Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Speedwork 101

When you're a new runner, or even if you've been at it for a while, understanding some of the pacing terms can be confusing. Tempos? Marathon pace? Fartlek? What does it all mean? Below I've listed some of the common terms and what they really mean:

Fartlek--This is a Swedish term that means speedplay. Basically, after warming up, you can throw in a variety of distances and paces to challenge yourself. For instance, you might run a ladder--2 minutes hard/2 easy, 4 minutes hard/2 easy, 6 minutes hard/2 easy, and back down again. Or, you could choose to go hard from one streetlamp to another. It's a less structured workout than others and for that reason, it can also be a lot of fun.

Pace runs--If you have an upcoming event that is important to you--say a 1/2 marathon or marathon--running varying distances at your goal pace is a great way to get your body to learn what that feels like. So say you have an upcoming 1/2 marathon and your goal is a 9-minute pace. After warming up, spend 2 to 4 miles running at that 9-minute pace, and then cooldown.

Intervals--These are shorter periods of fast running followed by short periods of recovery. You can run intervals on the road or track. Shorter intervals, which can range from 200 to 800 meters, are probably best run on the track, are most suited for shorter races, like 5ks or 10ks, and should be run hard. Between each one, jog easily but don't recover completely. Longer intervals, from 1,200 to 1,600 meters, are often run around goal race pace. Mile repeats at 1/2 marathon or marathon pace, is one example.

Tempo--This is one of those murky terms that seem to have many definitions. I personally like, and feel as if I benefit from, tempo efforts. Tempo might be described as "comfortably hard," a distance you can maintain for a few miles, but at an effort that challenges you beyond your normal aerobic pace. See? Murky. For me this ends up being around a 10-miler race pace. How long you hold it varies widely too, but I'd recommend anywhere from two to five miles, depending on your fitness level.

Keep in mind that no matter what type of speedwork you choose, you should first have a solid base underneath you. Ease into it with shorter distances or fewer repeats. Don't be tempted to run back-to-back speedwork either--this will only invite injury. And if you're just getting started, you don't want more than one day per week of speedwork in your routine.

Feel free to email me with any questions.


  1. Awesome post [as always].

    Excellent information.

  2. I love fartleks - the name and the run. There is something about 'unstructured' running that appeals to me.