Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 5 Apr 2000 09:09:06 -0400

Interest in Intervals

Dave Deigan has hung around the sport as long as I have. Long enough and close enough that the San Franciscan now makes a living from running. His company manufactures the "space blankets" that greet runners at the finish line of many long races.

He doesn't just earn from the sport. He gives back to it as coach of a Galloway marathon training group.

True to Jeff's teachings, Dave instructs marathoners-to-be to take walk breaks early and often in their training runs and the race itself. Some of them balk at walking, thinking they've cheated or wimped out by not running every step.

Dave and I were speakers this winter at the Millennathon in Oakland, California. My talk included the usual pitch for walks and a personal endorsement of them. This was greeted, as usual, by a few scowls and head-shakes from the audience.

"If you don't like that word 'walk,' " I said, "then think of it as 'interval training.' This sounds better to some of you than that the W-word."

Interval training is an honorable practice for helping runners go faster. So why not use it also for going longer?

In their broadest sense, intervals involve breaking up any large and imposing chunk of work into smaller and more manageable pieces. This can mean sprinkling the eight-hour day at the office, plant or school with coffee, potty and lunch breaks. A workday of two-hour blocks is easier to face than with an unbroken eight hours.

A runner who can't yet cover a straight five-minute mile can interval-train for it by splitting the mile into four 75-second quarters with a timeout after each lap. A runner who can't yet last 20 uninterrupted miles can handle 20 times one mile at marathon pace with brief breathers between.

I've used intervals both ways. My track racing of long ago wouldn't have been nearly as fast without frequent high-speed quarters. My marathons of recent times wouldn't have been possible on these battle-scarred legs without frequent rest intervals.

After we talked in Oakland, Dave Deigan wrote, "I've borrowed your 'interval running' term to describe our marathon technique. Actually I sort of spontaneously began to use it just before I heard you use it. I'm amazed at how hard-core runners are not willing to subscribe to 'run-walk,' but will accept 'intervals.' "

The term isn't original with me, either. But when it floated past, source unknown, I plucked it from the air because it sounded good.

I happen to think that "walk" is a perfectly fine word, simple and clean. I'm enough of a propagandist, though, to know if "intervals" breaks down anyone's resistance to the practice then please call it that.

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