The training plan I've been following for two weeks now is heavily structured, with that structure relying on heart rate zone training rather than pace-work. It's a meticulously designed program that at least appears to be doing some good. (Of course, it's still quite early to say much about the program's overall efficacy, but as I already wrote in a previous post, I have made week-over-week progress.)
So, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that my Thursday evening workout was simply listed as "fartlek run." When I clicked for more details, I read the following: "Run, 40 minutes. Vary intensity throughout the run. Cool down, stretch." These are very definitely not highly structured instructions. From my perspective, they are more than a bit vague.
I have down fartlek training before, of course. I even have a comprehensive article on fartlek training here. (It's really good. Read it!) Only, the thing of it is, when I do fartlek training, it's usually all spelled out: 5 minutes at this pace and then 2 minutes at that pace and then 4 minutes at the other pace… Never have I been tasked to "just go for a 40-minute run and vary the intensity." See you in 40 minutes, kid. Do what you gotta do.
So, in preparation for this workout, I started researching what sort of fartlek workouts other half marathon athletes generally do. Although not surprising in hindsight, what I discovered was that nobody knows anything about fartlek training that I don't already know myself. After reading half a dozen of the best articles I could find, I fired up my trusty spreadsheet, ready to map out a fartlek workout that was as close to exactly 40 minutes as I could get.
Then, suddenly, hiding in a throwaway prepositional phrase in of one of these articles, I discovered something I genuinely didn't know: "classic fartlek is based on feel and inspiration." (Emphasis mine.)
Somehow, in more than thirty years of running and training, it had escaped me that fartlek training was originally intended to be unstructured and fun. Who knew? No wonder I've always had a difficult time explaining to people why they should do fartlek training and interval training. After all, a structured fartlek workout is just an interval workout! The one is the other and the other is the one. But that wouldn't be the case if the whole workout is intended to be a lighthearted 40-minute outing with inspiration serving as your primary guide.
Thus far in my half-marathon training, I've thrown myself into the program whole-hog. I don't usually train by heart rate zone, and in fact the running I've been doing over the last several years has been very different from this program. But, I figured that if I was going to do it, I should do it like they laid it out. Garmin paid experts good money to come up with this program. It's not guaranteed to work, but what are the odds that it won't?
In that spirit, I decided to head out for an unstructured 40-minute fartlek run. If this schedule wants me to let loose and get a little crazy, then let's unleash some crazy!
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