The benefits of interval training

In the lead up to my postponed half marathon and 10k races this year, my coach put me on a training plan that involved something I’d never done before off the track – interval training. In fact, two of my three planned running sessions a week were interval sessions, which baffled me at the time. Surely to get better at running longer distances I should be doing just that? But, trusting my coach, I went out and did the sessions (clocking less mileage than I thought I ‘should’ be doing) and the results spoke for themselves. At around the time I was supposed to run my races, I manage to get half marathon and 10k pbs in solo time trials. So it turns out intervals do work.

 

What is interval training?

An interval training workout or run involves periods of high intensity work alternated with periods of low intensity work, the recovery.

 

What are the benefits?

According to the NHS, the benefits gained from interval training are similar to those gained from longer, more moderate runs. These are numerous, and not limited to performance benefits – interval training could be better for your health, too.

  1. Intervals can improve your VO2 max (the amount of oxygen able to be utilised by your body, i.e. aerobic capacity) significantly, improving your efficiency as a runner. This will also mean your body is better at clearing lactic acid buildup – useful in your next race!
  2. Interval training can provide health benefits similar to doing up to twice as much more moderate training. These include lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
  3. Variety builds strength. If you’re used to plodding around your same route at the same pace, incorporating intervals can quickly make you a better runner. It will challenge your cardiovascular system and muscles in new ways, triggering adaptations and improvements.
  4. When you learn how to run fast for extended periods of time through interval training, more moderately paced runs suddenly feel much slower. You’ll likely end up feeling more comfortable at a faster pace, and all your runs will end up faster.
  5. Although interval training is tough on the body, switching out a long run or two for interval training can reduce the risk of injury. Increasing mileage too quickly can lead to a greater risk of injury, so incorporating intervals sessions means you can gain the same benefits of long runs, but doing less overall mileage, thus reducing risk of injury.
  6. Enjoyment! There are several studies that suggest that runners, especially those just starting out, enjoy intervals sessions more than steady state running. If this means you’re more likely to get out and get a session done, this can also lead to greater performance benefits. Win win!
  7. Fat loss. Interval training of any kind can induce the ‘after-burn effect’, or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). This increases the amount of calories burned by your body after a session, even at rest. This can promote fat loss over time.
  8. Less stress. Long runs can actually increase your cortisol (stress hormone) levels for days afterwards, lowering the immune system temporarily. Interval sessions reduce cortisol levels, reducing the overall load and stress on the body each week. This, coupled with the endorphin hit of a good workout means you’ll likely leave each session smiling!
  9. Mental discipline. Running closer to your maximum pace is tough, both physically and mentally. However, if you’re looking to run faster overall, this mental strength will be needed in races. Training closer to threshold can prepare you for your races mentally as well as physically.
  10. For the benefits you get, interval training can take considerably less time than a steady run. Sure, the whole thing is more painful, but when you only have to endure it for 20 or 30 minutes, how bad can it be? This leaves more time for other things you want to do.

 

How do I do intervals?

There are more types of intervals than I could possibly include in a blog post, and calculating what works best for you will be dependent on your goals, strengths and weaknesses. As someone who isn’t a coach, I am reluctant to give specific advice, but some good advice I found is shared below. You can read the rest of the article here, which discusses how to build your own interval training sessions.

While there’s no across-the-board pace prescription, there are some rough guidelines that can help get you started. For instance, if you’re running 1-mile intervals, try to complete them at your goal 10K pace. For shorter intervals, like 800m, execute those at 5K pace, and 400m intervals should be slightly faster than that. This is where a coach can come in handy, but there are also online resources, such as Rickerman’s calculator, that can help you figure out a pace range.

 

I hope this encourages some of you to try interval training sessions! The benefits are numerous, but for me what I love is that it doesn’t take all day. I love my long runs, but convincing myself to get out for several hours multiple times a week is never going to happen. My interval sessions usually last 30 minutes maximum, rest periods included, so there’s really no excuse not to get out. They’re also super fun and always leave me feeling positive, which after all, is what running’s all about!

Let me know if you give interval training a go, and come and find me on Instagram to share your experience!

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Images by Tamsin Louise

6 runners you should follow

… On Instagram! (Please not in real life). I know that a lot of you are really enjoying my marathon training content, and with that in mind I thought I’d share with you some of the people who inspire me with my training. Give them all a follow – I promise you won’t regret it!

 

Holly Rush (@rushbynature)

An advocate of trail running here – Holly is one badass woman. I first heard about her whilst watching Asics’ coast to coast Dubai – Oman video as she was one of the 5 Asics frontrunners taking part. Follow for long(ish) captions and thoughts on running and races. She also ran the Tokyo marathon last year so I’ve been pestering her for tips!

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Adrienne Herbert (@adrienne_LDN)

If you’re looking for motivation in all aspects of your life, look no further. The amazing Adrienne practically oozes motivation in every Instagram story. She is the co-founder of ‘Get To Know’ (a community of creative women), host of Power Hour podcast, with guests such as Fearne Cotton, AJ Odudu and Deliciously Ella and a mum! Somehow in between all the other things she does she has time to run, showing us that time doesn’t have to be a barrier to staying healthy.

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Tashi Skervin-Clarke (@tashi_skervinclarke)

I first met Tashi around 3y ago and have followed her running journey since. She is a personal trainer and running coach and writes amazing captions about running and the effect it can have on us. Follow for a balanced approach to running and strength training. Running faster is not just about running more!

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Latoya Shauntay Snell (@Iamlshauntay)

I think I can across Latoya on twitter after someone shared a blog post she wrote on fat shaming. Shauntay doesn’t look like what you’d probably think of when I say ‘badass marathoner’, but marathoner she is, and badass she definitelyis. Her highlight ‘Who’s Latoya’ explains her journey but in all honesty I’m just amazed at anyone who can run as many marathons as she does. An inspiration.

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Max Wilkocks (@maxwilko)

As the co-founder of the Track Life podcast, Max talks a lot about running. In fact there’s very little else he talks about or does. Summers and winters are spent racing around the track and on disgustingly long races (although he insists 10k is his favourite). Follow for beautiful pictures and the sort of complaining about running only a runner could do.

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Rory Southworth (@rorysouthworth)

If you’re more a fan of the mountains than road running, Rory is the man to follow. Epic pictures of scrambles up rocks combined with shoe reviews (he’s sponsored by Salomon) means this account never gets boring. This will make you want to get out of the city and to any one of the locations he travels to!

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How I keep motivated

It’s a question I get asked time and time again – just HOW do I keep motivated? Mostly it’s in reference to fitness, but we require motivation in all walks of life, from work, to household chores, to the gym.

I don’t believe there’s any secret to motivation – it all comes from practise, prioritising and learning to do what you love and love what you do. Regardless, here are my top tips for staying motivated day to day.

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Learn to love what you do

Easy to say, harder to do. But when you love what you do, motivation to do it comes easily, 75% of the time. The reason I didn’t say ‘do what you love’ is because I know it’s not feasible for people to constantly be doing things they enjoy – if we did, no one would have issues with motivation. The trick here is finding things you love about what you do. Finding meaning in your work has been shown to lead to the highest levels of job satisfaction, whether you find meaning in helping other people (customer services, doctors), teaching the next generation or earning money to help support your family. The same goes for exercise – if you don’t particularly enjoy the gym but have no alternative way of exercising at this time, think of the specific benefits of what you are doing. I love doing mobility work because I know it’s going to help me move long into my old age. Find meaning in your workouts, and change your mindset from ‘I have to go to the gym’ to ‘I get to go to the gym’, rather than ‘I haveto go t the gym’. No one has to go to the gym, it’s a choice that’ll make you feel good. If it doesn’t make you feel good, really question why you’re doing it and think about looking for other alternatives.

 

Get into a habit

Habitually doing something means that your brain doesn’t have to make the decision to do it everyday, it’s just habit. That makes it so much easier, because it’s just the status quo. Of course, forming the habit in the first place is harder, but use the other tips on this page to get started. You won’t regret it!

 

Find a friend

You become the average of the closest people to you – a cliché but 100% true. We adopt habits and lifestyles of those closest to us, which is why a toxic friend can be so damaging. Try to surround yourself with people who are also trying to better themselves, whether that’s working hard at work, eating a healthy diet or heading to the gym everyday. In those days you lack motivation, just hearing that your friend is going to the gym after work can be enough to motivate you to head there too, even if just for a short session. Since hanging out with my fitness-focussed friends in London, I’ve taken up several new sports, have been eating healthier and I also now drink less!

 

Rest up

Motivation can be hard to come by when you’re utterly exhausted and/or burned out! You can love something and still not be motivated to do it if you’re too tired, and for that reason I would really recommend incorporating rest into your routine. Whether that’s a mental break from your job or a physical break from exercise, rest is equally as important as working out itself! Realising the difference between being physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted is also of utmost importance. If you’re not going to the gym because you’re too tired after work, chances are you’re mentally drained, not physically drained. Tired from a toxic colleague? You’re probably emotionally exhausted, and no amount of coffee is going to sort that. In these situations, working out can be one of the best things you can do, as it gives your brain a total rest from the day. Realising the difference between these three types of tiredness really helped my motivation to do things. It’s sometimes as simple as realising that you’re actually not tired, you’re just fed up!

 

Discipline

A lot of ‘motivation’ is actually discipline. The above tips help a lot when it comes to actually wanting to do something, but discipline makes up the other proportion of getting things done. People who make real progress are those disciplined enough to get into good habits. I will never say that discipline should come at the expense of enjoyment, but it takes some trial and error to realise that sometimes it takes doing something you don’t want to do now to be happier later. Discipline also makes the rewards of doing boring/painful things so much better! Seeing progress after working hard for something is a feeling far better than lying in bed everyday rather than gymming (obviously there is a time for this too!).

 

Forgiveness

We all lack motivation from time to time. In reality, whatever you see on Instagram, I am not always motivated, and although I find it relatively easy to get myself to the gym, other work (such as writing blog posts and editing YouTubes) requires huge amounts of motivation to get myself to do. I started this post about 6 weeks ago, for example – we’re definitely not all perfect, and forgiving yourself for that is SO important for your long-term happiness.

 

As with everything, motivation is about the fine balance between doing what you want to do now and remembering what you want to happen later. The great thing is that it can be practised and improved, so no need to worry if you feel like you lack motivation! The above tips will hopefully help you find something that it’s easy to be motivated to do, and then progress will come 🙂

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