Interval Training Q&A

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Remember when the purpose of your off-season training was to improve for the upcoming season? Well, for college trackletes, those days are long gone.

"I heard a famous coach once say, 'You have to train to be able to train,'" says John Gondak, Penn State University's assistant track and field coach. The off-season is just another hurdle in the never-ending marathon of college track and field. With cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor events picking up in the spring, the base you build in the summer is critical, especially for interval training.

Here, Gondak throws down some thoughts about interval training—part of the program his distance runners use at College Station.

STACK: What is interval training?
John Gondak:
Interval training is the type of training where you set up a structured workout, and you have a certain distance that you want your athletes to cover in a certain time, with a specific amount of rest between intervals.

Shorter rest periods are more for aerobic-based and strength-type training. Longer rest [periods] between intervals are for anaerobic-type training, where you're working more on the speed aspect.

STACK: What are the goals for interval training?
One of the key components when you're setting up your plan is, you don't want to run the first few miles at a certain pace, then get slower as the workout goes on. Ideally, you want the intervals to stay within the same range of time throughout, or even get faster as you progress throughout your workout.

For example, in a cross country race, the first mile goes out really fast. You might want to set up your interval training so your first mile is fast—to kind of simulate that first mile of the race. With the middle two miles, you settle in to what you're hoping will be race pace, or similar to it. Then, the last mile you try and run fast again, because you're trying to simulate the end of the race.

STACK: When should track and field athletes work on interval training?
Interval training comes more into play during the competition phase of the season. During the summer and off-season is when you do a lot of your base training, which [consists of] aerobic distance runs, where you're going for steady-paced distance and trying to become as fit as you possibly can.

STACK: How should intervals be incorporated into a training plan?
You're not doing interval training every week throughout the whole year. You're doing it for maybe a specific eight-week period. Then, you go back to a little bit of base work during the break, say between cross country and indoor track.

You start to incorporate the intervals again when you get into December and on into January and February. After indoor track is over, you go back to some base training and then start to incorporate the intervals back in once you start the outdoor track season.

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