can ask myself why I don’t want to get down to business in the first place. In those cases, I often realise that my trepidation is not so much due to a lack of will or determination, but more down to a lack of the required knowledge and confidence to believe that I am actually capable of what must be done.

I’m beginning to suspect that this might also be the reason why I’ve kept telling myself that I dislike speedwork in my running training for the best part of 10 years.

In the past, my speedwork boiled down to simply heading out the door and running a bit faster than normal, regardless of whether my training plan called for a 5km Tempo Run or 10x1km Cruise Intervals with 200m jog recovery. I put my moderately fast speed in races down to the fact that I tend to clock some crazy miles when I’m actually in training (Arthur Lydiard would be so proud!). But recently, my approach has changed gears drastically, no pun intended (ok, maybe a little). After reading some good books by various Olympic level trainers, I am now happily blasting my way through a plethora of speed workouts. I’m finding that these sessions are not only surprisingly doable, but they are also shockingly good fun! And who knows, if they do what it says on the tin, 2014 might just turn out to be my fastest year yet.

I suspect that I might not be the only numpty to be confused by all the different speed workouts. Therefore, I thought that perhaps a quick summary might inspire other speed-averse runners pick up the pace a little here and there. If, however, the thought of running faster makes you yawn, I suggest that you stop reading here, as this post is about to get a little technical.

Before I’ll do my best to describe the how and why for each of the speed workouts I’ve been tackling so far, as part of my own current half-marathon training.  To put this into context, I run five times a week for a total of around 60-70km, made up of one long run, two easy runs and two workouts from the list below – never on consecutive days or immediate before or after the long run. All of the workouts below require a warm-up; 2-5km of easy running, followed by some form drills and 2-3 strides (which means progressive acceleration over 100m or so until flat out speed is reached).

Steady State Run:

How? This is a continuous, medium paced run, which is somewhat slower and longer than the more widely known tempo run, but still faster than an easy run. This means that the pace for a steady state run is about 10-15 seconds per kilometre slower than my 10km race pace. During my half-marathon training, a steady state run would be around 12km.

Why? This is a great run for developing a solid base fitness – not quite as taxing as a tempo run, but it still teaches the runner to push the pace a little over a considerable distance.

Tempo Run:

How? This is the famous moderate-paced continuous run, which is run at about a 10km race pace. It’s therefore faster than the Steady State Run. During my half-marathon training, a tempo run would be between 5 and 10 km, getting longer as the training progresses.

Why? Apart from training the runner to maintain a taxing pace for a long time (the sensation of a tempo run has sometimes been described as “controlled discomfort”), a tempo run also improves the runner’s lactate threshold, meaning that one can run faster for longer as a result. This is one of the staple workouts of all endurance runners.

Tempo Intervals:

How? Tempo Intervals are moderate paced repetitions with short recovery intervals. The intervals are slightly faster than tempo runs, or a 10km race pace. During half-marathon training, a tempo interval session would involve 4-5 reps or 2km with a 400m jog recovery in between.

Why? Tempo Intervals essentially train the runner to be able to push the pace on tempo runs. They are somewhat faster, and therefore include a short recovery jog in-between repetitions.

Cruise Intervals:

How? Cruise Intervals are the fastest of the stamina-building workouts – the repetitions are faster, but shorter than those of a tempo interval, and the recovery jogs are also very short. A Cruise Interval session during my half marathon training would involve 8-10 repetitions of 1km ran at roughly my 5km race pace with 200m jog recovery in between. It’s easy to run these too fast though, so it’s important to be careful to get the pace right.

Why? Again, they boost stamina and teach the runner to run faster. The short recoveries mean that the repetitions get harder over time. It’s also a great workout to learn to pay attention to good pacing for races, as cruise intervals are quite fast, but not so fast that the pace can’t be maintained for all repetitions.

Progression Run:

How? A progression run starts easy, but finishes fast. A typical progression run during my half marathon training would be about 10km in length, of which the first 8km are ran easy and the last two are ran much faster. Similarly, I also do progression long runs: running 22-25km, with the last 3-5km at target race pace.

Why? These are tough runs, but they teach the runner to work a bit harder on already tired legs, a skill which is invaluable during races.

Fartlek Run:

How? Funny name = fun run! I suspect that everyone knows by now that fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a giggle or two at the mention of the name, right? It really is just playing with speed: keep running but mix things up in terms of pace. Run fast to the next tree, then even faster to the bench, then jog until you can breathe again, then target the lantern… you get the idea. The only rule is to not settle into any particular pace for long. As part of my half-marathon training, a fartlek run would last between 30 and 60 minutes.

Why? Fartlek runs train the runner to tolerate pace changes and to push the pace whenever needed. They are also great fun!

Hill Repeats:

How? There are various variations of this workout, including different length hills and whether or not the descent is run fast (in which case it’s a continuous run), or used as a jog recovery (in which case it’s an interval run). For intervals, it’s best to find a steep hill that takes about 45-60 seconds to run up. Then sprint up the hill 10 times, with each ascend followed by a descend at a slow recovery jog pace.

Why? It’s often said that hill runs are speedwork in disguise. Apart from training our muscles to cope with the demands placed upon them by running up and down steep hills (duh!), hill reps are also a great leg strength workout and will make subsequent runs on the flat seem a lot easier.

Sprints:

How? This is by far the fastest running I ever do and the only time I try to run truly flat-out. I usually do 10x100m sprints with about a 1 min recovery jog in between, which is enough to leave my legs burning.

Why? These are basically a strength workout for the legs. Sprinting also trains the body to better remove lactic acid from the muscles and help develop a strong running form. Therefore, even though I never race a distance shorter than 5km, this is still a very useful workout for an endurance runner.

 Happy, speedy running everyone!

Speed