Interval training is a structured form of exercise that alternates between periods of high-intensity effort and active recovery. For runners, interval training involves running at a faster pace, close to or at maximum effort, during the high-intensity intervals, followed by a slower, more relaxed pace during the recovery intervals.

This guide will teach you how to incorporate interval training into your marathon running schedule.

Benefits of Interval Training for Runners

Interval training offers numerous benefits for runners that go beyond basic endurance workouts. Some of the key advantages include:

How to Get Started with Interval Training

1. Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Before diving into interval training, it is crucial to prioritize warm-up and cool-down routines. These preparatory and concluding phases of your workout help prevent injuries and optimize the benefits of interval training.


Begin your interval training sessions with a dynamic warm-up that includes light cardiovascular activities such as jogging or brisk walking. Dynamic stretching exercises that target major muscle groups, like leg swings and arm circles, are also beneficial. 

This warm-up increases blood flow to the muscles, raises your body temperature, and enhances flexibility, ensuring your body is primed for the upcoming high-intensity intervals.


After completing the high-intensity intervals, allow your body to gradually return to a resting state through a proper cool-down. 

Perform low-intensity exercises, like slow jogging or walking, and static stretches to ease muscle tension and reduce the risk of post-workout soreness. 

Cooling down aids in the efficient removal of lactic acid and waste products from your muscles, promoting faster recovery and reducing the chance of injury.

2. Determine Your Intensity Levels

Effectively tailoring the intensity of your interval training is essential to ensure you challenge yourself appropriately without overexertion. Follow these guidelines to determine your intensity levels:

Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to your body’s signals during each interval. The high-intensity phases should feel challenging, pushing you to exert a significant effort, but still sustainable throughout the workout.

Use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale

The RPE scale rates your level of effort on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very light activity and 10 indicating maximum effort. Aim for an RPE of around 7 to 9 during high-intensity intervals, and around 3 to 4 during the recovery intervals.

Gradually Increase Intensity

If you’re new to interval training, start with shorter intervals and lower intensity levels. As you build endurance and confidence, gradually increase the duration and intensity of the high-intensity intervals.

3. Choose the Right Workout Structure

The structure of your interval training workouts can vary based on your fitness level, goals, and preferences. Here are some popular workout structures to consider:

Time-Based Intervals

Set a specific time for both high-intensity and recovery intervals. For example, run at maximum effort for 30 seconds, followed by a 1-minute recovery jog. Repeat this pattern for the desired number of intervals.

Distance-Based Intervals

Instead of time, use distance markers to determine your intervals. For instance, sprint for 200 meters, then recover with a slow jog for 300 meters. Repeat this sequence as needed.

Pyramid Intervals

Gradually increase the duration or distance of the high-intensity intervals until you reach a peak, then work your way back down. For example, start with 30-second sprints and increase by 15 seconds until you hit 1 minute, then decrease in the same increments.

Fartlek Training

Fartlek, meaning “speed play” in Swedish, involves alternating between fast and slow paces based on how you feel. During your run, spontaneously pick up the pace for a certain distance or time, then return to a comfortable pace.

Read More: Cross-training for marathon

Advanced Interval Training Techniques

Advanced runners often have specific race goals in mind, and interval training can be a powerful tool to fine-tune their performance for those objectives. Here are some strategies to optimize interval training for specific race goals:

1. Race Pace Intervals

Focus on intervals that closely mimic your target race pace. For example, if you’re aiming for a 10K race, include intervals at the pace you intend to maintain during the actual event. This helps your body adapt to the race pace and enhances race-day performance.

2. Negative Splits

Incorporate intervals with negative splits, where each subsequent interval is faster than the previous one. This technique builds mental and physical endurance, enabling you to finish races with a strong and powerful surge.

3. Hill Repeats

If your race course includes hills, integrate hill repeats into your interval training. Running uphill challenges your muscles and cardiovascular system, preparing you to conquer the inclines on race day.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for Advanced Runners

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) takes interval training to the next level by pushing your body to its maximum capacity. Here are some HIIT techniques for advanced runners:

1. Tabata Intervals

Perform 20 seconds of all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of complete rest. Repeat this 20-second-on, 10-second-off pattern for a total of 4 minutes. Tabata intervals are intense and extremely effective for improving anaerobic capacity.

2. Fartlek Variation

Introduce more variations into your fartlek runs. Include longer and faster sprints, interspersed with periods of moderate recovery running. The unpredictability of fartlek training challenges your body to adapt to varying paces and intensities.

Interval Training for Half Marathons and Marathons

Preparing for half marathons and marathons requires a strategic approach to interval training. Here are some interval training techniques specific to these longer distances:

1. Long Interval Sessions

Incorporate longer intervals, such as 800-meter or 1-mile repeats, at a pace slightly faster than your goal race pace. These longer intervals simulate race conditions and enhance your endurance for the demands of half marathons and marathons.

2. Tempo Runs

Tempo runs involve running at a comfortably hard pace, just below your lactate threshold. This sustained effort helps improve your body’s ability to clear lactic acid and maintain a strong pace during longer races.

3. Yasso 800s

Yasso 800s are a popular marathon training workout. Run 800 meters (1/2 mile) at a specific time, in minutes and seconds, and then recover with an equal amount of rest time. The time you can consistently achieve for the 800s is believed to be indicative of your potential marathon time in hours and minutes.

Remember to tailor your interval training to align with your race distance and goals. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your intervals over time to avoid overtraining and reduce the risk of injuries. Additionally, prioritize recovery and rest days to allow your body to adapt and perform at its best during race events.

Common Mistakes in Interval Training

In the pursuit of maximizing results, even the most dedicated runners can fall victim to common mistakes during interval training. Let’s explore these pitfalls and provide valuable insights on how to avoid them, ensuring your interval workouts remain safe, effective, and instrumental in elevating your running performance.

1. Overtraining

Interval training can be intense, and one of the most common mistakes is overtraining without allowing adequate recovery time. Overtraining can lead to fatigue, decreased performance, and an increased risk of injury. To avoid overtraining:

2. Not Listening to Your Body

Each runner is different, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another. It’s essential to listen to your body and adjust your workouts accordingly:

3. Ignoring Professional Guidance and Training Plans

Interval training can be complex, and seeking professional guidance can be beneficial, especially for beginners or those with specific training goals:

Final Thoughts

Advanced interval training techniques can propel experienced runners toward their race goals. By fine-tuning training for specific objectives, exploring high-intensity options like HIIT, and customizing intervals for half marathons and marathons, advanced runners can elevate their performance and achieve new levels of success in their running pursuits.