Use Intervals to Get Stronger

Distance: 21.15 miles
Time: 1:01
Average Watts: 201 watts
Normative Power: 225 watts
Average Heart Rate: 157 bpm
Total Work: 757 kJ
Average Speed: 20.8 mph

This was one of my first planned interval rides of the year and all I can say is ouch. The goal was to ride 0.5 miles at 300+ watts and then back it off and soft pedal (right around 150 watts) for the next 0.5 miles. I wanted to do 10 of these intervals and then cruise it home, but that isn’t how it all worked out.

I got my 10 intervals in, but then when I turned around to come home, I realized I was riding into a 20+ mph headwind. During my intervals I was cruising at 30+ mph and during the recovery period I averaged 17 mph with about 150 watts. I knew the wind was going to be brutal, but man it hurt on exhausted legs. I was able to keep my watts north of 200 for the entire ride back, but it was a struggle. I averaged 16.7 mph and 203 watts on the way home. Since the route was flat, you can tell from the numbers that something was pushing back on the way home.

Intervals — The Secret to Improving Overall Speed

On a run I took with my brother last summer as he was preparing for his entrance into the Army, he was plodding along at a pace that was much slower than I knew he was capable of. It was a planned 7.0 mile run so at the turn-around on the out and back route we followed that day I made him stop and asked him how he was feeling, if there was anything, wrong, or if anything was hurting. He said he felt fine, so this is how the rest of the conversation went…

Me: Dude, you are much faster than this. You really need to pick up the pace. All you are doing is teaching your body to run slow. Let’s pick up the return by about 2:00 per mile.

Him: I can’t. I’m giving what I got today.

Me: That’s total BS. If you can’t give anymore, then we will walk back.

That really pissed him off. He wanted to run, but we were running entirely too slow for his talent and the shape he was in at the time. So we started walking. He wouldn’t talk to me he was so mad. After about a mile, he asked if we could run again and I said no. I really thought at that point he would take off without me, which is kind of what I wanted. When we were about a mile and a half from the house he asked again and we took off running at a pace that was much faster than the plodding that we were doing earlier. He had it in him and I knew it. He just needed a reminder that he has speed in his legs. I love that kid. He just finished Jump School for those of you who are interested.

If you are doing all of your workouts at the same speed, you have got to make a change. You cannot train at a 10:00/mile pace and expect to run a 9:00/mile marathon. The same goes for cycling — there is no way you can ride 18 mph in training all the time and then expect to burn up a race at 24 mph. To get faster, you can call Lance and see if he can hook you up with an EPO supplier, or you can surprise your body and work to improve your speed.

That’s where intervals come in. To improve your running speed, go to a track and do 400 or 800 intervals. I love these workouts because you can run really, really fast. If you haven’t really run intervals before, make sure you have a good base under you and then get to the track. I like to run the 2.0 miles to a local middle school track to warm-up and then do 400 intervals. I will run a lap around the track at about a 5:40 pace (right around 1:25 for the lap) and then jog the next lap. Depending on how I feel that day and my goals for the workout, I will run up to eight repeats of this workout. It gets really hard to hang on by the end. I cool down with a good 2.0 mile run home. If you are sore the next day, you know you ran hard enough. If you want to know what pace your intervals should be, read my post about the use of the McMillan Calculator here. There really are lots of benefits of intervals.

On the bike, I follow a similar strategy. Yesterday I rode 0.5 miles hard and then soft pedaled for the same distance. Some people ride by time, which is also a great idea. Either way, you need to pick an effort level that is tough for you to sustain all the way until the end. For me, 290 watts is where my Anaerobic Threshold zone begins according to my WKO+ Software, so trying to hold 300+ watts for 0.5 miles is tough by the end of the last interval. I have a couple of races coming up that are really hilly, so these intervals were to prepare for short, tough climbs. To improve my threshold power I extend the intervals to two miles and decrease the targeted power.

If you did the workout correctly, your muscles will be toast for at least a day after your workout. I like to schedule an easy ride or a swim the day after an interval session. To get the full benefit of this type of intense workout you need to make sure you schedule adequate rest into your schedule. Without the rest, you may start to exhibit the symptoms of overtraining. I never schedule more than one interval workout a week. I always try and schedule my interval workouts at the start of the week so my body can recovery in time for my long workout on the weekend.

Interval training has a ton of benefits that I will go into next week in another post. What endurance athletes need to know is that intervals improve the efficiency of your heart, the ability of your blood to delivery oxygen to your muscles, and make your muscles stronger. The intended outcome of this workout is to make it easier for you to cruise at higher speeds.

Don’t forget to include intervals into your triathlon training calendar. Don’t always train at the same pace. You will find that if your goal is to get faster or more comfortable at your goal pace, intervals are a great way to achieve that.

PS. I am in the middle of I’m Here to Win, the new book by Chris McCormack. To start, I love him as an athlete and I think his trash talking is actually good for the sport. His book has been a well-written, solid read so far. I should put up a review next week.

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...