Let’s get one thing straight. I hate speed workouts. If I could run long slow distances (LSD) every day I would. If the running gods would just allow, I’d spend hours running around in a free for all and never once be concerned about how fast I was going.
But reality is, even for us mid-packers, speed work is essential to a well-rounded runner. As much as I hate research, it shows over and over again that speed work, where your heart rate is higher than normal runs, the legs are turning over at a quicker rate, and your oxygen intake is increased, is vital to making you a better runner.
Why is Speed Work Important?
Speed work is uncomfortable, as it should be. When incorporating speed work into your training routine, it should involve running at, or faster than, your race pace. Even when training for a marathon, incorporating tempos at 10k and 5k pace is important.
Speed work can increase efficiency, flexibility, range of movement in your joints, and strength, all of which increase your endurance and speed.
Don’t believe me? You should probably believe Bart Yasso. Bart is the Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World Magazine, creator of the Yasso 800s marathon training plan, and finisher of over 1,000 races.
Do you know what he says about speed work?
You can’t run at this fast pace without doing some form of speed work on a weekly basis.
For him, it is that simple. To run fast and efficient, you must work speed work into your weekly routine.
But if you are like me, the thought of running as fast as I can around a track over and over again sounds about as appealing as taking a pencil to the eye. In other words, it feels like torture.
Thankfully for those of us who avoid torture when possible, there is another way to keep that speed up while avoiding the track.
The Easiest Speed Workout You’ll Even Run
The Fartlek - [Fahrt ï lek]: A Swedish word for speed play.
Let’s break that funny word down.
Fart (speed): Quick burst of high intensity effort or movement.
Lek (play): That unstructured fun we probably don’t have enough of anymore.
I know what you are probably thinking, high intensity effort and fun don’t really go well together. That is the beauty of fartleks! They can be as
lekful playful as you want them to be.
Fartleks are basically short spurts of speed work intermingled between your normal run pace. Because they aren’t laps around a track, you simply start your regular run and pick a start and end point for a burst of speed. For example, you are running down the block and pass a mailbox. You will then run at a high intensity rate until you reach the next mailbox. Once you reach the second mailbox, slow back down to your normal pace.
You can add as many of these fartleks to your run as you wish. Over a mile, for example, you might do 4 sets. They can vary in length, run time, and speed, i.e., as playful as you wish!
To add to the fun, I like to mix up my start and end triggers. I may do the mailbox routine a time or two, but during a workout I might also say, “I’ll run at 5k speed until I pass 3 silver cars.” If I’m lucky, that might only take 30 seconds. If I’m not, it might end up being a 1/2 mile before that third silver car comes around. It is all part of the fun.
Fartleks can be run as easy or as intense as you like on that particular day. If you are looking to add a more intense day of training into your week, use the fartleks as a way to really work the legs. It is recommended that you keep each set between 30 seconds and 2.5 or 3 minutes. Anything over that and you are starting to defeat the purpose of the speed.
Speed Work Doesn’t Have to be a Drag
You should always remember, running is fun. If it wasn’t fun, at least part of the time, you probably wouldn’t keep doing it. Speed work can be the same way. By adding a little ‘lek’ into your ‘fart’, you may soon realize that you are actually having a little fun during what is typically a brutal workout.
Doug Hay is a conflicted man. He lives in the heart of the nation’s capitol, but as a mountain man he’s always running in search of dirt trails. You can hear his tales as he trains for his first 50-miler at his Washington, D.C. running blog, Rock Creek Runner.