Q & A: What’s the Point?

So, when I first started running (many, many moons ago), I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I basically just tried to keep up with the boys on my team and hope that I finished in the top 10. This was back when running wasn’t cool and a runner like me could regularly finish in the top 10 at a race.

Oh yes. I was cool. Me and my braces.

Oh yes. I was cool. Me and my braces.

As I progressed in my competitive (snort) running career into high school, I caught wind of how we had different workouts throughout the week. We termed them “easy, medium, or hard” and feared guessed which one our coach would throw at us as we changed for practice after school.

But then I started noticing a pattern to the weekly workouts.

You know, the usual.

You know, the usual.

These days, there is a very specific method to my madness, not unlike the daily torture we were prescribed in high school by my mustached coach.

The physiologic benefits of each run cannot be ignored.

  • Repeats: clearing the lactic acid out of your system
  • Tempo: increasing lactate threshold and practice cadence
  • Long: improve cardiovascular and mitochondrial function
  • Fartlek: improve running economy (how fuel/oxygen is used)
  • Intervals: improve VO2 max

There are cross-over benefits in these workouts but they all do one very huge thing:


Mary Cain is a MACHINE. (Image courtesy of therunningforum.com)

Mary Cain is a MACHINE.
(Image courtesy of therunningforum.com)

Period. End of story.

If you want to run the same times (or slower) and feel the same (or worse), go right ahead and do the same workouts. Be my guest. Doing the same type of run over and over will not change your body, how it functions, or affect your times.

But if you want to feel awesome when you run and get a little faster along the way, it’s time to get down to business with a real schedule. With some real science.

Ron Burgundy knows what’s up.

Not every workout needs to be balls out (in fact, some are purposely BALLS IN workouts) but there is a purpose to every run. Even if that purpose is to boost your mental game.

Now go out and run!

Workout Wednesdays: The Key to Fartleks

I’ve talked about Fartleks as a workout before here and here. They’re a no-brainer workout that can break up a longer mid-week run and get your legs turning over.

They’re also a great exercise to cover more distance in less overall time than if you were to go out and run at a consistent pace. Time efficient + no brainer = happy Abby. Seriously, when I run at 5/6am, the last thing I want to do is make it complicated and laborious.

At o'Dark Thirty in the morning, it had better be a no-brainer for this runner.

At o’Dark Thirty in the morning, it had better be a no-brainer for this runner.

But there IS one small little key to fartlek running that makes it effective and not just a bunch of random pickups. That key is your recovery pace.

And the key to that pace is that it’s NOT a “recovery pace”. Rather, the pace between your speed intervals should be about 7/10. Comfortably fast, I like to call it.

...like run hard and then run harder.

…like run hard and then run harder.

Fartlek runs are about working hard through fatigue without full recovery between sets. So, you sufficiently warm up and commit to an interval distance or time and race that interval at 5K pace. And that’s not so hard for, say, 200 meters.

The key is that when you slow down, you don’t slow waaaaay down. I tend to slow myself down by about 60-80 seconds or 7/10 pace, which is usually half-marathon pace for me so I make sure I’m still cranking out the numbers between sets.

I recover-ish. It doesn’t seem hard at first, but just you wait.

Yeah, I'm smiling but my half-marathon pace is killer during a fartlek workout.

Yeah, I’m smiling at mile 8 but my half-marathon pace is killer during a fartlek workout.

The difficult part isn’t kicking up the sprint, it’s maintaining the off pace.

So next time you’re short on time but need to get some quality miles in–or you just have no brain for your workout, hit up a fartlek workout. But make it a GOOD fartlek workout and keep that recovery pace in your half-marathon racing range.

Otherwise, you’re a lazy fartlek-er.

Now go out and run!

I’m A Newbie: Fartlek Running

I will withhold from making the obvious jokes that come with saying the word “Fartlek” and just cut to the chase. Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish and is a very useful workout for runners of all levels. It can help you find your race pace and get used to running fast. Plus, Fartleks are traditionally unstructured speed workouts and can be done anywhere.

So, how do you “do” a fabulous Fartlek workout? Simple. At our lululemon Run Club we use the light posts in Central Park, but you can use anything that’s ahead of you as your markers. Warm up for 5-10 minutes at a comfortable pace and then do 5-8 pickups (100 yard dashes) at race pace to get those fast-twitch muscle fibers firing. Here comes the Fartlek part.

Pick several markers (you get to pick the distance and how many markers you use) ahead of you and run towards them, speeding up as you pass each of them, and by your last marker you should be running your 5K race pace (not all out, but fast). When you’ve passed your last marker, jog approximately half the total distance of your Fartlek to recover. And then go again for that same distance at those same speeds. Start with four or so repeats of about 400 yards (.25 mile) total each time and build up to 8. Easy, right? Everyone really despises loves the challenge of this particular “Lamp Post” workout (if I say “Fartlek” we get too many snickers from the peanut gallery). Remember, it’s about speed, not distance. The distance will add up over time and, between your 10 minutes warm up and 10 minute jog after your Fartlek repeats, you’ll have logged a very respectable amount of miles in a relatively short period of time.

The benefits of doing an anaerobic workout are endless. Training your body to process oxygen and get it to your muscles faster is key in increasing speed. The other benefit is your slower runs seem soooooooo much easier once you’ve done a Fartlek workout! Just make sure you choose a relatively challenging distance and run at an honestly fast pace and you will have yourself an awesome workout.

Now what are you waiting for? Go out and run!