If you’ve struggled to find the motivation to do a set of intervals lately, you’re not alone. Interval workouts with timed sections of harder efforts are tough even when your goal race is looming on the calendar, and they can be even harder to get excited about when not much racing is happening. But speedwork can help you make huge gains in your running fitness without spending hours pounding the pavement, so it’s worth including even if you’re not feeling speedy at the moment.
Here are five ways to make an interval session feel a bit more like play when you’re not necessarily sprinting toward a goal right now:
EMPLOY A DECK OF CARDS
Depending on where you are in your training schedule, this tactic could help bring some spontaneity to your workouts. Here’s how it works: Shuffle a deck of cards, and pick a card before you head out the door to determine your workout.
For example, each suit represents a type of effort: Hearts for tempo-pace, spades for threshold-pace, clubs for hills, and diamonds are the dealer’s choice. The number on the cards (with face cards being 10) is your interval duration. Base your times on your standard intervals. Newer runners can multiply numbers on the cards by 10 seconds to decide on times, while runners accustomed to longer intervals may opt for using the numbers on the cards for the minutes of running in each interval.
ADD SIDEWALK CHALK
If you miss having a finish line, chalk one in! Set a course that takes 5–10 minutes to run easy, and add 3–4 chalked-in challenges, like sprinting for 45 seconds, or set ‘hot zones’ in chalk where you sprint for the designated distance. (This can also be done with chalk paint in a grassy field for a cross-country racing challenge.)
“MISS AND OUT”
Head to the track with a few friends and do ‘miss and out’ and ‘win and out’ racing borrowed from track cycling. For the “miss and out,” start your lap simultaneously, and with each lap, the slowest racer is pulled from the competition. The last runner standing is the winner — and the losers can walk or jog — or if you’re feeling vindictive, do burpees in the infield.
In the “win and out” style of racing, the fastest runner gets to stop racing as each lap ticks off, so the person who can go hardest on lap 1 only has to run that lap before slowing his pace to jogging or walking. With a group of five, doing both of these races on a track yields a few hard laps for every runner.
READ MORE > 31 INSPIRING QUOTES TO KEEP ANY RUNNER MOTIVATED
Another track cycling favorite is the elimination race. Using a track or the outer edges of a soccer field, have a few friends spread out at equal distances around the loop. When you yell ‘go,’ the goal for each runner is to catch the runner ahead of them. Once a runner is caught, he or she is ‘out’ and can slow to jogging or walking. The winner is the last runner standing. You can do this in bursts of five-minute increments with a few minutes of easy jogging or running in between. (This is a great option for a group with a variety of ability levels since you can space runners out farther or closer together depending on ability.)
RE-IMAGINE ‘PUNCH BUGGY’
Remember when you were a kid playing car games on the way to a vacation destination? At some point, you likely played ‘punch buggy’ where you’d punch your sibling (or get punched) as a Volkswagen Beetle drove by. Set a similar sprint goal for your run: For road runners, every time a red car passes you, sprint for 30–60 seconds. For those on the trails, maybe it’s every time you see a dog, squirrel, deer or another animal. You’ll not only get in a good sprint workout, but you’ll also distract yourself during your run by refocusing your attention on the world around you rather than how much your quads are burning.
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.