To Do: Intervals or Fartleks

>> Sunday, November 07, 2010

If you DON'T currently run intervals or fartleks, you should start.

If you currently DO one or the other, you should try the other one.

In the spring of 2008, I started to regularly do intervals on the track. Over the next 2 months, I saw my tempo run times drop, and I set my 5K PR that I wouldn't break again for 2 years. The intervals got me used to the pain of running fast and hard, and that worked WONDERS for my race times. My default workout would be 3 x 1600 with 90 seconds rest between. Sometimes I would do 6-8 x 800 with about 90 seconds rest. I usually wouldn't do anything shorter (like 400s [although I did them sometimes]) because running that hard on the track tends to make my heel / calf issues flare up.

In my training for the TC 10 Mile, Coach Jen only had me do intervals once. In their place, she had me do fartleks. I was told to run fast for a few minutes, and then run 50% of that time slow to recover. So if I did 4 minutes hard, I'd follow that with 2 minutes of easy running. One of the fartlek workouts looked something like this: "2 h, 1 e, 4 h, 2 e, 3 h, 1:30 e, 5 h, 2:30 e, REPEAT." This has the same goals as a track [interval] workout, but it was all based on "perceived effort." I didn't have splits to check on - I was just running "hard" or "easy."

Intervals: Pros:

• They are repeatable and "trackable." You can go to the track and say you're going to run "3x1600 with 90 seconds rest between" and then you can compare that workout with the same one in 2 weeks, in 4 weeks, or in 4 months. You can see if you're getting faster or slower by comparing your times from workout to workout.

• When you head to the track, you can bring water, extra clothes, food, etc, etc, and let it sit at the starting line. You can grab a bite or a sip when you need to between intervals, or throw off clothes if you get too warm. This makes it never a bad time of year to do intervals.

Intervals: Cons:

• If you are prone to injury, running hard on a track can be tough on your body.

• You need to find a track to run on. Sure, you can do them down the street, but then you're focusing a little too much on intersections, pets on leashes, old people on bikes, etc.

Fartleks: Pros:

• You DON'T need a track. You don't even need a mapped-out route. You just run. You could do these in the middle of nowhere.

Fartleks: Cons:

• You are just supposed to run "hard." Is this week's "hard" the same as next week's "hard?" Who knows. This is more about your perceived effort, and less about actual concrete numbers.

Here's my Tip of the Week: If you don't usually do one of these workouts, consider giving one of them a try. If you regularly do one of them, try the other. This sort of speed work has been the one biggest break-through in my running.

I used to ONLY run intervals (as my speed-work). But there was a problem in that, and I recognized this issue even a year ago. The problem was that I was just getting good at running intervals! Sure, it was helping my race times, but I could run KILLER interval times where you'd think I should be 1:00 faster in a 5K. By breaking this up with fartleks, I could get a similar workout, but get out of my "intervals rut."


• If you're starting the "off-season" right now, it MIGHT not be the best time to introduce this sort of intensity to your workout. But if you're still running strong and not really cutting back your miles, try an interval or fartlek workout soon.

• During fartleks, to avoid looking at your watch ALL the time wondering when you start or stop running hard, I use the "interval timer" on my watch. I can set 10 intervals for my watch to beep. So I just program in my times: 2:00, 1:00, 4:00, 2:00, 3:00, 1:30, etc, etc. Then my watch beeps at me at those intervals. This way, I can just RUN, and and I either ease up or speed up whenever it starts beeping.


p.s. Here are some links to some of my recent Examiner articles. (Remember, for more local swim / bike / run info, you can "fan" the St. Paul Tri Examiner on FB). Anyway, here are some articles:

- The Chisago Lakes Triathlon is named 2011 MN Long Distance Championship Race.
- Cyclists nation-wide morn over the outcome of the Oberstar / Cravaack congressional race.
- Top 10 Minnesota Multisport Races of the Year (I've raced 2).
- USA Triathlon announces its National Challenge Competition for the off-season.
- An Apple Valley triathlete has her Kona story featured in the Star Tribune.
- Minnesota has a new, muddy off-road race (to MAYBE try to compete with Living History Farms in Iowa).


Pretend this is real 10:51 AM, November 07, 2010  

I like your trick of setting intervals on your watch. I end up staring at mine trying to calculate times and then loose focus on the run. So obvious, but I hadn't thought of even looking for that function. I'll have to try it, thanks!

Jayson 12:12 PM, November 07, 2010  

Fartleks are great for the off-season (or even if you are just getting started running again), because running "hard" is flexible. When I was getting back into running, I would warm up for 2 songs on the iPod, then go "hard" for 1, rest 1, "hard for 1, then cool down for 2 songs. That would end up being 21-28 minutes (depending on the length of the songs).

The benefits for me were that the songs kept the length unpredictibly predictible (I wasn't going hard for an entirely unknown amount of time if I was familiar with the song, but the time varied). Also it was a way to introduce new speeds during base training to break up the monotony a bit.

Steve Stenzel 1:08 PM, November 07, 2010  

Pretend This Is Real: yeah, that helps a LOT with fartlek workouts. This way, you don't even have to think. You start hard, hear a beep and ease up, hear a beep and go hard, hear a beep and ease up, etc....

And Jayson, I LOVE that idea. Way to mix it up!

Matt 12:51 PM, November 08, 2010  

Great post, and great tips, Steve.

When I Fartlek, I make it as random and spontaneous as possible by picking objects in the distance. For instance, I'll run hard to the third street light, then easy for 2 more street lights, then hard for 4 streetlights, etc… I like picking trees or trash cans or any random object because it's never the same workout, I can make it as challenging or easy as I want, and it's really simple to do.

kT 6:51 PM, November 08, 2010  

The older I get (and farther away from my so-called track career), the more I'm a believer in off-track fartlek. Sure, it's good occasionally to go to the track and really see what pace you can hold for a given workout. But what you list as a con for fartlek--not really knowing if today's hard is yesterday's hard--is also a pro. You just get used to going hard without limiting yourself by thinking about precise pace. If you can push yourself hard doing that (and that's a big if, I know), you might be surprised at your actual pace if you knew it. And it also allows you to get the best possible workout for that day, whether that happens to fall above or below your projected pace.

Plus, you know, it's fun to say "fartlek."

FinnyKnits 7:01 PM, November 08, 2010  

OK, Steve. I'll do your fartleks. I just hope my Garmin doesn't try to fight me when I set up those interval alerts.

Also, thank you for explaining their benefit in a meaningful way. I've been doing intervals with the intention of increasing my speed, but I'm hungry for more and I think this might do it.

FinnyKnits 5:28 PM, November 10, 2010  

Like I said, I did your fartleks. And I nearly died.

Though, I did knock a minute off my usual time for that route, so I'm going to try at it again tomorrow.

I hope to live to tell about it.

Also, thanks!

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