Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Running for Rock Climbers: Interval Training


I’ve said numerous times that I am a climber, not a runner.  Admittedly, I enjoy that predictable rhythm that comes from pounding the pavement on a crisp, sunny day.  However, running simply gives me something healthy to do for my physical and mental health on days that I’m not climbing.  So while I’m not one of those obligatory anti-runners looking at their watch every other step until they can cross “cardio” off of their daily to-do list, I do occasionally find myself in the doldrums of monotony somewhere around mile 2 (especially on beautiful spring days where I’d rather be climbing!)  What helps me through these trips down Boredom Lane is Interval Training

Interval Training: Alternating short, high intensity bursts of effort with slower, active recovery phases in a single workout. 

Not only does it give you something to “do” while running to pass the time, intervals may even improve your climbing!  By working both the aerobic (low intensity) and anaerobic (high intensity) energy-producing systems, your body will become more efficient at managing lactic acid build-up.  And if you’ve ever been pumped out of your mind on a redpoint attempt, your forearms are already quite familiar with the role lactic acid can play in rock climbing.  Also, if you’re trying to shed some poundage so you can crush on the steeps this spring, high intensity intervals burn significantly more calories than slow, continuous exercise. 

Adding interval workouts to your running regimen is easy.  There are 4 variables to consider – intensity and duration of the working interval, duration of the recovery interval, and repetitions for each interval.  Here’s a few practical options that can be adapted for runners of varying abilities…


RUN/WALK:  For new runners, this is a great way to build endurance.  You will log a lot more quantity as well as quality “running minutes” training this way than you would by simply running as far as you can til exhaustion.   Gradually increase your run time and decrease your walk time until you are able to run for the entire duration of your workout. 

TIMED SPRINTS:  Once you can run for 30 minutes or more without stopping, you’re ready for some sprints.  Plug in some specifics to the variables listed above, and get ready to sweat!  Track progress by measuring the number of minutes spent at maximum effort.  For example, sprinting 30 seconds out of every 90 seconds in a 30 minute run means you end up with a whopping 10 minutes of work at full speed – not too shabby! 

DISTANCE SPRINTS:  Similar to Timed Sprints, only you’re running for a pre-determined distance instead of length of time.  Aim for a certain percentage of your total distance to be at maximal effort.  For example, give yourself one mile in which to sprint 3 tenths – some intervals could be one tenth long, and some could be less, but at the end of a 5 mile run, you will have run 1.5 miles at top speed!

LANDMARK SPRINTS:  This one is for the right-brained folk among you that don’t want to be slave to a stopwatch.  Pick some sort of landmark (mailboxes are EXCELLENT for this, telephone poles are great too!), and alternate between sprinting and running at sub-max.  For example, sprint past 5 mailboxes, then jog past 3, etc.  The best way to track progress is by looking at your ending time – as you get better and faster, you should cover the same distance in less time. 

Start substituting one of your regular runs per week with an interval workout and I guarantee you will see gains in your fitness.  Plus, with all that sprinting you won’t have a chance to get bored!  However, if you’re like me, one of the more enjoyable parts about running is that I CAN let my mind wander, so don’t feel like every workout has to include high intensity work to be successful.  Any other runners out there who enjoy interval training?  Feel free to share your typical workout strategy…


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN