What’s the best workout?


By Gary Droze


Is there such a thing as the single best workout for a distance runner? Probably not. High-level distance running performance is the product of many factors: endurance, leg speed, economical form, lactate tolerance, and mental toughness. No single workout can fully develop each of these factors, which is why most competitive road runners include a variety of workouts in their training programs. Typically, the consummate road warrior will adhere to a training cycle that which develops each performance factor separately. For example, the hardcore Sunday morning group at Forest Meadows – typically led by Gulf Winds Track Club President Jane Johnson – builds layers of endurance by running continuously at a steady pace, beginning at sunup, and stopping at about the time most ordinary Tallahasseans are considering brunch options. Similarly, leg speed is often developed through a brisk set of 100 meter repetitions, such as those authored by local age group phenom Ryan Deak every few days. Again, the typical approach is to devote one or two days each week to an individual performance factor, so that every weapon in one’s racing arsenal is honed, albeit separately, on a regular basis.

Perhaps an even better approach to becoming a well-rounded racer is to occasionally incorporate training of multiple performance factors in a single bout of running. After all, a distance race tests every aspect of an entrant’s ability at one time. Such multi-tier training has been endorsed by top-rung coaches ranging from Oregon University’s Bill Dellinger to British National Team Leader Frank Horswill. This kind of training is a step towards a single best workout. The Swedes have even honored the concept with a specific term: fartlek, meaning “speed-play,” serves the dual purpose of introducing varying paces in a single workout, AND eliciting giggles whenever I pronounce it in front of a group of teenage runners.

My favorite fartlek session involves 12 laps of continuous running, with each first ½ lap at one-mile race effort, and each second ½ lap at a pace that completes the lap at about 10 seconds slower than 3-mile race pace. For example, a runner who can record a 4:40 mile and 16:00 3-mile would run the first ½ lap in 35 seconds (4:40 mile pace) and the next ½ lap in 55 seconds, completing each lap in 90 seconds (10 seconds slower than 16:00 3-mile pace). It takes some practice to nail this workout down, but most runners will find that it concurrently develops multiple factors needed for racing well, plus it helps them remember at least one word of Swedish, in case they ever get to run in Europe.