4 Running Interval Training Examples (Full Breakdown)

Updated: April 9, 2024

April 9, 2024 in Training guides

When we think of interval training, we may get nervous and think of hard, fast track workouts or perhaps going back to running sprints for a school team.

However, interval training is hugely important and will allow you to take significant steps forward in your running performance. Here, we will share some running interval training examples you can do and add to your training.

What is Interval Training Running?

Interval training is essentially when you run for a prescribed distance or length of time; after a set recovery time or distance, you then repeat the process (it does not have to be for the same time or distance)

Here are some helpful definitions to ensure you understand the process.

Repetition 

Also known as interval, rep, effort

This is how often you will perform the effort part of the run.

Example 8 x 1km with 2 mins recovery - in this example, 8 is the repetition.

Pace

Example 8 x 1km @ 4min per km with 2 mins recovery

4 min per km is the pace at which you will aim to run each repetition.

Recovery times sometimes have a pace, but for beginners, it's important to just recover, so stand/walk or jog very slowly, depending on personal preference.

Recovery

Example 8 x 1km @ 4 min per km with 2 mins recovery.

The recovery time here is 2 minutes; you can recover for your next repetition for 2 minutes before you do the next km.

Recovery can also be a set distance as you go to different sessions, such as a 400-meter jog.

Interval

The interval is often the time or the distance. For example

1km is the distance you need to go to run the rep.

Example 8 x 1km @ 4 min per km with 2 mins recovery.

In this, the distance is 1km, but it could easily be 5 mins, so you don't have to run a certain distance.

Top Things To Consider When Deciding On An Interval Session

  • Your ability - For example, you may have a higher ability if you have a background in other sports.
  • Your experience - How long have you been running.
  • Injury history - When planning an interval session, it's important to determine if you have recently had an injury. In that case, you may wish to do the session on a soft surface like grass or the treadmill. Be aware that different surfaces can make specific paces more challenging to run.
  • The race you want to improve on - The race you aim for or the area of your running you would like to improve on greatly determines the length of the workout, the number of reps you do, and the recovery time.
  • What you enjoy—Running can be difficult at times, particularly if you want to chase new best times or run further for the first time; however, running should still be enjoyable. Depending on what you enjoy, you can plan your interval session on a trail, undulating hills, or a nice flat road.
  • The distance you want to run—If you are racing a 5k or a marathon, the length of your interval training sessions is likely to be very different due to the demands of the race. However, it's still worth working on speed as a marathon runner.

Running Interval Training Examples

Here are some different ideas for sessions, along with their purpose.

1. For A 5km Runner Looking To Break 30 Minutes

5 x 1km @ 5.10 per km with 2.30 mins rest period.

Reason why?

The reasoning behind this session is that the runner is a 5km runner with the goal of breaking 30 minutes. It's important to realize that the goal time set is slightly faster than the time they would run to achieve their goal. When we add a taper, the pace can feel better, so if they can hit the times in a workout like this, it gives them confidence.

2. For A 10km Runner Looking To Break 40 Minutes

8 x 1km @ 4.05 per k to 3.55 per k

Reason why?

Again, it's a great interval training session for someone looking to break 40mins with the reps completed at close to race pace. If you can gradually progress the pace of these so that the last few are your fastest, that is the best way to pace the session. 

3. For A 5km Runner Looking To Build Strength

10 x 1 min hills @ 80% effort.

Reason why?

Hills are a great way to improve strength and power and can translate well to speed. When you return to running workouts on the flat, you will notice the difference in strength. It's an excellent session to work at approximately 80% effort rather than flat out, as you can focus on good running form.

4. For A Half Marathon Runner Looking To Improve Endurance

3 x 10 mins 2.30 min recovery @ tempo effort.

Reason why?

A tempo effort can be really beneficial when looking to build endurance. If you are unsure what your tempo pace may be, you can use one of the running calculators, such as: or you can check out using a heart rate monitor.

What Are The Benefits Of Interval Training?

Fun

Interval workouts can be fun, and the varied pace keeps your running fresh and enjoyable. Additionally, interval workouts are great in a group with runners of similar abilities, as you can share the workload and work together.

Improve Efficiency

Running at different paces can help improve efficiency as your body adapts to meet the demands of the increased intensity. Running at a race pace effort will allow you to work on your form and technique, thinking of things such as arm position and cadence.

Speed

Working at different effort levels and using interval training to gradually progress the speed and pace you can run at is a great way to get faster. It's much better to break down the faster paces with a recovery period to keep the workout quality high.

Race Preparation

If you are planning to do your first race, whether it's a 5k, 10k, or even a marathon, you will benefit from running some interval workouts. It's vital to experience the pace you want to run during the race in a workout to know what to expect come race day.

How To Vary Your Interval Workouts

Running with a group v Alone

Running workouts with a group can be hugely beneficial. You can share the pacing to break the wind and motivate each other when the going gets tough.

Treadmill v outside

In poor weather or if you lack motivation to complete a session alone, a good option can be to hit the treadmill. You can dial in your pace and run. The treadmill can change your technique slightly, and there are usually differences of opinion about whether it is harder or easier than running outside. Personally, I find it easier, but it is down to preference.

Trail v Road

You don't have to do your intervals in optimal conditions for pace. Remember that intervals can still be completed using other metrics like effort, heart rate, power, or lactate. Particularly if you are preparing for a trail event, it's worth running workouts on terrain similar to the event you are preparing for.

Flat V uphill

Of course, running workouts on flat terrain are beneficial for working on your speed. However, running some intervals uphill can be very beneficial for improving power and also help to naturally increase your stride length. When you end up back on flat ground, you will notice the difference. Remember not to try and compare the pace or distance with what you may do on the flat, though, as the hill's gradient will increase the intensity.

Cautions of High-Intensity Interval Training Running

Experienced runners regularly use intervals in their training plans. However, when adding high-intensity intervals to your training plan, it's essential to consider your current fitness level. The times and pace you look to run should be based on that.

Remember that intervals do not mean running necessarily at your maximum speed.

Remember to start the session with some light jogging and a lower intensity to allow the body to warm up. As the majority of running races most people do, especially as beginners, are 5k and 10k, working your aerobic fitness is still key.

Remember, one or two high-intensity interval running sessions per week are enough to improve your running. Be sure to prioritize recovery, particularly if you have just started an interval running program.

How To Go Beyond Interval Training?

There are other ways to start improving your running and, ultimately, running faster. Fitness improves over time, and a varied training plan is most likely to improve your race times at your next race.

One of the most important things in running is not to do all your workouts at the same pace.

There are a variety of other workouts and types of training to include in your training; these include:

Tempo running workouts - This can include running longer intervals, shorter intervals, or sustained runs at the lactate threshold or just under.

Hill Training - Running a sustained hill or running up and down a shorter hill to help develop power and stride length.

Weight training - This can be body weight or using weights (such as dumbbells/barbells/kettle bells), helping prevent injury and strengthen muscles.

Cross training - There are various methods for cross training. Consider lower-impact methods such as swimming or cycling. 

Long runs - A longer run to focus on endurance 

Easy runs - Easy runs to recover and develop aerobic fitness. 

Things To Consider Before Starting The Running Interval Training Examples

Warm up - it's important to warm up sufficiently before starting interval training. You may begin with a brisk walk or jog slowly to increase your heart rate gradually.

Be mindful of the recovery intervals. Especially if you are training with a group, occasionally, the group can split, meaning you may be inclined to take shorter rest periods. It is important that when you are training at a high-intensity pace, you give yourself sufficient recovery time, where you may stand, walk, or do a slow jog (active rest).

Be particularly mindful of your post-workout recovery. Following a running workout, your cardiovascular system and muscle fibers will have a more intense workout than easy running.

Don't forget other intensities - While you think that an interval workout and building an interval training program are key to your progression, do not forget that the aerobic system is built with slower and moderate aerobic exercise as well. This is important for improvement and recovery from more intense interval running training.

Don't progress intensity or volume too quickly. While it's fine to be excited to start running workouts faster, be sure to start with a basic interval workout—something with just 10 minutes of faster running is fine.

Wrapping Up

Interval training is a fantastic way to improve your running and break through a plateau in your training; however, you do need to be mindful when adding this to progress it slowly, not do too much, and optimize your recovery. The critical thing with running workouts is to tailor them to your current fitness level. Look at our examples to understand how to create an interval workout, or contact a coach to help you with this.

Remember that interval training is just another aspect of a training plan, and while important, there are also many other aspects such as tempo, threshold intervals, easy running, and long runs; along with strength training, it can sometimes be overwhelming structuring a plan which works for you and your wider life is so important to keep it sustainable and for you to see consistent improvement in race results.

FAQ

Is 20 Minutes Of Interval Running Enough?

Yes. Twenty minutes of interval training is very good. Remember that these are more intense workouts than easy mileage runs, so they don't have to be long. The key is to raise your heart rate and effort or aim to run near a certain pace.

Is It OK To Do Interval Running Every Day?

No, I would not do interval training every day, mainly because your body and mind need time to recover from the intensity of the interval sessions. It's better to have a balanced approach to training to ensure consistency and avoid injury.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Interval Training?

Interval training can be more tiring and use more energy than an easy run. You also need to focus on preparation to get the full benefit from your interval workouts. This could mean fueling, warming up, picking a good location, and running with training partners, which may take more organization.

About the author 

James

James is an elite distance runner and has also raced triathlon for a number of years. He has a certification in swimming coaching, and a passion to help all athletes succeed in finding a balance within sport and life.