Interval Running Programs for Beginning and Intermediate Runners

 

One of the easiest ways to get your body moving with little equipment and minimal costs is to lace up your sneakers and get running outside!

Two Interval Running Programs (Beginner and Intermediate)

Intervals are a great way to increase your fitness and burn calories. We can burn more calories in less time, increase aerobic capacity and boost our metabolism to achieve an “after-burn,” where our body continues to burn calories after we’ve finished the workout.

The best way to achieve this is to (safely and systematically) push your limits. To do that, you need to be conscious of where you’re at in terms of cardiovascular fitness, and then slowly increase volume of work over time.

A lot of us get caught up in technology, and if you like, you can use stopwatches, pedometers, Heart Rate Monitors with GPS, etc. to track your performance. If nothing else, having your favorite music can help the miles pass.

One key is to know the route and distance, and to try to run farther, harder on a regular schedule. Technology can also help here.

MapMyRun and Strava are apps with an interface and GPS tracking for your phone. The benefit of the former is that the website version allows you to “Create [a] Route,” mapping out where you will run on city streets and paths.

Quick Measurements for Running outside in Chicago:

  • In the West Loop, the blocks traveling East/West are ~0.1 miles (e.g. Ada to Elizabeth, to Racine, etc.). The North/South blocks are a bit more wonky, but we can treat them similarly as long as we’re consistent.
  • You can also run on the 606 Trail, which is marked in 0.1 mile intervals (easy if you’re up by BAC).
  • You can run the Lakefront Trail, which has markers corresponding to streets (e.g. 3100S is 31st), as well as signs every 0.5 mile (easy from LVAC).
  • Union Park is about a half mile around on the North side, 0.6 miles if you run around the South side as well.
  • Skinner Park is about two-thirds of a mile around from Laflin to Throop,
  • The Michelle Obama Athletic Complex has a 0.25 mile track; it’s a square, about 100m per side.
  • The United Center is about 0.85 miles around, from Damen to Wood (0.25 miles), and Madison to Adams (0.17 miles).
  • Humboldt Park is 2.5 miles around, but the trails are a bit meandering.

A Beginner Interval Plan: Walk before you can run

Walking is one of the best ways to build up muscles for running.

  • If you’re currently not doing much regular walking, we should start slow and easy.
  • But if you walk regularly, try walking briskly and build the runs onto that.
  • As we start to incorporate runs, we can ease up our walk intervals to rest up for the next effort.

Before each run/walk, you should foam roll and warm up.

When new to foam rolling, be sure to cover all the leg muscles (hamstrings, piriformis, IT band, adductors, quadriceps, calves, glutes), and your mid and lower back. Roll around and explore the muscle thoroughly.

If you find any painful spots,* be sure to hold on the most painful spot for 20-45 seconds, aiming for 30 seconds or until it becomes less painful. As you get better at this, you can move a joint through a range of motion during the hold.

*Remember those spots, and you can focus on them in the future to save time!

For mobility work, I’m a big fan of the Myrtl Routine:

The whole things is a bit intense, but starting out, we can probably reduce it to 5 reps each of:

  • Clam Shells
  • Lateral Leg Raises (neutral foot)
  • Donkey Kicks
  • Donkey Whips
  • Fire Hydrants
  • Knee Circles, Forward
  • Knee Circles, Backward
  • Lateral Leg Swings
  • Linear Leg Swings
  • Linear Leg Swings, Bent Knee

The Program: Distance Based

This plan is based on one touted in multiple sites, including MyFitnessPal.com, MapMyRun.com and RoadRunnerSports.com. I’ve used it myself and it works. I’ve modified it to fit outdoor running in this area. However, to tailor the plan to you and maximize your improvement, you need to focus on and listen to your body.

A key to improving these run/walks is to do it Any Way You Can (AWYC), and improve at your own rate.

  • In your run intervals, you should be able to talk in short bursts (~3 syllables).
  • If you can’t talk, you should immediately stop.
  • In any case, you should then walk until you can speak in full sentences, but not sing, then pick it up again.

If you need to go slower, go slower. If you can go harder, go harder. When you’re rested and ready to pick it up, go! If you need to start with half a block, do it. Count street lights or buildings, and next time, try to add one. Try to fit more intervals into the distance, or to extend the length of your intervals.

Week 1

  • Monday—start with an easy 1 mile walk
  • Tuesday—rest or non-impact cardio (swimming, biking, etc.) for 20 minutes
  • Wednesday—walk for 1.25 miles
  • Thursday—rest or non-impact cardio for 20 minutes
  • Friday—walk/run 1.2 miles, aiming for at least 4 x 0.1 mile (1 block) run intervals
  • Saturday—­ rest or non-impact cardio for 20 minutes
  • Sunday—rest

Week 2

  • Monday—walk/run 1.5 miles, aiming for at least 5 x 0.1 mile run intervals
  • Tuesday—rest or non-impact cardio for 25 minutes
  • Wednesday—walk/run 1.5 miles, aiming for at least 6 x 0.1 mile run intervals
  • Thursday—rest or non-impact cardio for 25 minutes
  • Friday—walk/run 1.75 miles, aiming for at least 7 x 0.1 mile run intervals
  • Saturday—­rest or non-impact cardio for 25 minutes
  • Sunday—rest

Week 3

  • Monday— walk/run 1.75 miles, aiming for at least 7 x 0.1 mile run intervals
  • Tuesday—­rest or non-impact cardio for 30 minutes
  • Wednesday—run/walk 1.75 miles, aiming for at least 9 x 0.2 mile (2 block) run intervals
  • Thursday—­rest or non-impact cardio for 30 minutes
  • Friday—walk/run 1.75 miles, aiming for at least 7 x 0.1 mile run intervals
  • Saturday—­­rest or non-impact cardio for 30 minutes
  • Sunday—rest

Week 4

  • Monday—run/walk 2.7 miles, aiming for at least 6 x 0.4 mile (4 blocks) run intervals
  • Tuesday—­­rest or non-impact cardio for 30 minutes
  • Wednesday—run/walk 2.4 miles (walk 0.2 miles/run 2 miles/walk 0.2 miles)
  • Thursday—­­rest or non-impact cardio for 30 minutes
  • Friday—run 2.8 miles
  • Saturday—­­­rest or non-impact cardio for 30 minutes
  • Sunday—rest

The curve seems to get steep in Week 4, but you’ll be surprised at how well you tolerate it. In fact, if you’re pushing yourself, you might get there early.

Cool Down/Foam Roll & Stretch

You’re not done yet! You’ll be much happier tomorrow (and in the future weeks) if you take a few minutes to focus on recovery.

End your workout with at least a 5 minute walk, and then be sure to foam roll your problem areas again, and stretch each major muscle group (quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, etc.).

Drink lots of water, and be sure to eat some carbs and protein soon (within 90 minutes).

Beginner II Interval Training Plan

Repeat the above (including warm up and cool down), but double the distance, replace all walks with a jog, and try to increase the pace for the run interval.

Again, be sure to monitor your breathing and keep within the parameters: run until your breath gets labored, then back off and jog/walk until you can talk normally.

Intermediate Interval Training Plan

We only need to do intervals 1-2 days a week, as a “Something of Substance” (S.O.S.) run, and we have a few options.

Foam roll and warm up.

If you haven’t foam rolled before, read the above. But by now you should be well-acquainted with your problem areas; give each it’s due attention and move on.

For mobility work, do the whole Myrtl Routine:

Do 5-8 reps each side of:

  • Clam Shells*
  • Lateral Leg Raises (neutral foot)*
  • Lateral Leg Raises (toe down)*
  • Lateral Leg Raises (toe up)*
  • Donkey Kicks
  • Donkey Whips
  • Fire Hydrant
  • Knee Circle, Forward
  • Knee Circle, Backward
  • Hurdle Trail Leg, Forward
  • Hurdle Trail Leg, Backward
  • Lateral Leg Swings
  • Linear Leg Swings
  • Linear Leg Swings, Bent Knee

*Add a resistance band to increase difficulty


THE PLAN

Base run:

  • Begin with about 0.5-1.0 mile base (easy) run.
  • You should be able to talk in full sentences, but not sing.

Option 1: Short Intervals

  • Run 0.05 miles (half a block, 100m) hard—shooting for a submaximal sprint, or in other words, almost full speed.
  • Follow this with equal distance of slow walking.
  • Work up to 15 intervals, or 1.5 miles.

Option 2: Speed Ladder

  • Run 4 x 0.05 miles (half a block, or 100m) hard
  • Then 2 x 0.1 miles (or 200m) hard*
  • Then 1 x 0.2 miles (or 400m) hard*
  • Then 2 x 0.1 miles (or 200m) hard*
  • Then 4 x 0.05 miles (or 100m) hard
  • Follow each with equal distance of slow walking, 2 miles total.

*As distance increases, you’ll want to ease back your pace a bit to what you can sustain

Option 3: Yasso 800’s*

  • Run as hard as you can sustain for 0.5 miles (800m)
  • Follow that with 0.25 miles (400m) of easy jogging
  • Repeat 2 times for a total of 2 miles.

 *A real Yasso 800 converts your goal Marathon time in hours and minutes (e.g. 4:20:00, or 9’54”/mile) to a goal 800m time in minutes and seconds (e.g. 4’20”, or an 8’40” mile). The faster you want to marathon, the faster you have to run the 800m.

Cool Down/Foam Roll & Stretch

You’re not done yet! You’ll be much happier tomorrow (and in the future weeks) if you take a few minutes to focus on recovery.

End your workout with at least a 5 minute walk, and then be sure to foam roll your problem areas again, and stretch each major muscle group (quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, etc.).

Drink lots of water, and be sure to eat some carbs and protein soon (within 90 minutes).

Here’s how it might fit into a plan:

Week 1

  • Monday—3 miles easy
  • Tuesday—Option 1 (S.O.S.)
  • Wednesday—Rest or Cross-Train
  • Thursday—5 miles easy (S.O.S.)
  • Friday—3 miles easy
  • Saturday—7 miles Long, Slow Distance (L.S.D.)
  • Sunday—Rest or Cross-Train

Week 2

  • Monday—3 miles easy
  • Tuesday—Option 2 (S.O.S.)
  • Wednesday—Rest or Cross-Train
  • Thursday—5 miles easy (S.O.S.)
  • Friday—3 miles easy
  • Saturday—7 miles L.S.D.
  • Sunday—Rest or Cross-Train

Week 3

  • Monday—3 miles easy
  • Tuesday—Option 1 (S.O.S.)
  • Wednesday—Rest or Cross-Train
  • Thursday—Option 3 (S.O.S.)
  • Friday—3 miles easy
  • Saturday—7 miles L.S.D.
  • Sunday—Rest or Cross-Train

Week 4

  • Monday—3 miles easy
  • Tuesday—Option 2 (S.O.S.)
  • Wednesday—Rest or Cross-Train
  • Thursday—Option 3 (S.O.S.)
  • Friday—3 miles easy
  • Saturday—7 miles L.S.D.
  • Sunday—Rest or Cross-Train

If you need more rest, skip an easy day, run less miles on the S.O.S. or L.S.D., and build more slowly. If you need more activity, add in one of the options to the early S.O.S. days, or increase the distance on the L.S.D.

Written by: Nathan Wilson is an Expert Level, (N.A.S.M.) Certified Personal Trainer at West Loop Athletic Club. He has trained for 8 marathons, including 3 Boston Marathons (2018, 2019 & 2020).

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