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Training hard on a tight schedule
If I don’t have the time to train for a half marathon, can I rely on shorter duration higher intensity training three times per week and still perform well at races lasting as long as an hour and a half? Example: three training sessions per week might include 10 x 1:30 intervals one day, a 30-minute, hard-effort run on another and a 45-to-60-minute medium-pace effort on a third day. The runs would be spread one to two days apart, with no exercise on the rest days.
—Cornelius Puiulet, Albuquerque, NM
Ahh, the age-old question of the time-strapped athlete. It’s easy to say, generally, that if you don’t have a lot of time, you should do quality work, i.e. high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Ute CrossFit of Salt Lake City owner, Bobbie Hackenbruck, says, “I’ve seen HIIT work well for athletes doing races right up to that 1.5-hour mark.” So, Cornelius, you are probably right on the borderline.
While shorter and harder training sessions closely simulate shorter race durations, it doesn’t mean they can’t work for longer events. Research shows that when it comes to improving VO2 Max and mitochondrial density—both markers of improved endurance—HIIT works, and in a fraction of the time that slower-paced training does.
Says Hackenbruck, “The better your running foundation, the more effective this method will be.” So if you are coming at this reduction in training time after a solid block of more traditional training, where you’ve put in the time on trails, then this reduction actually acts as a forced sharpening period.
This article originally appeared in our September 2014 issue.