When I was in college at Ferris State, as we lived in Northern Michigan, there was snow on the ground for at least 4 months a year.
This made training for track races kind of difficult.
Lots of mile repeats around an industrial park with semi trucks coming within inches of your arm. Lots of recovery runs over the same loops as they were the only parts of the roads that were clear. And lots of very slow runs trying not to slip over on the snow and ice.
We were training for the 800-10k, and although the different events required different hard sessions, we all had the same thing in common during those winter months; no track to run on.
We were training for track races, but once the track was covered with the first snow in December or even November, we had to say goodbye to the track, as we would not be using it until the spring….and in Michigan, the track could still be covered in mid April!
That meant that the speed workouts had to be especially creative.
This is where I truly learned that speed does not mean 6×200 around a track (or even 12×200 for that matter). You do not HAVE to use a track (although sometimes it can be good!), and you do not even have to know the distance you are covering.
Think about it.
If a 400m repeat takes you 90 seconds to run. Do you HAVE to do 8 x 400, or could you just do 8 x 90 seconds?
When we went back to UVA Speed Clinic for the 3rd time a few weeks ago, they suggested “assisted training”, which means doing exercises and even running with assistance, so we teach my body to move faster.
As much as downhill strides and a bungee cord pulling me forward (haven’t tried that one yet) are fun, it made us realize something.
Speed really is the key here.
Even when it comes to marathons.
I am not talking 200 speed. The days are gone where I will run a sub 30 second 200, and I am fine with that, but keeping the speed within the marathon training is a critical part of my success this past year.
Now, I am still doing all the long workouts, those 3×3 mile repeats, or the 9 mile tempos, and I am even keeping in the long runs up to 19 miles during this half marathon segment, BUT we are also keeping those little sneaky speed sessions in there too.
So what are those sneaky speed sessions I am talking about?
Why fartleks over track workouts?
Because we are all guilty of staring at our watches and obsessing over pace when we are on a track.
Or is it just me?
Didn’t think so 😉
By using fartleks, you just run hard, for the prescribed time (or random distance, like a tree ahead or lamppost). It takes out the stress of how fast you are going, although of course, with our GPS watches we can always check after, but at least during the workout you can’t freak out.
So yes, this means leave the watch running the whole time, and yes, your overall pace will not be that fast, or it shouldn’t be, as you should be barely moving during those recovery minutes.
I would also encourage you to wear a stopwatch on your other wrist that is set up to beep every minute (or 30 seconds if you prefer), that way you can count the beeps to know when to start and stop….and also take out that temptation of looking at the GPS.
A word of caution about fartleks though…..
Although in our minds we can be tricked into thinking it is gonna be a breeze compared to 6 x 1 mile, if you go off too hard, it will bite you BAD.
I have run many fartlek workouts where I have done the first 2-3 WAAAAYYYY too fast, and barely be able to move faster than a walk on the last few as I am out of gas.
So try to ration your energy wisely.
What are examples of fartlek workouts you could use?
3 x (2min, 1 min, 30 min)
In case this is confusing, this means three sets of 2 minute, 1 minute, 30 seconds with 1 minute in between each of those, and 2 minutes after the 30 seconds, before starting the 2 minutes.
I may have made that more confusing!
8-12 x 1 minute “on”, 1 minute “off”
This one is a little simpler, but it is basically 1 minute hard, 1 minute VERY easy, repeated 8-12 times (depending on how accustomed you are to these kind of workouts.
4 x (1 min, 45 secs, 30 secs)
Similar to the first workout, 1 minute recovery between the 1 min, 45, and 30, but then take 2 minutes recovery before starting the 1 minute again.
I would use these workouts AT LEAST one day after your last hard workout, but preferably two.
We like to do my main workout of the week on the Wednesday, and this on the Friday, but my body is used to two workouts a week, so you may prefer to have an extra recovery day in there.
With all of these workouts, they are gonna be harder than you think.
Don’t fall into the trap (like I sometimes do) of thinking it is “only” 10 minutes of hard, if you go too fast in those first few, your fast will barely be faster than your slow, and that is NOT the goal here!
When I say easy or recovery (during the “off” minutes”, I am literally talking about running at a speed that you could walk just as fast! Make sure there is a significant difference between the fast and easy sections.
The goal is also not to run so hard that you pass out at the end, these should not be AS hard as your primary workout for the week, especially at the beginning.
One final thing:
At first this may depress you, your first few workouts like this, you may feel like your legs physically cannot move fast enough, and feel frustrated that you have no speed.
How can I predict this?
As I felt exactly the same way last week, and its hard not to look at that and feel like you are never going to be able to run fast, but hand in there.
It will come quicker than you think.
Speed only takes 6 weeks to develop, and you will start seeing improvements right away.
I would also recommend adding strides into your routine 3-4 times per week.
I talked about strides on a different article, so I will not go over it again, but this really does help, even if it feels horrible during.
Strides are one of those things that I dread as I am preparing for, but once I do them, not only do I often feel better afterwards, but I feel more accomplished with the run.
Kinda like foam rolling after a run, its not fun, but it makes a HUGE difference.
If you need more convincing about why speed is good for distance runners, check out this post.
What is your favorite fartlek to do?
How to Use Hills in Your Training
I created a printable hill workout sheet with 8 sample workouts to try. I will email it to you.
When I initially starting Fartlek’s, I thought they would be so basic. But they absolutely are not! And the good thing is that they aren’t as intimidating like seeing a track workout with specific paces. I give my coaching clients Fartlek’s and they love ’em!
I love giving strides to my runners at the end of workouts–so good for leg turnover and running on tired legs!
I heart you, Tina :*
Great post and workouts, Tina! I really like fartleks for myself and my athletes, especially in half or full marathon training. They’re a good way to sprinkle speed in without causing any stresses on pace – and really teaches pacing because like you said, go out too fast and you will burn out!
Love these tips, Tina! I have been consistently adding strides the last month or so and am definitely feeling the difference. I used to skip them before and feel like they wouldn’t do all that much, compared to a “real” speed workout. I love fartleks too!
I just did my first fartlek on Monday and it was HARD! I might have gotten to my half marathon pace once, and not for very long. I hate using my watch, so I go by telephone poles 😛
I’m so glad you talked about how slow and easy the recovery should be in between the fast running. I know that I go SO SLOW in between and sometimes there is that seed of doubt, which I quickly push away. Love this!
I love fartleks! Sometimes I have to make myself to a proper tempo because I would rather just be doing fartleks:) My current fave is the pyramid farletk where you do 1 min, 2 min, 3, 4, 5, 4, 5, 2, 1 and have 30 seconds to a minute rest in between each. And I agree: the 1-3 minute segments feel easy, and then you hit the 5 or more . . . and still have to come back down again. Thanks for a great post Tina. Awesome as always:)