Running intervals

By LifeSport coach Lance Watson

Running intervals make you faster. Because of the physical intensity of intervals or speed-work, the gains to be made also come with a greater risk for injury, so athletes need to be prudent about including speed-work sessions into their overall program.

The following steps describe the optimal approach to performing speed intervals. Enjoy the 5 week speed progression at the end of this article.


Look ahead at your schedule and plan your session.  Be prudent with your energy in the hours leading up to the session. Make sure you plan nutrition for the run. Eat a light meal 2-3 hours before the session and be hydrated. Nothing derails a speed session like the completely avoidable event of stomach cramps from eating too close to the session, or eating the wrong foods.

Show Up

Get excited! This means that you come to the session ready to run, ready to give your best effort and having made the decision to have a good day. You are not coming to ‘wait and see what happens’.

Warm up well

 Do 15 minutes of light warm up running. After the warm up run, do some dynamic stretching such as leg swings and arm circles, and lightly stretch out body areas that feel tight. Before the intervals, do a set of run drills and strides. Drills and strides activate the muscle fibers fully for fast running and create mental preparedness. 2 x 10 seconds each of A, B and C drills, and then 4-6 fast strides at the end should ensure you are ready to perform. Strides are 10 seconds of fast dynamic running, faster than you will run the intervals but not your all out speed. You should be able to hold perfect form for the stride. Walk or jog for 30 seconds between stride efforts.


Attempt to pace the whole workout evenly, running fast but saving energy to be able to complete the whole set. Begin each interval with a burst of dynamic running, pumping arms and legs to get up to pace, but not sprinting. After a few seconds relax into pace and check that you are breathing well and staying relaxed in the upper body. Allow your mind to focus only on running well. Be aware of your goal pace, either through a GPS device or by being at a measured environment, like a track, and using your watch.


Commit to the pace and discomfort of the interval, not relenting at the first sign of fatigue. This sense of discipline is best honed in practice and creates emotional fortitude for the stress of race day.

Be aware

Learn where the half way section of every interval is and focus on that second half, maintaining rhythm and attention to the body. As you fatigue, put emphasis on your biomechanics, keeping tall posture, being graceful, relaxed in shoulders, face and torso. Think intently about forward momentum and doing a good job.

Finish it off

Run strong through the finish of every interval, resisting the urge to give up a second early. This is another example of small ways you can be constantly mentally tweaking your game. Keep moving. Jog lightly for 10-15 seconds to facilitate lactic acid dispersal. Walk and jog between intervals. Keeping the legs moving helps flush lactic acid for the recovery and prepares you for the next interval.

Cool down

At the end of a set of speed intervals, jog and walk for 5 minutes, take some water, electrolytes and calories (a PowerGel works well here) and then do a very gentle and easy jog for at least 15 minutes. Stretch. Within 15 minutes of the end of the session, ingest some carbohydrate and protein for optimal recovery. (Example a 145 lb person should consume 0.7 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight + 6-15 grams of protein (e.g. 0.7 x 145 = 101grams of carbohydrate + 6-15g of protein)

Lance Watson, LifeSport head coach, has trained a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 28 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. 

Contact Lance to tackle your first IRONMAN or to perform at a higher level. 

For more training tips, visit LifeSport Coaching on Facebook or on Twitter at #LifeSportCoach.

5 week interval progression.

  Tuesday or Wednesday: speed work BAP (Best average pace) Saturday or Sunday: GRP (goal race pace for 10k)
Week 1

4 x 400m (400m jog recovery).

4 x 200m (200m jog recovery). BAP

12 x 400m (1.5’) GRP
Week 2

6 x 200m (200m jog recovery).

6 x 100m (100m jog recovery). BAP.

3 x 800m (2’); 6 x 400 (1.5’) GRP
Week 4

6 x 400m (400m jog recovery).

6 x 100m (100m jog recovery).


1600m (2’) 3 x 800m (1.5’) GRP
Week 5 10 x 200m (200m jog recovery).

3 x 1600m (2’) GRP