This weeks fartlek friday is a little something different. Instead of focusing on a hard session we will look at a session for recovery. Most of us just go out and slog around at a slow pace on our easy days. At best we may do some strides after an easy or moderate jog. However if you look at the programs of some of the most successful runners in the world you will see things like easy fartlek and 20 kilometers with short variations for speed. These sessions fall in places where a workout wouldn't be possible or advisable, the day before or after very hard sessions or races. So what do they know that you are missing?
Running well is a game of speed. It has long been known that in running speed kills all those who don't have it. Yet still so many of us, particularly those who fall into the weekend warrior or regionally competitive groups do very little fast running. In a normal week we do maybe two workouts, a race and a few strides and that is a great week. Many times we may go days or even weeks with all or nearly all our running at paces ranging from 1 to 3 minutes per mile slower than our race pace.
Then we watch with awe the best in the world and wonder what they have we don't. The answer is strength with speed. Most who chase the best possess one or the other or only some of each. Now some of the difference between you and the lads and lasses in the Golden league has to do with Momma and Poppa. Lets be honest not every guy has the genetics to run 13:00 and not every gal can be a 15:00 monster. Still much less of the gap between you and them is genetic, or illicit chemical use, than you think. The two biggest differences I see are one the huge efforts expended to build aerobic power through fast steady running, IE various types of tempo and progression runs, and two huge amounts of relaxed FAST running, SPEED.
So often we use fast and hard as interchangeable terms. The thing is they are not at all interchangeable. The biggest lesson I learned in my years is fast is not hard and hard is not fast. Sometimes they happen together but they should largely be trained separately. If you want to be a speed demon you need to be able to run very fast while you are relaxed. If you want that you need to PRACTICE running fast while you are RELAXED.
One of the ways of doing this is to run fast on your recovery days. Note fast not hard. A great way of doing this is to slow your recovery run pace down a little bit and mix in some short quick burst of speed. Not at a max sprint, not killer drives but pleasantly fast accelerations run only long enough to feel quick and not long enough to get tired. Between these flashes of speed you should have long breaks. More than recovery you should be really stretching it out. This is a run with some quick spurts not a workout with long rests.
This session should be as long as your normal recovery run and done on as pleasant a route as you can find. I imagine it in a cool forest on soft pine needle trails or running around rolling fields in the english country side. I actually run it in 15 degree weather on a heavily trafficked loop dodging cars and fearing for my life around every 12 foot snow bank covered corner. But not everything is ideal and in my mind I drift to that pine forest and I'm just killing it!
After a few times of doing this you will discover you can often recover better with a session like this than with a regular run and over the long haul this extra relaxed speed will go a long way to improving your muscular endurance and efficiency making you one who kills with speed rather than one who is killed by it. Ok full discloser this workout alone is not going to change your world but it can be one piece to the larger puzzle of finding the path to unlocking your full running potential.