Training Tips

High Intensity Interval Training

Is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) right for you?

Although there are many different training approaches to prepare for a marathon, most plans are designed to help the runner gradually adapt to the stress of running for multiple hours. With this in mind, the corner stone of marathon training was always the weekly ‘long run’, which might start at 10 miles and over the course of several months increase to 16-23 or more miles. Now it seems the coveted ‘long run’ is falling out of fashion as many believe they can get the same results in less time with 2-3 weekly high intensity, short duration runs. HIIT training runs are very fast (80-100%VO2 max) and short (30 seconds- 8 minutes) with a low intensity recovery between very high intensity bursts. So what does this mean for you?

If you are new to running:

Most studies looking at HIIT training conducted on untrained or recreational runners show that HIIT training does have many benefits.  It can strengthen the aerobic system, help a runner deal with discomfort and help sustain power. It may also cause metabolic changes to help reduce body fat and improve blood sugars.  Just make sure you have been running on a regular basis and have an aerobic base established first before adding HIIT training to your plan.

If you are an LSD runner (long slow distance):

If you tend to have one speed, changing that speed has been shown to improve race times. Most running plans will include 3 key runs: a tempo run, a speed day and a long run day.  HIIT training could be incorporated into the speed day. Some coaches have found it effective to add a HIIT or tempo segment on the end of a medium paced run to help the runner better tolerate fatigue.  Within a short period of time most mono-speed runners can learn to tolerate faster paces with the same level of exertion.

If you are a CrossFit junkie:

The CrossFit athlete is already sold on the benefits of HIIT training but might not spend enough time preparing the body for multiple hours of running. Most studies on the HIIT approach to running shows benefit with shorter distance races (5k, 10K, half marathon).  So if you are doing the full marathon ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’ and keep a long run in your training plan. Many seasoned marathon runners agree that the race starts around mile 18-20 so having experience dealing with this stage of the race can provide a big mental advantage.

Bottom-line: Keep your training plan balanced with runs that stress your body in different ways. Avoid lopsided plans that only rely on speed work with no distance training, or only on distance work with no speed training. Finally don’t forget to include easy and recovery days as these are essential too.


Jacque Maldonado, MS, RD, CDE
Jacque has a B.S. and M.S. in Nutrition and is an avid endurance athlete having finished several full Ironman® Triathlons and over 25 marathons including qualifying for Boston. She is also a USA Triathlon coach Level 1.