Distance Intervals

Have you ever seen those runners waiting at a street crossing or stop light jogging in place? Maybe you’re even one of them. Some runners say it keeps them loose so they keep moving. The more dangerous corollary is the runner who launches themselves across traffic, jaywalking, crossing against lights, etc. because he/she doesn’t want to stop. What I hear most often is that they want to keep their heart rate up or some such thing about stopping will ruin the run. If that pesky heart rate dips too low it will water down their workout, right? 

If you are on a long run you are out to get endurance training – improving your ability to run further. Or, you might be doing a goal run – running at the pace you will be running on marathon race day. It might even be possible that you are trying to run some miles to burn calories.

I want to poke a hole in this keeping-heart-rate-up myth. In each of these three cases, heart rate is irrelevant. What counts is training your muscles, nerves, sinew, connective tissue and muscle enzymes to become stronger or more plentiful in order to run better, further, faster. Your heart is coming along for the ride getting conditioned like all the other muscles of your body.

Goal runs are designed to improve your efficiency at that specific pace (give or take about 5 seconds per mile – terrain excepted). The more miles you can run during training at your goal pace the better prepared you are for handling your race pace during the race itself. Therefore, think about it… if you get a brief interlude of “rest” before launching yourself across the street to continue your run and it allows you to actually maintain your goal pace, or go even further at your goal pace, then you are improving your training! Think of it like distance intervals. 

Endurance runs are designed to improve your ability to run longer – regardless of pace. True endurance runs are most often run between 1:00 and 1:30 slower than your goal marathon pace. The objective is to get used to running for a longer period of time. Once again, think about it… if you get a brief interlude of “rest” before galloping off and it actually allows you to run further or maintain your pace so you don’t slow to a walk then youare improving your training! Distance intervals strike again.

Finally, what about the calorie burner? Surely keeping moving will burn more calories than just standing and waiting for the light to change right? Well, yes and no. Yes, it burns very slightly more calories than standing still. No, it won’t necessarily burn more calories overall. The reason is that faster paces or more miles of running will burn far more calories than the few you expend jogging in place. In fact, if you use your stationary rest as a break that will let you pick up the pace for your next segment of the run, you will end up burning far more calories. Higher intensity runs burn more calories during the run with the bonus of burning far more after the run is over. So, the distance interval mindset is more beneficial even for this runner!

My word to you is stop. Stop your watch. Breathe. Relax. Get your mind into your next segment of the run. Then get going and do it well.

By the way, though I didn’t know the science behind it years ago, I used to train regularly this way living in Tucson, Arizona. I lived in the middle of the city. My “distance intervals” were often a mile in length and I would do 10-15 of them. I found that my training was of exceptional quality as a result of taking advantage of my “rests” instead of bemoaning them. And my race results supported my efforts. 

Exception: Of course there is always the exception. If you seem to tighten up too much with complete stopping, then go ahead and jog in place… but please don’t race across the street in front of traffic.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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One Response to Distance Intervals

  1. It’s like everything else in life. People don’t stop their cars either and do rolling stops. Another good reason to stop.

    We don’t like to stop moving, except unlike sharks, we don’t really die when we do stop and look around.

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