Fall is often viewed as the season for change. As apples drop and leaves turn, runners across the globe who are targeting late fall, winter or spring races will begin base training, or a healthy dose of aerobic mileage and general conditioning work.
This phase of training develops strength of connective tissue, enhances the body's ability to transport oxygen efficiently, and reduces the chances for injury.
Too often, however, athletes fail to do any type of work that reminds the body how to change gears and engage different muscle fibers. The age-old remedy for this often-forgotten element is a workout with a funny name: fartlek.
The late, great Swedish coach Gosta Holmer was often referred to as the father of the fartlek (Swedish for "speed play"). Holmer's Scandinavian athletes utilized fartlek training year round, but during base phase training in particular, as he felt athletes too often let go of gear-changing work during this build-up. "During transitional periods and close to peak competitions, we always do quicker work," said Holmer. "Too often we forget about the need for shifting work and, most commonly, we do so as we begin to build the miles."
As you begin your fall base training, be certain to plan some fartlek work into each of your training weeks. These workouts can be as simple as some very subtle gear changes during the course of 1 to 2 runs as you slowly build your volume. If you have never done any fartlek work, here is one of my favorite workouts (taken from one of America's coaching legends, Bill Squires):
- During your longest run of the week, run a 1:00 surge every 6 or 7 minutes. This surge is not terribly hard—perhaps only 15 to 20 seconds per mile faster than your normal long-run pace.
- At the end of the 1:00 surge, simply return to your relaxed rhythm. If you have a hard time returning to "normal" long-run rhythm, then you are running the surges too quickly.
This work will teach you how to change gears as well as deal with bad patches during race efforts.