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Short intervals are fast-running segments of 100 meters (one-quarter lap, or one full straightaway) to 400 meters. Because they are so short, these intervals can be run at very close to maximum speed. Naturally, you can run 200m intervals at a slightly faster pace than 400m intervals and you can run 100m intervals faster still. The purpose of short interval workouts is to increase raw speed, stride power and running economy. They are beneficial even for marathon runners, whose race pace is substantially slower than the speeds that can be sustained over such short distances. The power and efficiency gains you derive from running short intervals will enable you to sustain your current marathon pace more easily, and thus run faster at the effort level associated with your current marathon pace.
Recovery periods between short intervals should be relatively long — roughly three times the duration of the intervals themselves. This is necessary to allow you to maintain a consistent level of performance throughout the workout. If you don’t recover long enough, you will slow down from one interval to the next and the workout will become a test of fatigue resistance instead of a speed and power builder. Recoveries may be either passive (standing or walking) or active (slow jogging).
Exactly how fast should you run short intervals? Generally, you should run as fast as you can without slowing down before the end of the workout. So your last interval should be as fast as your first, and you should be good and tired by the time you complete it. You will likely need to get one or two short interval workouts in your legs before you master the pacing aspect.
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The total amount of fast running you should do in this type of workout depends primarily on your fitness level. Here are some suggested formats:
Beginner Short Interval Workouts
- 6 x 100 meters
- 6 x 200 meters
- 6 x 300 meters
- 6 x 400 meters
Intermediate Short Interval Workouts
- 8 x 100 meters
- 8 x 200 meters
- 8 x 300 meters
- 8 x 400 meters
Advanced Short Interval Workouts
- 10 x 100 meters
- 10 x 200 meters
- 10 x 300 meters
- 10 x 400 meters