Speed play: How to pick up pace

Pick up the pace - whenever you want, and for however long you want - and nail any goal.



Probably the easiest way to tackle speedwork is to ramp up the pace when you feel good and slow down when you need a break within each workout. This classic workout strategy, called fartlek (Swedish for ‘speed play’), alternates easy and hard running – you decide how long and how fast – and is used by both newcomers and Olympic-calibre athletes. For new runners, the flexibility makes fartlek runs an ideal introduction to speedwork.

‘Fartleks allow the body to gradually adjust to harder training without being forced to stick to a particular pace or distance,’ says Alan Culpepper, a two-time Olympian and coach at culpeppercoaching.com. ‘The heart works harder, as do the specific running muscles, but because you’re in control, it allows for an easier adaptation.’ For seasoned runners, mixing up a tough workout provides respite from the grind of hitting splits and a chance to tune in to how an effort feels (rather than how it looks on a watch). Whatever your goals, injecting playtime into your running routine can help you hit your target.

GOAL: YOUR FIRST RACE
For your first event, your primary aim should be simply to finish – after all, it’s a guaranteed personal best. That said, working a few fartleks into your training will boost your fitness and confidence. ‘For beginners, the biggest benefit in doing them is not locking into a single pace,’ says Alan Versaw, a coach at The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, US. Time spent running fast develops a stronger cardiovascular system, improves stamina and teaches your body to run more efficiently.

Playtime: 100-strides fartlek. Warm up with a 10-minute jog. Pick up the pace for 10 strides (counted on one leg), then run slowly for 10 strides. Run hard for 20 strides, then recover with 20 strides. Work your way up in 10-stride increments until you hit 100 strides. Once you’ve mastered making it to 100, increase the challenge by going back down in 10-stride increments or by increasing the pace. Finish with a five-minute jog to cool down. Do this once every two to three weeks.

GOAL NAIL A PB:
Training for a time target takes both a physical and a mental toll. Substituting the occasional speed session with a fartlek run releases you from the chore of hitting your splits. Fartleks also allow you to practise running by feel. ‘Perceived effort is fast becoming a lost art,’ says Culpepper. ‘You should learn how your various efforts feel. If you’ve practised it, then you can make adjustments and not feel like you are abandoning your race plan.’

Playtime: Track workouts in an unmeasured location. If your scheduled session calls for 8x400m in 1:30 minutes per rep, head to a trail, field or bike path and run repeats at a similar intensity for 90 seconds. If you had 3x1-mile at 5K pace on tap,
and your 5K pace is 7:00min/mile, un three repeats of seven minutes. Pay attention to your breathing rate; the key is to make sure the intensity remains the same as it would on the track, says Culpepper. ‘You have to be honest about your effort level.’

GOAL: STAY FIT ON HOLIDAY
You’re supposed to break from routine when you go on holiday, but if the thought of abandoning your runs completely is too much to bear, fartleks are the perfect solution. Throw in multiple efforts at a comfortably hard pace over a 20-30-minute run, and you’ll not only increase your stamina and improve your conditioning, you’ll also boost your calorie burn and torch those four-cheese pizzas.

Playtime: The 30-minute refresher workout. After a five-minute warm-up, pick up the pace until your breathing feels slightly laboured and you can talk only in phrases. Hold this effort for three to six minutes, then return to a jog until you’ve recovered. Alternate like this for 20-30 minutes or as time allows. Finish with five minutes of jogging. If you’re running on a treadmill, mix in some hills. On every other hard segment, raise the incline instead of increasing the pace. You’ll reap the cardiovascular effects, plus gain the strength benefits of a hill workout.


Previous article
When two runs a day beat one
Next article
Ask the Expert: Pacing with coach Martin Yelling

 
TwitterStumbleUponFacebookDiggRedditGoogle


Discuss this article

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.