The next time your running friends brag about their last track workout, ask them what their recoveries were.

When analyzing training schedules and discussing workouts, most athletes focus exclusively on the distance and speed of each fast repeat. The recovery portion of the workout is often ignored or not methodically planned in the same way as the intense portion. When you tell your running buddies about your last killer track session, how often do you mention the amount of rest you took between repeats?

Although not as exciting as the fast splits you share with your friend, the rest portion of your workouts is one of the keys to maximizing fitness and integral to the meaning and training effect of those splits. By varying the rest period during an interval workout, you can change the focus of the session, more specifically target certain energy systems, and control the effort of your workout.

Not all your workouts should include long, standing 3-to-4-minute rest periods. Longer rest periods let you work on your leg speed. The shorter the rest period, the more you work your endurance and stamina, and the closer the workout comes to mimicking a race. Vary the duration and speed of your rest periods to create innovative and race-specific workouts that will take your training to the next level.

Let’s take a look at some different ways you can manipulate the recovery periods of your workouts to create innovative, race-specific sessions that will help you get the most out of your training.

cruise interval
photo: 101 Degrees West

Short-Rest Cruise Intervals

Typically, threshold runs are 3- to 6-mile sustained efforts that fall somewhere between your 10-mile and half-marathon race pace. Holding this pace for these distances will typically take you right to the edge of your lactate threshold and help boost your endurance faster than nearly any other type of workouts.

But, what if you want to work on running faster (mechanics, speed, form, and efficiency) without sacrificing the long-term goal of progressing aerobic development? The answer is easy: You can add short rest intervals to break up your tempo runs to run faster or go longer.

Inserting short rest periods will allow you to run faster than a tempo pace (usually 6-7 percent faster, or right around 10K pace), but because the rest is short, you can maintain a threshold effort for the faster portions of the workout. My recommendation is to break up these runs into half-mile or mile repeats and take between 30 and 60 seconds rest between intervals, depending on your ability level.

Legendary running coach Jack Daniels calls these types of workouts cruise intervals, and they are a great way to inject a little speed work into your marathon or half-marathon training. By taking short rest intervals and speeding up the pace, you’re able to maintain a threshold effort while giving the legs a break from the monotony of sustained-paced runs.

Another option is to add a short recovery period between repeats of two or three miles in duration. This will allow you to extend your tempo session by a few miles, which lets you run just below your threshold for a little while longer.

My favorite workouts for this are 2 x 3 miles or 3 x 2 miles at half marathon pace, with 3:00 recovery between intervals.

woman track intervals
Photo: 101 Degrees West

Jog-Recovery Intervals

One of the most frequent questions asked by new runners is what to do during the rest periods between intervals. Should they stop, walk around, jog or sit down? The answer to that question uncovers another way to manipulate rest periods. By changing what you do during your rest breaks you can alter the difficulty and specific purpose of a workout.

If you’re training for shorter distances like 5K and 10K, you can run workouts at goal race pace while taking a short, jogging rest. These types of sessions are very race specific because they not only teach your body how to run comfortably at race pace, but by keeping the rest moving, you develop the ability to recover while running.

A sample workout for a 5K runner might be: 8 x 600m at goal 5K pace with 200m jogging rest between intervals.

Marathon-Pace Recoveries

For marathoners, running your rest periods at marathon pace or slightly slower can teach your body how to burn fat and clear lactate while running at goal pace. Since we know from research that one of the most important determinants of marathon success is how efficiently your body can use fat as a fuel source, workouts that specifically teach your body to burn fat while running at goal marathon pace are critical if you want to avoid bonking.

One of my favorite workouts that utilizes marathon-pace rest periods is the modified Squires Long Run. Plan to run a moderate long run (about 60–70 percent shorter than your longest run of the marathon training segment, which makes it 12 to 16 miles for many marathoners). Insert a series of 90-second to 2-minute surges at 10K pace with the “rest” between each surge being marathon pace or slightly slower.

Here is a sample workout: 14-mile long run: First 3 miles easy, miles 4–12 alternating between 90 seconds at 10K pace and 6 minutes at marathon pace (or 10 seconds slower), miles 12–14 easy.

Manipulating the length and pace of your rest intervals opens up infinite possible workout combinations, each providing a different training stimulus to hone you into a complete racer.

Adapted from an article originally published November 2013