After Chris managed to cut more than half of a minute off of his 1 mile time trial time in the previous month, he approached me for advice on how to get a new PR. He had already managed to run a 7:19 mile on his first trip outdoors since he started testing himself.
The interesting thing about Chris is that he is not a runner; he is a power lifter. He adds a little cardiovascular work to his workout routines and has recently been checking once per month to see how fast he can run. He has a new goal of beating his mile time from high school, which was somewhere in the low or high 6 minute range. He recently asked me what I thought that he should do in order to bring his time down another 30 seconds or a minute, and this is what I suggested based on what I knew about his training.
In his next training phase, Chris was planning on working on some sort of running activity two days per week. He was not sure yet what his lifting routine on the other days were going to be but were probably going to be focused on bringing his body fat percentage down.
Since he wanted to cut back on his body fat percentage, the best thing that Chris could do was interval work.
Depending upon his lifting schedule and if he is planning on running twice per week, Chris could go on a 3 day / 4 day split (for example, he could run Monday & Thursday or Saturday & Tuesday) or he could go on a 2 day / 5 day split (by running Monday & Wednesday or Tuesday & Thursday, for example).
I think that if he was on a 3/4 split, then he should be doing 2 interval sessions per week. I recommended that he go on a 2/5 split, though, and only run intervals on the first workout of the week and then run easy two days later. This would give him a chance to stretch his legs out shortly after his interval work, and will be more likely to help keep him healthy and injury free.
For intervals, I told him to start at half mile repeats. Chris will probably want to start at 2 repeats per workout at around 3:30 to 4:00 minute pace with 90 seconds to two minutes of rest. Depending upon how tough of a workout that feels, he should do the same workout the second week or add another repeat to run 3 of them. I think that he should keep that up until he feels completely comfortable doing that, and then try running them faster until he can run between 3:00 and 3:15 for 3 repeats.
It would not be in Chris's best interest to try running them faster or running more volume until this workout became easy. By that point, he should have spent one of his weeks with another mile time trial and be at least 4 or 5 weeks into his interval training.
As it becomes comfortable and fits into his lifting schedule, Chris should start running an extra interval every week or two and may want to start experimenting with running them a little quicker. The week before he does his mile time trial every month, he should cut back and only run 3 repeats.
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Every interval workout should be preceded and followed by a warm up and cool down that is at least 5 minutes but preferably 10 to 12 minutes long. This can be walking or slow jogging, but there should be at least a little bit of slow jogging for the last couple of minutes of the warm up and the first couple of minutes of the cool down. Stretching is optional; I would only do light stretching before the interval work and save any heavy stretching for after the cool down when it will do the most good.
If Chris decides to opt for a day where he does some light running each week, then he should start by jogging a mile or two at a slow pace. If he is running two interval sessions per week, then he should consider running a longer warm up on the session with the fewer days of rest and should run 1 less repeat than he did in the previous workout (unless he did 2 repeats, in which case he should still run 2).
Given this modest program and Chris's goals, I told him that he could do this work and make not only his 6:52 goal but his 6:12 sub goal after a few months.
Blaine Moore is a running coach in Southern Maine with 20 years of training and racing experience. Download his free report, The 3 Components of an Effective Workout, to learn why the work you put in during your training is only the third most important factor that determines how well you improve as a runner and an athlete.