Interval workouts are the most popular ones to love to hate. Instead of casual, easy runs where your mind is free to wander and you can calmly pay attention to the world around you like a moving meditation With intervals, you’re going to be sweating, gasping for breath and struggling to stay in it. But intervals can be (almost) fun and pleasant if you’re mentally prepared for them. Here are a few ways to align your mental game with your interval session:
RESPECT THE INTERVAL
While most coaches or training plans have built-in ‘regular’ interval days, you may find they don’t fit with your life. If every Wednesday has an interval workout, but that’s also the same day you have a stressful weekly review with your boss or you’re the one picking up your daughter from karate, you may want to consider swapping the day your intervals fall on. Look for the day with the least amount of mental stress, or at least the one where you have a bit of decompression time before and after your workout. It’s hard to get excited about intervals when you know you’ll also be doing a mad dash to make a meeting with your boss.
GET A GOOD STOP WATCH
Find a watch you love that makes it easier to track your intervals. If you’re someone who always loses count, look for a watch that has a lap button feature so you can press it at the start of each effort and let it count for you. If you don’t have the Lap feature, do the math before you head out.
For instance, if you have a 20-minute warmup with 10 sets of 2 minutes at a hard pace with a 90-second recovery in between, you know your last interval will be done when your watch reads 55 minutes. If you’ve done the math ahead of time, it’s easier to zone out and not stress about counting in your head to see if you’re done yet.
CREATE AN INTERVALS-ONLY PLAYLIST
Music has been shown to improve exercise performance by up to 15%. Make a playlist strictly for intervals. This is the best of the best, the classic jams that make you feel like dancing your way through your run. Only the most motivational songs go on this playlist, and it’s for emergency use only. Don’t listen to it during your warmup or even during the first couple of intervals. Save it for when you really need it.
MAKE A PROBLEMS LIST BEFOREHAND
Tricky issue at work? Partner driving you up the wall? Working on a side hustle but feeling stalled? Create a ‘Problems List’ for your every day and work life. Before hard workouts and long runs, look at it so you have something to ponder that’s relatively worse than the actual workout you’re doing. This is a double-pronged approach. First, your interval being tough seems less trying compared to a difficult problem at the office, and second, you may find the run itself helps clear your brain enough to come up with a creative solution. If that adds stress, make a more upbeat thought plan, like planning your next vacation or thinking about where you’ll get dinner later. The pre-planned thought distraction gets you through the hard moments!
PAY YOURSELF OFF
Intervals are money in the bank for your fitness, but what about making them literally translate to cold, hard cash? Every time you finish an interval workout, put $1, $5 or $10 in your ‘running’ jar (virtual or in real life). Use this jar to fund your fun running purchases, like that smartwatch that would be a huge upgrade from holding your phone while sprinting or that destination race you’ve had on your bucket list for years.
REMIND YOURSELF WHY YOU’RE DOING THIS
Intervals shouldn’t be scary — they just start feeling that way when we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform. But some workouts go better than others, and that’s OK. Try to remember intervals aren’t designed to make you miserable, they’re designed to make you faster. They may not feel fun in the moment, but the aftermath is worth it when your steady runs suddenly feel a lot easier and more natural.