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Workout Wednesday: AT/ Tempo Run Intervals

Just ’cause it’s cross country season doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun playing with some speed. Try this speed session that combines anaerobic threshold intervals and tempo running for an efficient, but tough, fall workout.

I’ve always been a big proponent of anaerobic threshold (AT) workouts – intervals done at about an 85 percent effort with very short recovery – because I find they are a great simulation for the discomfort you have to deal with during a race situation.

I know that there will be a bunch of exercise physiologists who will cringe at my oversimplified description, but your AT is basically the point at which you stop working aerobically and start using glycogen as your main energy source. (When you’re working aerobically, fat is your main energy source.) Triathletes, especially, need to spend a lot of time working on their AT because, in many ways, it’s the deciding factor in their race success. The longer, and faster, you can push in a race while still working aerobically, the better off you’ll be.

I came up with this running set as a way to combine an AT session with a bit of tempo running. It is basically a bunch of broken one mile intervals. Before you start you need to make sure you do a good warm up, and I like to have my athletes build through the first set, using it as an extended warm up before pushing the remaining sets in the workout. Ideally you would do this set on grass or a gravel path or track. This time of year we typically have to hit a paved trail that’s lit, but at least marked in 200 m increments.

Warm up: 10 to 15 mins

Main set:

4 x 200m with a short recovery (typically on 1:30 for the first set, then decreasing for the subsequent sets.)

1 x 800 m tempo (XC race pace)

2 MRI (minutes rest interval) between sets.

Warm down: 10 to 15 mins

The runners in my group will do the first set of 200s in about 40 to 50 seconds, giving them about the same time to recover before they start again. We reduce the time for the subsequent sets – the four 200s are on 1:15 for the second set, 1:00 for the third. Ideally, other than the first set of 200s, which should be a bit slower, you should hold the same pace for all of the 200s, and the tempo runs, throughout the set.

As a cross country prep set we typically do three to five sets.

You can modify this set as preparation for a longer race, too, if you’d like, by adding some more 200s and making the tempo run longer and at that goal race pace. So, if you were getting ready for a marathon, you might want to do sets of 8 x 200 followed by a 1 mile tempo run.