I Love to Run – Fartlek Tuesday

Posted: December 28, 2010 in Motivation, Training
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Monday night I was sitting around after dinner, still resting the legs after Sunday’s 21 mile long run and my mind was starting to look forward to my run on Tuesday morning.  This part of the marathon cycle is the one that I enjoy the most.  Alternating weeks of hard work and relatively “easy” work.

Hal Higdon refers to those easy weeks as “Step-Back Weeks”, where instead of constantly increasing the mileage and intensity of your workouts up until the marathon taper begins 3 weeks before race day, you begin to “step back” your weekly mileage to allow your body time to recover.

The principle is the same with most types of adaptive exercise, whether that is distance running, weight lifting or swimming.  You must give your muscles time to “repair themselves” and adapt to the increase in activity.  This is how your muscles respond positively to the increase in your training and grow stronger.

Without these “step-back weeks” as Hal calls them, all you are doing is breaking down your muscles and not allowing them the time to grow stronger.  This results in burn-out or even more commonly, injury.

Joe & Hal Higdon - Pittsburgh Marathon 2010

My workouts including the last two weeks from strictly a mileage perspective look like this:


Those 42.8 mile weeks still look like a lot of running, and they are.  But my long runs on Sundays each of those weeks will only reach 12 miles or an hour and a half or so medium effort.  That takes about 60 minutes from my long-run workouts on the other weeks, and allows my legs, feet, hips, ankles and even core to enjoy the decreased effort and rebuild strength to push harder the following week.

Hal Higdon, now in his 70’s has run well over 100 marathons and has “virtually coached” hundreds of thousands of marathoners across finish lines around the world.  Over the last couple of years I have developed my own training plans for the marathon.  Plans that incorporate more tempo work, more racing and especially more hill work than Hal typically recommends.

But the one area that I have stayed true to Hal’s plan is with respect to rest days and step-back weeks.  I know that his philosophy on those very important aspects of marathon training are spot-on when it comes to getting this marathoner to the starting line not only trained to race my best, but also 100% healthy.

There will be no race day magic on February 20, 2011 if I show up to the starting line nicked up or injured.  Unable to give my very, very best.

The thing I really look forward to the most during “step-back week” is the fact that I can go out there and have a little FUN on my runs.

If my legs feel great, I can go fast.  If they are tired, I can just cruise.  If I want to take the hilly route, go for it.  If it seems like it would be fun to run a new route or try out a new section of the trail system, no problem.  When training for a race for 18 or 20 weeks, with 97 runs scheduled, I’m sure you can imagine there are days when it becomes tedious.

I have many “tricks” to make the runs fun, but many times I have a very specific pace goal or a specific format to the runs as they are building blocks for my marathon race day.  But every so often the schedule will just say:


It doesn’t say Tempo, Recovery, Race Pace, Progressive, Easy, Medium or Hard.

Just 6.2 – anyway I want.

Tuesday of step-back week is one of those days.

So as I left the house to just “go for a run”, I looked at the flag above my head while I was stretching against the garage.  Very, very light wind, perhaps 4 mph.  There was a mist hanging in the air.  The temperature was 49 degrees.  Pretty much perfect weather for a little fun.

A lot of runners do not like running in the rain, I actually enjoy it.  Now storms with huge wind and debris?  Not so much.  But gently falling rain to keep you cool on a trail that was frozen on Sunday is just about perfect.   Soft underfoot, but no puddles or ruts to navigate.

I decided that I was going to break my run up into several “different” runs.  A mile at recovery pace, a couple of miles where I was just cruising, a couple of miles around 7:00 min./mile and a “hard” mile to close out the run. 

Runners are familiar with a Swedish term Fartlek – which translates to speed play.  The thought behind this workout is that the runner varies their pace and intensity to test both their aerobic and anaerobic systems.  It is a great workout, and as the name suggests, for me it is very, very “Fun”

I took off on my typical 6.2 mile route, one that I run 2 or 3 times a week 50 weeks or so a year.  I have run this route hundreds and hundreds of times, but on Tuesday it was entirely new.

I ticked off the first “recovery” mile at 7:35 pace.

Mile number two was a “cruising” mile at 7:12.

Mile three was another “cruising” mile, but we were climbing up over the dam – 7:17.

Mile four was the first of two “7:00’s” I wanted to run.  A pace that is what I would need to lock in if I was to try to chase a sub-3:00 Marathon at Austin.  Frankly, this is a pace I think is still a bit too ambitious at this point in my maturation as a marathoner, but nonetheless, a great goal to have out there to chase.

Mile four:  6:58

Mile five:  7:01

Time to head for home and I ramped up the pace, wanting to run in a “fast” mile.

Mile six:  6:36

I hit the street lamp on Along Creek Cove with just a steep hill and 2/10 of a mile to go.

I hit the hill like I would one of our hill repeats on Thursday and kicked home to the house with a final .20 miles at 6:10 pace.

On my watch, the run looked pretty unspectacular:

6.2 miles, 43 min. 56  sec., 7:05 min./mile pace.

But that is what made Tuesday’s run so much fun.  Looks can be deceiving sometimes as our 7:05 min./mile run had a little bit of everything. 

So another block gets crossed off of my marathon training schedule and we are one run closer to the starting line at Austin.  But more than anything this morning made me very grateful.  Not too many people have the opportunity that I do.  Because I have my health, a loving and supportive wife, the drive and desire to achieve and tremendous motivation to continue to Run for Dom.

I’m smart enough to realize all of that, yet still naive and idealistic enough to think that perhaps something magical can happen on February 20th if I want it bad enough and work hard for it.

If I happen to fall short on race day?  Well, we’ll deal with that when and if it comes to pass.  But runs like today’s will help soften the blow of any disappointment because bottom line.

I love to run.

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