HIIT vs. Long Distance Training in 1/2 marathon run

One woman’s journey to health and running.

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I was curious about this high intensity interval training (HIIT) that has been coming out in the research. I was exposed to HIIT at a conference this year. The presenter discussed the newest research being published by a friend of his. This friend was doing HIIT instead of long distance training for running a marathon, his first marathon. I believed the research was investigating the VO2 Max. The presenter proceeds to explain that his friend (non runner and older male) signed up and competed in a marathon for the first time in his life and won. Hard to believe I know. I should have picked his brain further and may do this now for the book title and research he based this training on. Instead I tried my own small research on myself and this thing called running.

My story is more or less just proving or disproving my hypothesis on HIIT training or traditional training for long distance running. What can I learn from this 3 minutes, 3 times a week easy HIIT work out vs. dreaded lengthy, time consuming dread of boring miles every week! Details below.

2015 Long Distance 1/2 Marathon

In 2015 I ran my first 1/2 marathon. My training consisted of only running. Running, and more running. I ran indoor and outdoor. I ran 3-4 days a week. I had my long run each week and my short runs.  I did hills and flat terrain.  I stretched, iced, and got adjusted. I used a guide from running training plan (any plan can suffice, they are all very similar. Apps are great too. I like the couch to 5K and 10K.) and followed it pretty much to a T.  I did 12 weeks, the first 4 weeks I started with couch to 10K app following it then the training listed on the link above.

The 2015 race was my first race or long distance run in my life. I was 30 years old and just graduating doctoral school. I ran the whole 13.1 miles (if its accurate, please read to 2018 results for disclosure on race) in 2 hours and 43 minutes.  I was impressed that I ran the whole time and finished without stopping.

During the race I felt good. I seized up if I had to stop for any reason like with the one bathroom break I took or when I stopped so my partner could adjust her shoe. That is how I knew my quads were like a rusty tin man needing oil. I consume 3 packets of the gel electrolyte things and drank water at the stations. They didn’t provide gatorade and I didn’t think to pack my own electrolytes.

To learn your sweat rate, weigh yourself naked before and after exercise. A one-pound drop equates to losing 16 ounces of sweat and means you should target drinking 16 ounces of fluid during similar exercise bouts. Knowing your sweat rate takes the guesswork out of drinking during exercise, and reduces the risk of health problems associated with consuming too much or too little water.

—  Active.com

After the race however, I almost passed out due to hyponatremia. They had these shirtless firemen putting our pendant things at the end of the race that I couldn’t recall when asked later how they looked or who put mine on.  Also, this year (2018) my race partner showed me the picture by the same car we took our picture in front of and I didn’t recall that either. I am a person, like many I read about who sweats out lot of salt. I had a salt lick on my face about 1/16 of an inch thick. That night I foam rolled out my quads 4 different times, took a hot bath, iced my soar spots and had the worst headache I have ever had in my life. This headache lingered for two more days.

2018 HIIT 1/2 Marathon

This year (2018) I trained very differently. I did various HIIT work outs. They included indoor and outdoor activities. I varied the duration of work outs from 20-45 minutes; three or more of those minutes at as close to 90% max heart rate as I could. (Disclosure: make sure that you know your health before trying any type of exercise.)

  • Jumping rope
  • Sprints
  • Jumping jacks
  • Treadmill (inclined)
  • Gazelle (glide, stride, and climb with resistance of 25+)
  • Simple routines from online that include: jump squats, jump lunges, side squats, burpies, mountain climbers, plank jacks, walking planks, etc.
  • Running in place
  • Some machines for specific muscles mainly to help with work demands.

This time around I enjoyed the work outs. I didn’t enjoy the early morning routine as much because I am not quite a morning person…yet, but the actual work out sounds fun to do and will go tonight (2 days post race). The work outs this training season were amazing. I felt great doing them, during recovery, and will continue to do them. The energy I got from this was more than just running, it cleared my skin, encouraged me because I could accomplish them in a short duration. There are many pros to HIIT work outs.

There are many comparisons that I have gathered. These comparisons are not hard data.  I kept logs, but not as well as I should have. I will give you the overall and my goal is to explain the benefits I found and the way I will navigate training for any other long distance running events.

Comparison of Long Distance Training and HIIT

Long Distance Training (2015) HIIT (2018)
Time for 1/2 Marathon 2 Hours 43 Minutes 2 Hours 38 Minutes
Ran/jogged the whole time Yes No
Average mile 12 min 26 sec 12 min 3 sec 
Pain During 1/2 marathon No Yes (specific, pre season hip injury)
Pain at finish line Yes (Extreme all over) Yes (specific, pre season hip injury)
First day after  Extremely achy everywhere, still a head ache General ache in hip/knee from pre season injury
Second day after Still recuperating, moderate pain everywhere, hard to move  Still recuperating, light pain, able to exercise and continue life 
Hyponatremia Yes No

INJURY: In the beginning of this year, January 2018, I was shoveling my driveway during a large blizzard.  We live in MN where it is not uncommon for a foot or more of snow to fall in one short time. Anyways, I have a retaining wall separating my driveway to the side yard of our home. I fell backwards off the wall and landed on my back onto a folded up metal ladder.  Not realizing that I dislocated my hip, I iced, stretched, and tried working through it. Finally a week later, I went to get adjusted and we discovered my hip dislocation and worked to get it relocated. That has since been an issue for me. The drop was about 5-5.5 feet down and thankfully a little give with the freshly dropping snow.

Long Distance Training (2015)

HIIT (2018)

Age

30

33

Weight

155 lb

160lb

Height

5’ 9”

5’ 9”

I am three years older.  In April 2018 I started to clean up my diet and work on detoxing and decreasing inflammation.  I lost weight and with this I weighed within 5 pounds from 2015 to 2018.  I feel that I am in better shape and healthier now then 3 years prior.

In future races I will:

  • Focus more on proper hydration.
  • Spend specific time stretching after the HIIT not in between sessions.
  • Run each week, alternating HIIT run and Long Distance run:
    • Example: 1 mile run 8 minute (90% HR Max), rest (40-60% HR Max), 1 mile 7.5 minute (90% HR Max) — 2 mile total Run
    • Example: 1-3 miles straight through at goal pace for race.
  • Serious training 20 weeks prior to race not 12 weeks
  • Set specific goals and follow through.
  • Keep a better log of every workout to have more precise data to understand what I need to change for next time.
  • MORE VEGETABLES, Less carbs, less sugar.
  • Rehab any injuries that are lingering or could cause problems with race.
  • Focus on upper body strength.
  • Work on my postural muscles, including core strength (diaphragm, pelvic floor and obliques, rectus, multifidus, etc.)
    • strengthen
    • lengthen

The biggest take away for me was that even running 6 of the 13.1 miles this year (2018) with an injury that has not been fully rehabbed, I was still at a better time.

Conclusion:

In my personal experience, HIIT and Long Distance training cause the same outcome of 1/2 marathon time. The difference is the pain during, at end and afterwards.

If you don’t love running maybe stick to HIIT to prepare for the 1/2 marathon. If you want to compete and love running, stick to the distance training.  I pose the question that is staring me in the face. What if you do HIIT and Long Distance training to allow the best time yet?

The next hypothesis I would love to pose is if HIIT is the same as long distance training,  what can training with both HIIT and Long Distance running do for the competitor’s health and improving time?                                -Dr. Nicole

Full disclosure: I am not a runner, have never been a runner and most likely will not enjoy running ever in my life. I am however a doctor, and seeker of health as well as education.  I have found the most efficient way to work out for long term health and also sustainability.

Author: Dr. Nicole

Enjoyment of discussion, inspiration and sharing stories and life experiences is part of who I am. I have a lot of great ideas but no time to share them. Here I can write at my leisure. I am a mom, a student and a professional.

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