Oh, the seduction of speed! The thrill of going fast, of passing people, of shaving minutes, seconds, nanoseconds off of previous times! It’s a lovely daydream to see yourself gliding effortlessly, smoothly, speedily over the finish line while the race clock shows a preposterously low time for such a distance. Or is it preposterous? Could you actually make that daydream a reality?
I can only tell you this: last May, I ran an 8-mile leg of a race at a pace of less than 8:00 per mile. I was shocked, floored, and amazed. I then ran a half-marathon at a 7:20 pace. And a few months later I ran a 5K at a 6:40 pace. I tell you, no one was more surprised by these times than I was. Just a few months before the May race, I unabashedly claimed an 8:30/mile as my pace. That was the pace I ran at, that was the pace I raced at, and I felt pretty darn good about that pace.
And then we got into training. We started doing speedwork: fartleks, tempo runs, track work. True, it made me want to puke sometimes. And it made it a little more difficult to get out of bed in the morning, knowing I was going to be (trying) to run 5 miles at a sub-8:00 pace, or trying to get myself to lose my breakfast at the track. But then on race day I realized why every training plan worth its salt has you doing speedwork every week: it’s because if you want to run fast, you have to stop running slow. Pushing your pace will help you push your pace. It may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me, it works.
For the next few weeks, Tuesday Training Tips are going to be about speed. Because don’t we all feel the need for speed in our lives? This week we’ll focus on fartleks. Yes, they are fun to say, but they are also fun to do — at least at the most basic level. “Fartlek” means “speed play” in some language I am not really familiar with (Swedish), and I think it is important to approach the fartlek with the idea of “play” in your mind. You are playing with speed. It should be at least a little bit enjoyable. There are fairly structured ways to play with speed (some of which are no fun at all — until you totally kill it on race day), and we’ll get into those later, but let’s start with the basics.
To do a fartlek workout, go out for a normal run. Nothing fancy. Start out at a comfortable pace to warm up. And then stop being comfortable. Stop running slow. Start running fast. Run fast for as long as you want. Could be 100 yards, could be 3 minutes. You shouldn’t be sprinting, but you shouldn’t be comfortable, either. Then slow down. Get comfortable again. Catch your breath. Wait until your body recovers (but keep running!). And then do it again. And again and again. And then go home and don’t do another fartlek workout until next week. Any questions?