Intervals, Tempos and Fartlek, Oh My!

With the weather finally starting to heat up in Blue Grass Country it is a good time to start discussing some of the harder sessions you may encounter or have been completing. Despite many people being familiar with the names of typical endurance workouts, most don’t know how to implement these workouts or use them in a training segment to maximize their results.

To begin, let’s break down each workout type and a few example workouts:

Interval – Short, fast periods of running with a short break between repetitions. Each repetition is normally between 30 seconds and 5 minutes in duration.

– 6 x 800 meters with recovery equal to the duration of the interval

– 12 x 400 meters with recovery equal or slightly shorter than the duration of the interval

Tempo – A steady, hard pace maintained for a longer period of time without a break, usually between 20 and 30 minutes.

– 20 minute steady state

– 3-mile tempo

Fartlek – Swedish word for “speed play.” A combination on hard running with slower “jog” recoveries between. There is no stopping during this type of workout.

– 1 minute ON/1 minute OFF

– 5 minute ON-4 minute ON-3 minute ON -2 minute ON -1 minute ON with mirrored recovery time

The first thing that we should consider in every workout is the purpose of our workout. If you have a coach, this is the main part of your coach’s job, however, you still need to execute the workout in a way that achieves your coach’s goal. In each of the following sections I will give rough estimates of training paces for each workout type, these estimates can be used as a barometer to test whether you are running a workout too quickly or too slowly, thus diminishing the possible return from your hard effort.

The purpose of an INTERVAL session is to target your VO2max or lactic threshold. This is improving your body’s ability to buffer lactic acid and become more used to the effort it takes to run at VO2max rhythm. A good estimate of VO2max pace is how quickly you can run for 15-20 minutes. If you are more seasoned, this is probably your 5k race pace. If your current 5k best is 21 minutes, your typical interval pace should hover around 6:40 mile pace or 100 seconds per lap around the track. Judging this pace by feel, you should be looking to feel as if you are in the midst of a 5k race. Remember, the first interval or two will feel easy, but do not allow yourself to go out too fast. Stay conservative and run the workout to maximize your investment.

Next, the TEMPO session focuses on your aerobic threshold or the overall fitness of your aerobic system like your heart’s ability to pump blood and your muscles’ ability to use nutrients and oxygen. This pace should be close to a pace you could maintain for one hour of running. You goal in this type of workout is to stay controlled and within your threshold pace throughout the effort. Another term people use for this workout is “steady state,” because you should be running at a steady rhythm and not feeling like you are having to dig deep to kick home like you might in an interval session.

Finally, the FARTLEK session is the most basic and easy session to accomplish. This workout is mainly by feel since it is not typically run on a measured route. Your goal for this workout is similar to the interval goal. You are attempting to improve your body’s ability to efficiently handle a heavy workload. In general, each hard segment of a fartlek should feel like a portion of a 10-30 minute race (depending on the length of the hard segment) and the “recovery” periods should be run near or slightly faster than daily run’s pace. A good test of whether you are running your hard segments of a fartlek too quickly is whether you can maintain normal running rhythm after a hard segment.

To conclude I would like to emphasize the importance of knowing what you are trying to achieve in a workout. Workouts are NOT mini races and should NOT be treated as opportunities to get a new workout best but rather as an opportunity to gain the fitness necessary to race faster. If you feel like you should run your workouts quicker than I have listed above, I would suggest that your prove your new fitness in a race before cutting time from your interval or tempo pace.

David Jankowski
Current John’s Run/Walk Shop employee and Lexington Catholic Track & Field Coach, David was the USATF Club XC Champion in 2009, was a 2 time Olympic Trials Qualifier and has a PB of 2:16 in the marathon and 28:14 in the 10K

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