Track Intervals: On Pace or Faster?

Many runners have questions about how to run intervals – should they be run as fast as possible or run within yourself at a prescribed pace/effort?
Specifically, this is written for a runner I coach who is unsure about how to run intervals the most effective way to seek the maximum amount of bang for his buck.
Coach Marc in 4th of July Race
Coach Marc in 4th of July Race
Read below and let’s discuss how you run intervals during your training.

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Running Intervals

Intervals that I provide to you are designed for you at your current fitness level.  I have no doubt that if I gave you repeat 800s at threshold with 40 seconds rest that you could run each effort 10-20 seconds faster with the same recovery.  In fact, I know you could.  The issue then becomes that you’re not running threshold effort.  So then instead of running threshold (which you can do in your sleep, practically), you run something faster (which is still attainable) than that and it taxes your body differently and now you are slightly more run down, depleted, and the effort intended was not met.
Track Intervals
Track Intervals
So let’s say I give you this workout: (1 mile warm up, 2.5 miles @ tempo pace (8:15 pace), 1 mile recovery mile, 2.5 miles @ tempo pace (8:15 pace), 1 mile cool down).
Can you run 8:15s yes, could you even run 8s or 7:50s, yes!  But the body responds when you run within a certain percentage of your maximum heart rate ability.  With your current fitness (based on your race results and your training paces) you can be expected to hit 8:15s at your true threshold pace.  Now, here’s the “if”…
Let’s say you’re used to 8:15s at tempo pace and they feel like you’re going 80% hard (which is roughly what they are supposed to feel)… And now you get a day like today where it’s 60 degrees, no humidity and you feel AWESOME.  Well yes, 8:15s is either going to feel stupidly slow or you’re going to run a faster pace (while still maintaining that 80% effort)*  <– This is the key.  The effort.  This is why I say summer (and winter running) is all about getting in mileage and going off of effort.  The effort will stay the same when you get a nice day, but the pace will exceed your current ideals about what you can run.  
OK, to sum up… Yes, you can run faster on your intervals, but it doesn’t always benefit you to do so.  The paces I prescribe are ranges (give or  take 5 seconds higher or lower) so you can account for weather, terrain, sleep, nutrition, etc.

What do you think? Do you adjust your summer running to account for weather and humidity? 
Send a comment on twitter or facebook and let’s keep the conversation going!
Need a VDOT chart to help with your own pacing? Check ours out here.

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