"Look Ma - No Intervals!"



Interval training, fartlek, track workouts and other forms of “hard“ run training are common to many triathlete coaching programs.

Although they can effectively build running speed and strength, these sessions come with increased risk of injury such as pulled muscles during the actual workout or suffering the strains of overtraining afterward.

If an athlete suffers one of these setbacks, how can you effectively recover form and fitness? This case study shows us how.

Austin, an age group triathlete training for USAT Sprint Nationals, experienced significant pauses in run training due to a persistent calf injury throughout 2020 and into the early part of 2021, brought on by some over-enthusiastic interval training in a track workout.

In April 2021 Austin and I agreed a significant reduction in both run volume and intensity, reducing the workload to 2-3 sessions per week, of 30-45 minutes duration at EZ pace. Austin was already doing weight training and he continued with leg strengthening exercises to supplement the running. He kept up this routine through August, completing 50 run workouts in total and gradually improving his average pace per mile.

At the beginning of this new program, his first run was at 9-and-a-half-minute per mile pace but soon averaged 8 mins 39 secs for the next 10 workouts. Over the course of the following months, his 10-run average dropped to 8 mins 10 secs, and then settled at 7 minutes 45 secs. He only went under 7-minute pace on three occasions during the whole period and his fastest run was at 6 minutes 44 secs per mile.

All the runs were in and around his neighborhood in Houston, where the conditions are hot, humid and the terrain is flat. A few runs in Colorado, where he went on vacation, were excluded from the analysis because of the change in terrain, climate and altitude.

Throughout the program he adhered to the reduced intensity, duration and frequency. He did no heroic intervals, track workouts or hard sessions; just consistent, steady running. And he suffered no further injuries.

On race day, Austin completed the run at near PR pace, covering the USAT Sprint National course at a pace of 6 mins 54 secs per mile. His best race day performance by far.

The lesson for coaches and athletes is that hard run sessions like interval training, track workouts and fartlek should be avoided with athletes that are prone to injury and great improvements and performance can be gained from steady, consistent training at EZ to moderate intensity.

Averaging pace and performance metrics over 10 workouts can help track broad trends in progress and avoids the athlete and coach getting lost in erratic day-to-day or weekly variations or the results of singular test runs.

As Austin said:

”Great race for me! Felt like I left a little out there but massive improvement on run. I really need to work on transitions, I probably lost 1-2 min compared to top of field there. Cut 4 minutes off my run compared to last race, ha!”

All achieved with “No intervals!”. Try it, it may work for you.

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