"The most significant advance in running training since the original interval training."

"If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday." Pearl Buck

History of New Interval Training

Read the history below or click on any topic above to go directly to that section.

The Role of Fartlek – Cathie Twomey, a Case Study

As I said earlier, it took a few years before I really started to understand what I had seen with Henry Rono and it came from the realisation that the successes the athletes I coached were having was from a greater application of ‘Kenyan Intervals’, coupled with Fartlek and Fartlek-type training throughout the macrocycle. Sometimes the Fartlek would be done in 2-3 sessions a week.

Cathie Twomey (leading)

There was one occasion when I had asked one of the athletes I was coaching, Cathie Twomey, to do her Fartlek for up to 45 minutes over undulating terrain while keeping a high average velocity. This was an increase on the 30-35 minutes she was used to since she was moving up in distance to focus on track 5,000m races. A few weeks later she commented that these Fartlek sessions were really tough but I didn’t have the time or wit to follow up as that week she was due to compete in the National Indoor Mile Championships in New York.

In the Madison Square Garden arena in New York, she triumphed in the mile, winning her first National Indoor track title and in the following week she flew to Japan to experience her first 20Km race. She hadn’t actually raced as far as 10Km before, so this was going to be very new territory. Cathie went through the first 10Km in 33:48 and came home with a second 10Km of 33:04 to record a world best performance of 66:52. I guess you could say that her early season speed and endurance fitness levels for the forthcoming season’s 5,000m races were confirmed! When she eventually showed me the ‘undulating’ Fartlek course she had been using, it was over some of the steepest hills in Eugene. Not exactly ‘undulating’ then and she had trained over this course while maintaining a high average velocity. Little wonder then that she thought that it was ‘really tough’. But, what a result and she went on to be ranked 9th in the world in her first year at 5,000m.

With this and other similar experiences I noted that the greatest performance responses occurred when the athletes were mature and had full control over the nature of the Fartlek. Occasionally, I would follow an athlete’s progress in the run and notice that as they approached peak form the easier sections, the recoveries, they gave themselves became shorter and faster. From this I reasoned that while much of the repetition work that I did on the track was now using perceived paces rather than artificial ‘target times’ for the faster sections of the repetition work, the recoveries were still timed or over a certain distance and were structured with, usually, a relatively passive, very easy running.

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Repetition Training into what was to become the New Interval Training

What if the recoveries in repetition training became much more active and at a pace the athlete controlled? With this thought in mind I started structuring track sessions where the recovery was an active running that I called a ‘roll-on’ recovery. The distance of the recovery might, at that time in my coaching, be anywhere from 50m to 400m but was always encouraged to be as active as possible following the faster repetition, without forcing it. The goal would be not to slow down suddenly and then speed up as they approached the next repetition but to transition smoothly from the pace of the faster repetition to the pace of the recovery. I would covertly time these recoveries and if the athlete started to deteriorate from the recovery time they had commenced the set with they would take a longer less active break of 3 to 5 minutes of easy running, before continuing with the set.

Up until the early 1990s, as I introduced the more active track recoveries, I had used a modified form of the multi-pace training proposed by Frank Horwill, and utilised by Peter Coe to such good effect with his son, Sebastian. I would use the underlying concept that athletes should train at slower than race pace, at race pace and at faster than race pace to vary the track training paces that the athletes ran in sessions. But it was not as rigid a cycle as Horwill’s system and I would also sometimes have athletes run at a variety of paces within a single session, or within a single rep as with the Kenyan Intervals.

Now, in the 90s, I more deliberately and frequently introduced much greater variety within the session so that paces were changed within the session to form a ‘complex’ training system. The paces were not led by time as stated earlier but were related to perceived ‘date pace’. So, if the repetition called for a ‘5k pace’ or ‘3k pace’ this would be run at what the athlete perceived they would feel in the middle of a 5,000m race or 3,000m race, if run that day. The recoveries were still active roll-on recoveries.

For a conditioned athlete, this meant that a 100m roll-on recovery might naturally take from 20 seconds to 30 seconds but was not forced or time controlled. The same concept of complexing the running paces was applied to the road training of marathon runners. For example, instead of running a 18 mile run with a 3 mile warm up and 3 mile cool down with the middle 12 miles at marathon pace, the athlete would do the same warm up and cool down but the 12 miles would be made up of alternating miles at a little faster and a little slower than marathon pace, say at 5:00-5:05 with miles at 5:20-5:25.

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