Speed Training

5 ways Distance Running feels like Tabata

The fartlekking post may have been your first clue, and its true; I’ve been branching out my non-running workouts.  In an effort to one day manage a sub 5-hour marathon, I’m trying to fill gaps my previous training left, trying to tie up those tendonitisy loose ends and fractured tarsals. So, there’s a lot more cross training and weight work to be done, and here I am in a boot camp class, erging away and facing one of the most vomit-inducing physical challenges EVER (yes, I say that having run a marathon). Tabata you beautiful twisted thing, you, you might almost be as gnarly as 26.2 miles.  In a moment of clarity during one of said torturous routines, I discovered that my brain follows a pretty familiar pattern to the one it adopts on long runs:


It’s not that bad! I can totally handle this. These sets will be over before I know it.

Spoiler– WRONG! wrong, wrong! It is that bad, it hurts a lot, and it seems like an eternity- a lot like running a marathon.


STUPID TABATA, who comes up with this stuff anyways?! I demand answers! erg erg erg

Mile 14 of a marathon- Screw you Pheidippides, why didn’t you just send a carrier pigeon or, I DUNNO, ANYTHING besides run all that way.  Serves you right. grrr!


I swear, if I can just make it through this next set, I won’t come to class, ever again!

Mile 20 of a marathon- All right, feet, if you help me get through this, I promise we’ll get a massage, and stop running, and drink milkshakes ’til we’re in a coma.


If only I were in better shape, this wouldn’t hurt so badly.  I feel sad about my poor broken body.

Mile 21 of a marathon- my life is crap. there is no hope. not now. not ever. pain is my life.


Tabata- It might end, but who cares. my muscles are permanently messed up. whatever.

Marathon- It’s never going to end. My muscles are mush, my feet are in pieces, and I’ll be crippled.  sigh. might as well keep going. the hurt feeds my sad little soul.

So I haven’t abandoned tabata workouts just yet, maybe, maybe its because there’s something to them, just like there’s something to running for 5 hours solid.

Fartlek Frame of Mind

I really enjoy saying the word “fartlek,” so I thought it was high time I tried them. I also probably should have considered this a lot earlier in my running career, like say, during my marathon training a year ago. Since I’m so late to this party, I thought I might help other runners avoid a similar fate.

Initial Results

Its been a silver bullet for busting all kinds of running-ruts, and is exactly the change-up my running routine needed. Even though I’m hard pressed to be aware of things like time and intensity during runs, making the effort is proving absolutely worth it.

Go Forth and Fartlek

I’m usually a relaxed runner. Its my hour every day. For those precious 60 minutes, I give my brain license to vacate the premises. Timing myself, as you can imagine, does not come very easily, and it might explain why I’ve arrived late to the idea. But, I’ve been getting bored, so figured experimenting with interval work could hardly hurt things.

Fighting the urge to zone out, I focused myself- fully ready to fartlek the fun right out of my run.

Imagine my surprise when, not only did it not suck, it was pretty dang entertaining. Breaking straight out of a running slump is really, really good fun, turns out. And feeling strong and, well, pretty freaking awesome is always my idea of a good time.

I managed to out run our dog at one point, which has never happened, and I challenged myself up some pretty gnarly hills (which has needed to happen for a very long time).

What I’m discovering while playing with fartlekking is that it can take just the right amount of concentration, and reconnect some of the greatest things about running. I’m sore again after relatively short runs, and that’s such an unexpectedly satisfying sensation, and maybe another sign that I’m just terribly overdue for some speed training.

3 Things I didn’t know about Fartlek

1) It’s Swedish for “speed play” which you’ll know if you’ve ever “googled” it. (I often picture Swedish Chef from the Muppets while running now though- this motivates me to go faster knowing I will get to where the food is sooner.)

2) Done with a little intention, they are punishingly fun.

3) Science!

Because who doesn’t like some juicy facts to back up their new habits?

The idea behind the fartlek, and most variations of high intensity interval training, is pushing your cardiac threshold, thereby building strength and endurance- jackpot!

The flip side-The cruel, and totally unfair, reality of our bodies is that the longer we do something- the more efficient we become at it over time. So the same 3 mile run that used to kick your butt not only doesn’t kick your butt anymore, it also doesn’t burn up fuel in the same way it did when you started. Lame, yes. BUT it’s also a cool opportunity to challenge yourself and have a different kind of fun.

And maybe scream “FARTLEK!”at the top of your lungs as you’re tearing up a steep hill. (Note: I have not actually tried this yet, but I imagine it would yield pretty amazing results.)

Added Bonus-

Its pretty easy to approach fartlekking at your own pace. There are lots of fartlek running recommendations out there for split times and increases in percentage effort, etc. so it’s totally up to you as a runner, and that’s something I can jibe with. I also like giving myself the option to set my own goals, time myself meticulously and rigorously go all out, or you know, not.

What’s your favorite way to fartlek?