Goal: Nail a PR
Training for a time target takes both a physical and mental toll. Substituting the occasional speed session with a fartlek run releases you from the chore of hitting splits. “You can get in a good workout without fretting too much about your pace—and get a little psychological rebound,” says Jennifer Michel, the head cross-country coach at Western State in Gunnison, Colorado. Fartleks also allow you to practice running by feel, which is critical when hills or weather conditions prevent you from clicking off a perfectly paced race. “Perceived effort is becoming a lost art,” says Culpepper. “You should learn how your various efforts feel. If you’ve practiced it, then you can make adjustments and not feel like you are abandoning your race plan.”
Video: Half-Marathon Training Tips
Playtime: Perform track workouts in an unmeasured location. If your scheduled session calls for 8 x 400 in 1:30, head to a trail, field, or bike path and run repeats at a similar intensity for 90 seconds. If you had 3 x 1 mile at 5-K pace on tap, and your 5-K pace is 8:00, run three repeats of eight minutes. Pay close attention to your breathing rate; the key is to make sure the intensity remains the same as it would on the track, says Culpepper. “You have to be honest about your effort level.”
Goal: Stay fit on vacation
You’re supposed to break from routine when you go on holiday, but if the thought of abandoning your runs completely is too much to bear, fartleks are the perfect solution. Throw in multiple efforts at a comfortably hard pace over a 20- to 30-minute run, and you’ll not only increase your stamina and improve your conditioning, you’ll also boost your calorie burn and torch those margaritas. (Search: How to make a healthy margarita)
Playtime: After a five-minute warmup, pick up the pace until your breathing feels slightly labored and you can talk only in phrases. Hold this effort for three to six minutes, then return to a jog until you’ve recovered. Alternate like this for 20 to 30 minutes or as time allows. Finish with five minutes of jogging. If you’re running on a treadmill, mix in some hills. On every other hard segment, raise the incline instead of increasing the pace. You’ll reap the cardiovascular effects, plus gain the strength benefits of a hill workout.