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Winter running intervals

Cold Weather Running

Intervals can help you get fit for spring races.

Here is the third and final instalment of a series on winter running. Part one focused on beginners, and part two on those with some intermediate experience. This week, we’ll take a more advanced view.

If you’ve been through training before, and you’re doing a regular long run, regular tempos, and including sprints in your regular runs, then you’re doing quite well and you’ll probably improve a lot just by being consistent and training through the winter.

Most people will want to know about intervals and where they fit in. You can, surprisingly, do without intervals in the winter base season, as long as you are hitting your tempos and being religious about your sprints. It may be, however, that you’ve got a goal race early in the spring spring, or you want to do some races over the winter. If that’s the case, you do want to try to run a few sessions at race pace, which is usually where intervals come in to play.

Intervals are simply fast runs broken up by periods of rest. For example, you can run 13 x 400m at your goal 5K pace, and jog 200m very easy as a recovery. That will help you practice running the pace you want for 5k. You may not have access to a track, which means you won’t know exactly how far 400m is. That’s ok. You can get the same physiological benefits by running 13 x 90 seconds and jogging for a minute in between. There’s nothing magical about the track. The magic happens in your body.


Ideally, you’ll want to have a plan for intervals that goes one of two ways. You can start with shorter intervals (like 400m) at your goal race pace and every couple of weeks you can increase the length of the interval until you are running a session that approximates a race effort. So 13 x 400m, then 10 x 500m, then 9 x 600m, then 6 x 800m, and finally 5 x 1000m. Over the course of three months (sometimes you’ll have to repeat a session a couple times before moving up, and you’ll have some weeks where you don’t do intervals), you can build up your ability to run at your 5K race pace.

Another way to try to build up intervals is to start with your goal session of 5 x 1000m, but at your current fitness level. Do the same session regularly, but try to go a little faster each time. Your fitness will increase as a result of your jogs and tempos, and your ability to run fast will be stimulated by your sprints. The interval workout then becomes a kind of “test of fitness” to see how much you are improving. The danger with this method is that if you do the test too often, you won’t see much improvement, so it is best to vary the intervals, and only do the test session maybe every four to six weeks.