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I am looking at building endurance and all round fitness with the hopes of being able to run half marathon to marathon length runs, non competitively. I have very limited experience with running (less than 2 months) but have seen great boosts in my endurance over such a small amount of time. My challenge now is to push myself harder to attain my aforementioned goals. The Internet provides many answers about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and the benefits it has on increasing endurance. But I wondered what benefits, if any, of steady state intervals, but lots of them, would have vs a HIIT approach.

For example, If I run 1 mile steady state, then walk for 5 minutes, then repeat for as many times as desired. How would that compare to a HIIT approach and which one would offer the best approach to increasing the following :

  • speed
  • endurance
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Most of my answer is already contained in this answer, although the questions are not really duplicates.

A couple things that I will reiterate:

  • The biggest mistake that the vast majority of runners make is going too hard on their easy days, and not hard enough on their hard days.
  • Speedwork is the icing on the cake, make sure you bake the cake first (i.e., get your mileage in before worrying about speedwork).
  • Not all speedwork is done on the track.

Make sure you have a base first. For new and returning runners, the best gains are made from the day in, day out putting in the miles. For a non competitive runner, this is going to be the biggest thing. Get out there, get the miles in, recover/rest as necessary. There are many many runners that run every day and do so quite safely.

Once you have a base and are running consistently in the 30-40 miles per week (mpw) range, you can start throwing in things like hill repeats, pickups/strides within your runs, all of which will start helping your speed. At this point you can start working on pace/tempo runs, individualized track sessions (such as 1-2 mile warmup, 8x800 on 2 mins rest, 1-2 mile warmdown), other traditional speed workouts. You'll come across two terms, interval and threshold. Interval work increases your top end speed, threshold work increases the time you can spend at or near that top end speed. Even when you start incorporating speed workouts, the majority of your time should still be spent in steady state running, with the addition of the pickups and strides.

And, if you are carrying extra pounds, the apocryphal lore (Borne out in my own personal experience) is that you will gain 3-5 seconds per mile for every pound of weight you lose. So if you weigh 180 and run at an 8 minute/mile pace, lose 20 lbs and the same effort should get you to a 7 minute/mile pace.

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Both steady state and HIIT workouts (among others) are useful for running fitness. Each type of effort has its own purpose.

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. HIIT methods are usually 10 - 60 seconds of very intense effort. In the running world, this is speedwork. While speedwork is important, it's only one part of getting to a high level of fitness. In half and full marathons, you won't be anywhere near your top-level speed, so it's not quite as important as longer workouts. However, it certainly does have its benefits (biomechanical improvement, muscle fiber recruitment, making the marathon pace seem easier, etc.). See this answer for the benefits of speedwork.

Steady state runs are slightly above a tempo pace (lactate threshold). The two main benefits of steady state/tempo runs are that they improve your ability to clear lactate from your blood and mentally prepare you to be uncomfortable for an extended period of time. This will be more useful to you as a marathoner, but as I said, all aspects of training are important.

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I partially agree with mathguy54's answer, but if I understand his answer correctly, he believes that doing distance training is sligtly more important than doing speed work, whereas I hold the opposite view.

Both types of training are important. However, the benefits from each are largely overlapping. If your main goal is to train for a half marathon, you will need to include both in your training. That being said, speed work can be used to increase your speed (clearly) but will not lead to concomitant loses in endurance. Actually, research has found quite the opposite - a HIIT workout provides roughly the same stimulus to your cardiovascular system as about four times the amount of slow distance work (with respect to time). The speed you develop will be important if you want a "kick" in your run or race.

Continuous work in a longer time domain will, however, wear away at your speed. As mathguy54 mentioned though, distance work is important to teach your muscles how to operate when under stress for an extended period of time.

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