Why I love high intensity running workouts

You can run and run and run, but if you’re not pushing yourself, you’ll hit the plateau. You might think you don’t need performance, you’re happy with where you are, but it comes a time in anyone’s life when you just want to be better. Or you want to maintain being at the top. This is where workouts come in place.

I’m sure it’s not just me who has a love/hate relationship with high-intensity workouts. Because you need to push and then push even harder, sometimes to the maximum and some other times you need to do it for longer and even repeat it. It bloody hurts, and you have to convince yourself to go on. But then, you don’t feel “meh” or just good; you feel excellent, fulfilled, endorphins keep reminding you that “it wasn’t that hard”. And after some days, your parkrun is easier, and your pace gets faster.

Two-three years ago I was running twice a week with the friends at work. The route was around the Thames near Chiswick/Kew with a length of 7km. I could never run that distance in under 34 minutes. Maybe I could comfortably run it in 38 most of the time but some other times even just under 40 minutes. I ran that same distance for about a year, and there was no improvement in my pace. More, if I tried to push, my legs started hurting quite a lot, I even had a sore shin for a couple of days after the run. Imagine how much I must love running since I didn’t give up back then.

When we started to train, we somehow paused running. Andreea told her trainer, Matt, that one of her aims, besides weight loss, is to be better at running. And Matt suggested she should start with sprints. Sprint for 10 seconds, for about ten times during a 5k run. Well, we couldn’t do it at first, but run by run we got to those numbers. And it was then when my parkrun performance skyrocketed. It went from over 27 minutes to just under 23.

But just sprints aren’t enough. No exercise alone is enough. The more you repeat the same one, the less likely it is to improve your running. So you have to alternate and cycle various types and also increase or decrease the push time, recovery time and a number of repetitions. Not only in running but in general in fitness, you’re not pushing hard enough if it doesn’t hurt (I’m talking about soreness and effort, not breaking something!).

How to better cope with the push?

I believe one of the most important details is the warm up. I used to think that by warming up I consume too much energy and there’s not too much left for the workout itself. If you feel this, then either you’re at the beginning and out of shape or you’re warming up too hard. You just need patience and lower the intensity of your warm up. Add some dynamic stretching to pace yourself down. Also, start low and increase the intensity gradually during your workout. It will help you maintain your high intensity for longer.

To keep your mind focused, you should never aim for PBs during workouts, just try to stick to what you have to do. That’s because they’re meant to be more and more intense and varied, and you’d end up comparing apples with oranges. While a 5k race will always be a 5k race.

Besides the sprints mentioned above, also called strides, examples of high-intensity workouts are:

  • Tempo runs – running at the race pace for sustained periods of time. Example: 2 miles warm up, 3 miles tempo run, 2 miles cool down.
  • Intervals – the higher the distance, the lower the number of repetitions. For example, 10 x 400m with 200m recovery after each of the four repetitions or 4 x 1000m with 400m recovery.
  • Hill training – running uphill will activate more legs and core muscles and will increase your strength. For example, run a 3-minute hill for four times or a 200m hill for ten times. Jog or walk downhill for recovery.

Currently, my parkrun PB time is under 20 minutes, and my fastest 5k is at around 18:30. I’m running 10km in just under 43 minutes, almost the same time as my old 7km around the Thames. Sure, one reason is my improved overall fitness, but none of these would have been possible without high intensity running workouts.

Back to the love/hate relationship, whenever I recall a specific workout, I feel good about myself finishing it, I feel the improvement it did to me, I remember the euphoria that goes on afterwards. I really can’t say I hate these workouts. Except for the exact time when I’m doing them.

How do you cope with your high intensity running workouts? Love them, hate them, mixed feelings?

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