Not being a competitive runner, I run races, sure – just not to win them. Although I do really enjoy passing people – but don’t worry, I don’t throw elbows or shriek “ON YOUR LEFT!!!” as I throw you into the water table. (Wow, there’s a story for another time.) However, I’m all about beating myself. I love getting faster. I love feeling powerful. I love feeling like I’m flying as I leap over small curbs in a single bound.
I do not love long training runs. I’m a very chatty girl and unless I have an equally crazy friend who is willing to keep me company for three hours then I don’t really want to do them. Sure, I’ve got an mp3 player with some really great music on it. (Side note: it took me until adulthood to realize that everyone thinks they have the best music. For years I honestly thought I just had better taste than everyone else. Which is really embarrassing considering I went through a major New Kids on the Block phase.) But even the best music ever doesn’t keep me going that long.
Saved By the Research
Now, glory be to new research, I don’t have to! According to the Exercise Sports Science Review, a little interval training can go a long way. For years it was thought you should train for what you actually do (i.e. long runs for marathoners, sprints for sprinters). But a substantial body of research shows that HIIT (high intensity interval training) can produce the same physiologic benefits of long runs.
The Review states that, “six 15-minute workouts of “very intense exercise” in two weeks can increase skeletal muscle oxidative capacity and endurance performance and alter metabolic control during aerobic-based exercise.”
They have one caveat: You have to be willing and able to endure a lot of pain for a short period of time. Hey, I love pain!!! Except in childbirth. Or bowling. Or toenail clipping. Or slivers. Or spider killing. Okay, I’m a huge wuss. I can’t even watch scary movies. I had to leave the theater during Sixth Sense, thereby ensuring that I would never get any “I see dead people” jokes. And there are a lot of “I see dead people” jokes.
Anyone who has ever pushed hard enough to achieve or get close to their maximum heart rate knows exactly what kind of pain I’m talking about. It’s officially called “Zone 5” for those of you into the zone thing. I call it the barf stage. For me, I start to get light-headed. Then spots appear around my peripheral vision. Those spots then coalesce into an increasingly narrow tunnel. My heart feels like it’s going to explode and I can’t even tell if my legs are moving anymore. And then I think I’m going to barf. Or faint. Which I have done, embarrassingly enough.
That’s HIIT. Thankfully, you only have to last a few seconds at that level. (Repeated for 10-15 minutes).
An Inadvertant Experiment
As the Gym Buddies and I did CrossFit, we noticed that it incorporates a lot of sprinting. It does a few longer runs (10K & 5K) but more often the running is done in short intense bursts. The popular favorite is either a 400-meter or an 800-meter (half a mile) all-out run.
At first Gym Buddy Allison (the only one of the Gym Buddies crazy enough to do this with me) and I hated these days but we did them because, well, it was an experiment. After doing them for a month though, we have learned to hate them even more! Well, it’s true. We don’t look forward to them. But I do secretly love them for how they have improved my running. I’ve dropped more than 1.5 minutes from my fast mile and a minute from my pace speed. And that is with doing maybe 2 longer runs that entire month. Plus, you feel completely awesome when you finish. It’s like that feeling after you have a really good pee – you know the kind I’m talking about, where you think “Man, am I still going? I can’t believe that was all in me! Oh yeah, somebody’s been hydrating!” Any of you noticed this phenomenon? (The sprinting, not the peeing. Aw heck, tell me about your peeing too. You know I love bodily fluids.)
Now it’s time for one of those late-night-sleepover type questions: Would you rather run short & hard (and possibly puke or wet yourself in front of a Gym Hottie) and quickly improve your fitness OR would you rather run long and slower and improve at a slower rate? OR would you rather die by falling into a volcano or into an ice crevasse? Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s? Mounds or Almond Joy? Cocaine or a root canal? So many questions, too few sleepovers!