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The Power of Interval Training to Improve Half Marathon Race Times

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Ever since Czech Republic runner Emil Zatopek attributed her success at the 1952 Summer Olympic Games to interval training. Athletes worldwide have been increasingly using this method to prepare for long distance races. Zatopek won 3 gold medals at the event and is now recognized as one of the best marathoners of all time.

Below, we outline four reasons why you too should consider this type of training when preparing for a half marathon. Additionally, we offer a practical interval training routine you can begin practicing right away.

Benefits of Interval Training for Half Marathon Runners

Extensive studies have been carried out to determine the effects of interval training on half marathon performance. These studies have found that interval training;

1. Improves oxygen efficiency

Our muscles need as much oxygen as possible to function properly. This ability to consume oxygen is known as oxidative capacity, measured in VO2 max. Athletes, especially runners, need a high VO2 max to achieve and maintain high-performance levels. Unfortunately, your VO2 max doesn’t just depend on your lungs. Your lungs can work perfectly the whole day and you’d still end up with a low VO2 max. Interval training is one of the few exercises that increase VO2 max.

2. Keeps and even builds mass while burning calories

Marathoners also need to burn fats and replace them with lean muscle. Not many exercises can give you this. Cardio, for instance, burns many calories but doesn’t build mass. Weight training, on the other hand, builds stronger and bigger muscles but doesn’t burn many calories. Interval training is one of the very few exercises that does both. It allows you to keep muscle mass or even build new, lean mass while burning calories at the same time.

3. Is incredibly efficient

Whether or not you’re a professional runner, you should always aim for exercises that deliver big gains with minimal effort. Interval training is one of those exercises. It has been shown that just 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training has a bigger impact on a runner’s race times than one hour of jogging on the treadmill. Also, just 10 minutes of interval training burns more calories than 30 minutes on the treadmill. This makes interval training an excellent option for people who are busy, but who still want to take part in and even win a half marathon.

4. It trains the whole body

Scientific studies show that marathoners and runners, in general, shouldn’t just focus on working out the leg muscles. While it’s important to strengthen the legs, you’re a lot more likely to be successful if you train the rest of the body. Given that it takes the entire body to achieve required levels of endurance and balance (both critical to running success) it is important to train your whole body. Interval training can be designed to combine multiple forms of exercises that target the entire body. For instance, you can add weight training, high-speed cardio, stretching, and even some isometric exercises to your interval training for a full-body workout.

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Practical Interval Training Suggestion for Half Marathoners

  • Warm up for 1-1.5 miles at a near race pace effort
  • Run a pyramid of 400, 400, 800, 400, 400 meters of speed training at 20-30 seconds faster than target race pace
  • Do a 400-meter recovery loop at race pace plus 10-15 seconds after each speed interval
  • Cool down with a 1-1.5 mile run at near race pace effort
  • Stretch and use a foam roller to roll out tight spots

Final Tips

Interval training is something to build up to. You must have a solid base level of fitness to begin this type of training. In the case of half marathon training, I have a 90-day program but on day one you should be capable of running a 5K in under 32 minutes. My program involves 1 interval training workout per week. As well as, 2 runs per week overall with HIIT workouts in-between. It’s perfect for the busy person who wants to move up from the 5K and 10k distance to accomplish a half marathon. This program is doable without adding loads of extra time for training. If interested in the 90-day training program, contact me!