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Running Interval Notation

Posted on January 4th, 2018 by

How can you understand the Thursday sessions described in our training schedules? Most of our Thursday sessions are what is called “interval sessions”. In an interval session you alternate fast running with rest or jogging, but to describe the session in full you need to know how many intervals to do, how long they should be, how fast to run them and how long to rest. That’s quite a bit of information to get across.

Believe it or not there is an international standard for describing running interval training sessions, and that’s pretty much what we use in our schedules. The official notation was adopted as a standard by the IAAF in 1997, but we’ve made a few tiny tweaks from the standard to make it easier to read for novices.

The basic format is:

reps x distance (pace) [rest/recovery].

For example we might specify that you run:

4 x 1600m (10k) [1min].

That would mean that you run 1600m at your 10k race pace then rest for a minute. This is repeated 4 times.

A more complex session might be:

1600m (10m) [3min] 4 x {400m (1m) [2min]} 1600m (10m).

This means that you first run 1600m at your 10 mile race pace, then do 4 sets of 400m at your 1 mile race pace with 2 minutes rest between each 400m, then finish off the session with another 1600m at your 10 mile race pace.

That’s the notation we use for the main part of our schedule, but for the sessions for the current week we go to the trouble of calculating how long each interval should take you. This depends upon how you’ve customized the schedule. For example, if you’re hoping for a 3:30 marathon, for the complex session described above it would say

1600m (10m pace=7’31”) [3min] 4 x {400m (1m pace=1’38”) [2min]} 1600m (10m=7’31).

This means that the first 1600m rep should be done in 7 minutes and 31 seconds.

For Geeks and Pedants

You might be wondering what the official notation is. The official notation for the session above is:

1600 (7’31”) [3′] 4 x {400 (1’38”) [2′]} 1600m (7’31”)

What are the differences?

  • The distances are always in metres so the “m” can be dropped. Our notation uses m for metres when describing the distance and m for miles when describing the pace which is a bit icky.
  • The terse notation 3′ for 3 minutes.
  • The equivalent race pace isn’t mentioned, only the time each repetition should take.

Although it’s standard, the official notation is probably a bit too terse for normal humans to read. Also it doesn’t give you much of a clue what the effort should feel like. It’s easier to understand how running at 10 mile race pace should feel than it is to work out how running 1600m in 7’31” should feel.

For more information on the official standard see:

MACKENZIE, B. (2006) Representation of Running Training [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/trainprog.htm [Accessed 4/1/2018]