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The Sporting Life: Intervals, Simplified


The Sporting Life: Intervals, Simplified


By Dave Andersen

As endurance athletes, most of our training centers on moderately paced mileage. That’s good! Easy-to-moderate mileage builds strength and endurance. However, training at only this intensity will not get you super fit, or race fit. For that, you need to push to your limits and do some interval training. Runners must do this sparingly as it can put a lot of extra strain on your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Cyclists and rowers can be more aggressive since there is no pounding.

I’ve competed in running, triathlon and bike racing for over 35 years. Let me make it simple for you. You should do some longer length intervals, some medium, and some short. The shorter they are the more intense they should be. Basically, you go hard for a relatively short time, recover, and then repeat. There are a hundred names and catch phrases for the various types of intervals but they all fall into these general categories (think cycling):

1. Long intervals — After warming up I’ll go hard 2 or 3 times for 10-15 minutes. Actually I have a stretch of road where there is very little traffic or turns. The key is to finish each interval just as hard as you started.  I time myself, but there are so many variables with wind, etc. that I don’t worry about my times.

2. Medium intervals — 4 to 6 times I’ll go as hard as I can around a loop that takes about 3 minutes. I’ll go easy for a lap in between the hard efforts. I track my average and watch it come down over the weeks and months as I get fitter.

3. Hill intervals — 3 to 5 times I’ll go all-out up a steep hill (I have two favorites; one takes 2 minutes, the other 4 minutes). These are cruel in their intensity but they sure make you race fit, and prepare you for the suffering you will face in a race.

4. Short intervals — 10 times I’ll work up to 30 to 60 second all-out bursts. Recover for 5 minutes between each effort.

5. Sprint intervals – 10-15 times I’ll sprint for 10-15 seconds like I’m going for the win.  Recover for at least 2 minutes in between each effort.

Back when I was running I would either do intervals on the track (400’s, 800’s, 1600’s) or on the road (either measured or by duration).

Bottom line, interval training will take you to the next level. Push yourself and then push some more. Fiddle with length and number of repeats to find what works best for you. Mix it up to keep it interesting. Carefully monitor yourself to make sure you don’t strain anything. It’s amazing how after a few weeks of intervals you will become much more fit and faster. Enjoy the process and keep it tight!

Keep It Tight,


*Dave Andersen lives in Boston and works in the educational publishing business. He shares his passion for cycling and sport with a wide range of friends and competitors.


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