Less Black and White Workouts

I’ve always been a big fan of workouts during marathon training where it’s easy to track progress: set intervals (400, 800, 1600), set distance and pace tempo runs, even wave tempos (odd miles at a fast pace, even miles at a pace about a minute slower). From week to week, my goal is either to increase the duration, distance or speed. These are black and white workouts that are easy to track improvements as well as predict race times.

I’ve tried to relax a bit more this training cycle. After Philly, I looked at my training from the fall – and more importantly, at my approach to my training. I think having these black and white workouts numerous times a week may have been too much for me mentally. I tend to get so wrapped around a certain pace in workouts, that if things aren’t feeling great or I don’t hit the paces, I view the workout as a failure. I also have the tendency to push harder than I should in training because it’s pretty awesome to see splits drop from week to week. And I also know that I got so wrapped around what the predictors predicted for my race time, that I think I overshot my ability. (I was working at near race effort for some of the workouts.)

Over the last few weeks, I have seen several speedy runners on twitter posting fartlek workouts. I love doing these workouts in the offseason when I’m not so worried about hitting certain paces. They are awesome, hard workouts but I always viewed them as too fun and therefore, not really meant for a training season.

Two days ago, I read the training log of Florence Kiplagat. In case you hadn’t heard, she just set the World Record with a 1:05:12 Half Marathon this past weekend in Barcelona (btw that’s a 4:58 pace per mile!). Her coach shared her training for her last two weeks prior to setting the WR. She had a handful of interval workouts, one longer fast-paced workout (18ish miles) and one fartlek – she alternated 20x – 1 minute on / 1 minute off and 20x – 30 seconds on/30 seconds off.


And so today, when I got the opportunity to run outside (thanks to my Dad for coming over to spend some time with the boys, I got to run in 50 degree weather!), I decided to forego my planned tempo run (which I was stressing about since my legs felt tired) and to give a fartlek run a try. I did a longer progression fartlek – started at 5 minutes hard, 5 minutes easy and worked down to 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy and then repeated the whole thing. A total of 30 minutes of hard running – ranging in pace between 6:30-7 (so probably about 4.5 miles)

photo (32)


It was a bit structured since I was running for a specified number of minutes, but it was unstructured because I had no set pace to hit for the hard or easy periods. I just ran at what felt hard enough to sustain for that stretch of minutes. It was fun, the workout flew by and by the end, my legs were burning!

I think I’ll try to incorporate more fartleks into my next training cycle. Maybe use them as a backup for those days where I am not feeling a tempo or on a week where I feel like a lighter, more fun workout would be more conducive. I know that doing these in place of more structured workouts may hinder my training a bit, but I feel that my biggest obstacles to overcome right now are not overtraining and not stressing during training/racing.

Do you fartlek? 

When is your next race? =) 

Are you watching the US-Canada hockey game today? I don’t watch a lot of hockey but LOVE it during the Olympics and NHL Playoffs (my husband is a HUGE hockey fan). GO USA!

Too funny not to share!

Too funny not to share!


I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    22 thoughts on “Less Black and White Workouts

    1. Pingback: Want To Run Faster? Start Here. |

    2. Hey,

      I just stumbled upon your blog and love the information you are sharing with all of us. I am intrigued about your training workouts and how you feel physically and mentally. I just read this post and it really hit home with me. I have been training for a half marathon on April 27th and my goal is sub 1:30. In my training I just got a garmin for Xmas and it really has made my workouts more of a mental thing than physical. If my pace is off, I just want to run faster even when I need to just talk it easy. I think doing fartleks may help just to get me to relax. A couple weeks ago I had a long run and after 4 miles of checking my garmin, I was just worn out, so I stopped for about 30 seconds to reset myself and told my I wouldn’t check the garmin again till the end. And low and behold I ran so much better and felt better because I wasn’t worrying about what the time said.

      I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    3. I feel like I could have written the exact same thing about my fall training and my fall marathon. I was so focused on paces and predictors that I didn’t really run within my ability. I feel like i wasted what I did have because I was reaching for something that wasn’t realistic and ended up running much slower:/
      Fartleks are great. I think I need more of them in my life. Haha!
      Sarah @RunFarGirl recently posted..Carrot Cake Pancakes with Cream Cheese-Yogurt DrizzleMy Profile

    4. Yes! I did one on Friday actually! I think they are often better for you as you cannot compare. I am the same way as you in that i like to see how I am progressing, but it is too easy to compare to the past. Fartleks mean you just run as hard as you can, which at the end of the day is what running is all about.

      I am going to do an 18 mile progression run today, I hope to bring it down from 7:15ish to under 6:00 by the end, but I try not to look at my garmin during as I begin to obsess about getting faster and faster. That is one of the biggest mistakes I think I made in the Philly marathon buildup too. A 6:14 average paced 20 mile run was probably great at the time…..but not so sure it was a good idea 6 weeks before the race….but I just couldnt stop looking at my watch!
      Tina Muir recently posted..Rise Bars Giveaway Product ReviewMy Profile

    5. I hadn’t done fartleks before my current training cycle but have been and they are great, especially on the treadmill, they really help pass the time. One of my fav’s is commercial fartleks, run fast during the duration of the commercial, slower during the show.

      I did watch the USA Canada game , and yay Canada!! :)
      Terry recently posted..Blog-a-versary, a favorite thing, and a long runMy Profile

    6. You know, I have done farlek type work outs, but I never knew precisely what made a fartlek workout work. I guess I was doing it semi-right, since it appears it is fairly unstructured. I love the idea of doing longer hard-easy splits and working your way down. That is pretty awesome. My coach has had me do a similar type workout on the bike when my leg was acting up. Thanks for sharing! I will be working on this one in the near future.
      Crystal@TheFastFitRunner recently posted..Don’t Be a Gym-Junkie Judge-y Judgerson!My Profile

    7. I love how you are trying different things and finding things that are working great for you! So many times we just stick with the old plan. As far as Fartleking, not really often, but it’s a great idea…

      Next race..10K next Saturday! Currently fighting off a cold, so hoping…that goes away.
      Holly recently posted..impromptu rest.My Profile

    8. One of my all time favorite workouts is 2x [1 min on, 1 min off, 2 min on/off, 3 min on/off]. I can do it anywhere on any surface and as long as I go hard during the hard minutes then the workout was a success
      Shannon @ Mon Amour recently posted..Hill RepeatsMy Profile

    9. What an awesome workout you had, so nice of your dad to watch the boys so you could get outside! I love fartlek runs and used to do them a lot in high school and college but not so much in last few years. Maybe I will have to start adding them back in, I agree it’s less daunting than thinking about a tempo run and hard lined workouts.

      P.S. I am so proud that you are looking at training and what works for you and what you think you could work on. Keep that stress level down lady, you are awesome and have NOTHING to worry about :)
      Laura @losingrace recently posted..Weekend Prep: Friends, Fun and B2B RacesMy Profile

    10. I always had trouble getting myself to go hard enough, often enough with fartleks. I have had better luck with trail runs with a hilly course, where I push hard on the uphills and recover on the downhills. I believe it has a similar training effect, but I don’t have to think about remembering when to go hard or easy.

      Love the blog, btw!
      Chad recently posted..Money, It’s Gotta Be the ShoesMy Profile

    11. Fartleks are my favorite kind of speed workout. For me they range from very unstructured during the off-season–running hard between telephone poles maybe–or more structured, like the progression you described. I love adding a fartlek when I want more speed sessions but not yet another tempo run or interval workout!
      Dana recently posted..Friday Five: Pregnancy CravingsMy Profile

    12. Way to go trying something new with your training – fartleks are indeed fun! Also, I don’t know that the fartleks will hinder your training – sometimes trying something new and different can really kick your fitness up a notch. I too got to run outside today (my husband worked from home today so he could watch the baby) and it was wonderful to get off the ‘mill!
      Andrea @ The Fit Scoop recently posted..Make the Treadmill FunMy Profile

    13. I just did a fartlek workout two days ago, and I was tired so I ended up doing the slow parts slower than I’d have liked. But I do like how fast the intervals go by.

      I’m glad you reminded me that I shouldn’t view the workout as a failure because it did not go exactly as I wanted. The pressure we put in ourselves sometimes isn’t good for us.
      Judith recently posted..Mental ToughnessMy Profile

    14. I am DEFINATELY “watching” the hockey game (via twitter) since I have to work–hopefully it’s less stressful than the women’s game was yesterday! I do not use fartlek’s often-their set up confuses me and I’d rather just run a tempo if I’m going to have a tough workout.

      My next race will be a half this weekend, but I’m training for the Fargo Marathon in May! Hoping to break sub 3:50…but we’ll see. I always consider finishing an accomplishment, even if I’m disappointed with my time.

    15. I think that I’m going to ease back into harder training with fartleks, because there is no pressure to hit a certain distance. I’m coming off an injury because I was stupid and I don’t want to make the same mistakes again.
      Renee recently posted..5 Ingredients for My RunningMy Profile