All the running advice says you should run speed intervals on a regular basis. Some people describe them as sprint reps, and increasingly research is now saying that sprinting is a type of training that benefits everyone and is especially good for us as we get older. Honestly though, whatever you call them, my track record for making sprint reps a part of my weekly routine is not very consistent.
There were those months when I had access to a municipal track. For a while I really enjoyed connecting with a local running group for an evening session of sprinting. I’ve never felt like I have a natural talent for speed, and yet it was clear that these kind of short, intense running bursts really paid off when I returned to my more familiar and comfortable long, steady runs.
Then there was the period of a couple of years when I would drop Keziah off for her weekly music lesson and head to a quiet road not far away, to run intervals until it was time to collect her. It wasn’t quite the same as being at a track, being encouraged by the other runners, but at least it was relatively secluded and I could make good use of that slice of time.
In any case, apart from the odd effort here and there, it’s been a while since I really committed to a regular practice of speedier runs and somehow it’s on my radar again. And what I’m noticing this time is that the quality of any particular interval - whether counted in seconds, minutes, metres or kilometres - depends a good deal on the quality of the rest in between intervals.
It’s no use powering through 90 seconds of sprinting and then collapsing at the other end, unable to gear up for the next round of effort. On the other hand, staying highly strung and anticipating the next sprint prematurely is no good either. During this short period of planned rest, the idea is to settle the body. Allow the breath to return to a steady rhythm, let the heart rate go down. Stay in the zone, stay focused, but bring that intense sense of exertion to a state of calm.
The quality of this rest interval depends in part on your ability to be in the moment. However that last interval went, good or bad, let it go. And don’t get anxious about whether you can run another 10 of these intervals, or however many you have left. The only thing you have to do in this moment is to breathe, to settle your body down and, when the time is right, to commit to the next thing.