Running a Repetition Workout With Time Instead of Distance

This morning, I had a problem. I was supposed to do a repetition workout, but I didn’t have access to a track or a marked running route. So I decided to try something new – basing my repetitions on time instead of distance.

I’m in the first week of a training block focusing on my 5k time, and Wednesday I ran my first speed workout. I was supposed to run another one this morning, but the weather was beautiful. As a result, I’m sure the loop that I used earlier this week was packed with people. This would be inconvenient for everyone involved.

Instead, I decided to use time-based intervals and approximate the same time and distance that I had done in the previous workout. Overall, it worked out pretty well, and I think I’ll keep doing this for my Saturday speed sessions.

Structuring the Workout

For the next few weeks, my focus is on speed. I’ll develop that speed and then I’ll transition to longer intervals that will focus on speed endurance. Today’s workout is a “repetition” workout, in the lingo of Jack Daniels.

On Wednesday, I ran 5 x 320m intervals. The target pace was slightly faster than my mile time. I can run a mile in 6:41, and my goal pace for these intervals was about 6:30 (give or take). I ran an easy recovery jog of an equal distance in between reps.

The challenge was to figure out how to replicate this without any distance markers. Each 320m interval took approximately 75 to 80 seconds to complete, and my recovery jogs were about 2 to 2:30.

So I decided to run 90 second intervals and take 3:00 recovery jogs in between. Since I already knew the pace, I should be able to run it by feel. But I could also spot check based on the distance and the audio cue on the lap pace.

Running the 320m intervals on Wednesday showed me that the GPS watch was remarkably accurate – within 0.01. Based on the target pace, I should be running about 0.23 miles in 90 seconds. So if I looked at the distance and hit between 0.22 and 0.24, I was at least pretty close to being on target.

Data from my workout, with pace and heart rate.

Running the 90 Second Repeats

90 seconds doesn’t seem like a long time, until you try to maintain a hard pace for that long.

After my warm-up, I jogged up to the street I was going to use for my workout. It was about a mile straight away, a half mile loop around, and a mile straight away back. There were some minor hills throughout, but it’s not overly hilly.

I pressed my watch and I started the first lap. The first 45 seconds felt fine, but I must have gone out a bit too fast. Around 45 to 60 seconds, I started to flag. I slowed down a little over the last 30 seconds, but when the lap ended I’d still covered 0.24 miles.

Looking at the data afterwards, I had gone out around 6:00/mi for the first half of the rep. Definitely a little too fast for me to maintain over that distance, at least not without an all out effort.

I dialed it back on the subsequent reps. As luck would have it, each of the next three reps also included some incline. They felt comfortable, although perhaps a tad too easy. The split pace for each rep was around 6:50/mile.

On the last lap, I didn’t have to deal with a hill and I made a conscious effort to kick it up just a little bit. I ended up at a pace of 6:37, which is more or less right where I wanted to be.

I kept jogging for another mile or so to cool down, and then I made my way home.

Reflections on the Workout

A challenge for a lot of recreational runners is not having access to a track. So many speed work outs are devised as repeats that need to be run as tracks, and that can seem daunting if you aren’t part of a high school or college team.

Substituting time for distance here worked out really well for me. It helped that I’d already practiced the pace on a measured course, so I knew roughly where I wanted to be. But really, the exact pace was less important to me than the perceived effort.

I finished the workout feeling tired but not drained. This was good because I had a long run scheduled the next day. I finished the ten miles easily, and my heart rate was nice and low throughout the easy run. I’ll take that as a sign that my body is accepting and adapting to the speed work well.

I’ve got two more of these workouts next week, before I start to phase in some longer intervals. I’m going to stick with the same two workouts – 5x320m on the track Wednesday and 5x90s on the road Saturday.

I’m going to try to bring down the pace just a tad – especially on Saturday – but I think I’ll be in a good position moving into the next phase of the training block.

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