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Interval training for faster 5K times

After shedding 103 pounds, Macon woman shaves 10 minutes from Labor Day Road Race time

Tonja Jordan, 46, set out to lose weight last year. Since March 2014, when she weighed 366 pounds, she has shed 103 pounds by eating better and exercising. At Monday's Labor Day Road Race in Macon, she was cheered by well-wishers. She said she cou
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Tonja Jordan, 46, set out to lose weight last year. Since March 2014, when she weighed 366 pounds, she has shed 103 pounds by eating better and exercising. At Monday's Labor Day Road Race in Macon, she was cheered by well-wishers. She said she cou

Do you happen to be a distance runner who is interested in improving your performance? If so, I have a few tips for you.

I was a middle/long distance runner on the Jones County High School track team when I was in high school (go Greyhounds!). While I wasn’t impressive by any means, I did learn a little bit about developing the endurance for long running events like the the one-mile and the two-mile races.

Interval training is simply alternating short periods of very vigorous training with periods of reduced training or rest. In the case of running, this would mean that you alternate near-maximal running periods with recovery periods of very slow jogging or fast walking.

In recent years, I have made a practice of running some Middle Georgia 5K events, including the annual Labor Day Road Race in Macon. And while I am not up in the front (yet) with the winners, I have consistently been able to reduce my time each year that I’ve participated.

The practice that has helped me shave off the most time is the same practice we employed heavily with high school track: interval training.

Interval training is simply alternating short periods of very vigorous training with periods of reduced training or rest. In the case of running, this would mean that you alternate near-maximal running periods with recovery periods of very slow jogging or fast walking. The length of your runs are could be based either on distance or on time.

In my case, I ran on a 400-meter track and would run hard for 300 meters, then jog slowly for 100-200 meters, then repeat until 10 total minutes had elapsed. It might seem like a short time, but trust me, interval training is intense.

Interval training is an excellent way to shave off significant amounts of time from your runs. In my case, I shaved off 1 minute and 52 seconds between one Labor Day Road Race and the next with interval training alone.

Essentially, you’re encouraging your body, over time, to get accustomed to a higher level of effort by gradually shortening your recovery periods. Also, interval training is particularly good for burning fat and preserving muscle.

Another way to get your 5K time down is by regularly running much longer than the 5K distance. Using at least a day or two each week for a long, easy run — that might be even 10K or more — ensures that when the time comes for you to run a 5K, you’re more than used to the distance. I must admit that in recent times, I haven’t employed the use of long runs much. Why? No good reason, really, aside from admittedly not feeling like running for so long.

Between the two techniques, interval training is the best conditioner, in my opinion. It is much more strenuous, but it gets your 5K times down effectively. If you’re not the competitive type and you’re wondering how to this can apply to you, I encourage you to incorporate interval training into your own exercise routine.

Whether you run, walk or lift weights, alternate periods of very vigorous work with periods of reduced work to allow you to recover. This will supercharge your workout and get you fit in no time.

Make sure beforehand that you consult your physician and that you use caution when beginning to introduce interval training into your personal routine.

Peach County resident Shawn McClendon is an ACE certified personal trainer and owner of the health/fitness blog YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com. Contact him at shawn@yourhealthatthecrossroads.com or at @ShawnB2B on Facebook.

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