Run faster in three ways

Take your running up a level by adding these classic interval sessions to your weekly programme.

Although it might not be considered the most technical of the tri disciplines, running takes time to get used to. When you’re new to it you can expect to go through a few months of building up slowly from run/walk sessions of just 10-15 minutes, gradually increasing the running duration of your workouts, increasing your mileage and the number of sessions you do each week.

It’s sensible to take this approach but once you’re up to running a three to four sessions per week and can manage it comfortably, you might wonder how to progress without risking impact damage. The trick is not to increase volume any further but to structure your weekly runs with interval training.

If you’ve trained in swimming or cycling before you’ll be familiar with the concept: breaking sessions into periods of intense effort so that, in time, your overall speed goes up.
A coach-led programme is the best way to do this but you can easily start on your own with this quick guide.

1. Strides

The simplest addition to one of your weekly runs is ‘strides’. The aim isn’t just to run faster, but to pick up your turnover and stride length and to get a feel for a smooth, fast motion – just like you feel on those days when everything comes together at the end of run or race. Strides don’t need to be structured in rigidly to a run, but can be thrown in at intervals of a few minutes for a 10-15-minute section of your run. Just pull your form together and speed up for eight to 10 seconds at a time, trying to relax into good technique – you shouldn’t be all-out sprinting.

2. Pyramids

There are any number of combinations of intervals you can do on the track, but a good start is a pyramid, running at different paces over different distances for a number of intervals. It’s a great way not only to build speed, but to learn how to pace yourself at many different levels and run fast when you’re tired, which will be invaluable if you’re racing over different distances.

Ideally run on a track so you can mark distance and times – and take the impact of the faster running on the more forgiving surface – a typical pyramid would see you build by doubling the distance of each interval, taking the pace down slightly accordingly. So you might do a 10-minute warm-up of jogging then try 200m/400m/800/1600m, then go back down the pyramid so 800m/400/200m. As you become more experienced you should be able to run the ‘down’ intervals in the same time as the ‘up’ intervals – a good sign that your pace judgement is improving. If you don’t have access to a track, you can also do pyramids using time periods.

3. Threshold runs

Running longer intervals at or just below your lactate threshold is great practise for race situations, when you’ll have to hold a painful pace for an extended period. Your lactate threshold is the point at which lactate begins to build up in your muscles, eventually leading to heavy legs. You can find your lactate threshold accurately using lab tests, but for most people a good estimate is about 80-85% of their maximum heart-rate; in running it’s usually at or just above your half-marathon race pace. Don’t have a heart-rate monitor? Use a perceived exertion of 7-8 out of 10. Try intervals of 10 minutes at first, building up the interval length over time.

Make it work for you: Planning in intervals

As a triathlete you don’t need to run more than three times each week so making each session a quality workout isn’t just an option – it’s essential. Make one run every week a shorter interval session, such as strides or a pyramid; make one run each week a threshold session; and for your final run, keep intensity low and gradually build up the duration (measured in miles or minutes) to improve your endurance.