Mile Repeats, Fartlek & XC

It has come lately to our attention that there exists a San Francisco-area television station showing reruns of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle‰âÂVbCrLf cartoon show. While some among us would hardly need such a re-visitation- seeing as how we memorized large chunks of the dialogue in our youth-knowing that Moose and Squirrel are out there on the airwaves again somehow brings us comfort.

We recall how each episode was introduced with a quick recap of the previous one: “Last time our heroes were finally on their way home to Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, when they were kidnapped by Boris and Natasha dressed up as hyenas.‰âÂVbCrLf This was helpful. So let us give this narrative technique a whirl.

Last time, the subject of this space was 400 meter repeats (“quarters‰âÂVbCrLf). We anticipated some response (to the extent that anyone bothers with us at all), i.e. laughter from some, uh, quarters. (Laughing at us or with us? It is a mystery.) Lots of serious road runners haven’t done 400s for years, if they’ve ever done them at all. But that’s precisely why we sought to inject them into the discussion: one can choose to do them or not to do them, but one ought to be aware of the option-whether one’s focus is road, track, or both. (But, as
we said, you’re better off if you do them.)

Every form of training has its pros and cons, things for which it’s best suited and things for which it’s ill-suited. I’ve been struck over the years at how adaptable and flexible any given form of training can be (quarters aren’t just for milers, for example). Being mindful of this expands the creative potential of one’s training exponentially, and enables one to fend off repetitive boredom as well as to address specific needs.

Having said that, I would not as a rule suggest that one do quarters as a part of one’s marathon training. And since we are in the midst (suddenly) of fall-marathon-training-season, we’ll leave the short stuff behind for a spell and address the long stuff-workouts that might be “all strength‰âÂVbCrLf if you’re training for a 5K or 10K, but when adapted for the marathon become “all speed.‰âÂVbCrLf

I. Mile Repeats: Mile repeats are to marathoners what quarters are to 5K specialists-a kind of universal frame of reference. If you look up any of the numerous marathon training programs available, on-line or in print, ultra-beginner to advanced, they all include mile repeats.
Everyone can relate to the distance (although four 400-meter laps are 2-3 seconds shorter than a full mile) and you know your per-mile pace the instant you finish. Standard procedure is to begin at, say 4 x 1 mile at target marathon pace, and proceed through the training process, usually weekly, to 10-13 x 1 mile at the same pace.

That’ll get you there, and it’s a way of presenting a one-size-fits-all methodology, as useful for the sub-2:30 runner as for the 4:30-plus runner. You can do other things with mile repeats, though. A favorite mutation, which I’ve used both on myself and with others, is one I ‰âÂèÏstole’ after reading about it during Alberto Salazar’s peak years under Bill Dellinger.  It consists of doing 10 x 1 mile on the track, alternating between faster-than-race pace and  slightly-slower-than-anaerobic-threshold pace. Let’s say your target marathon pace is 7:00 per mile (or a three-hour marathon). That is probably very close to your anaerobic threshold pace, then. You might thus approach this workout by alternating 6:30 miles with 7:30-7:45s.
When I was shooting for a 2:20 marathon, I’d alternate 5:00 and 6:00 miles. Beginning with a 6:00 mile, I’d sometimes add an 11th one (at that pace) at the end as a kind of ‰âÂèÏre-entry.’ A relatively intense workout, it’s not one to use every week (perhaps best saved for peaking) but it’s actually quite fun, and a great confidence-builder.

II. Miles-Plus: You have heard it said, “Thou shalt run mile repeats and more mile repeats,‰âÂVbCrLf but I say unto you, “Thou oughtest try 2000-meter repeats once in a while.‰âÂVbCrLf  Beyond being a nice round metric number, 2000 meters is five laps of a 400-meter track, or, a mile plus one lap. Why bother with the extra lap? The point to this is perhaps more mental than physical. Physically, it won’t make much difference whether you do, say, 6 x 1 mile or 5 x 2000 meters-they’re virtually the same workout. But mentally, we’re so accustomed to thinking in terms of the mile that it’s good to “train outside the box‰âÂVbCrLf from time to time.

We can’t help ourselves: when we’re doing workouts like this on the track (or roads, for that matter), we just naturally want to let up when we reach the mile mark. It’s as though the mile has a kind of hypnotic hold on our psyches. By doing 2000s, you stare down the mile, and the mile blinks. Your psyche laughs at its former master: “Take that, ‰âÂèÏfour-laps.’ I’ll see you and raise you one.‰âÂVbCrLf A workout of 2000s forces you to concentrate beyond your accustomed range, and this, in turn, helps prepare you to adapt to unforeseen circumstances that may (and inevitably do) arise on race day.

III. Fartlek and Cross Country: I have written in praise of these before, so I won’t spend much time on them this go-around. But, for those marathon-exclusive types who just can’t stand track work of any kind, or for those who don’t have a track readily accessible (and I’ve lived in such places), it is possible to reach peak marathon fitness through alternative forms of speed work-fartlek, cross country races, or a combination thereof. The great (and, recently, late) New Zealander, Jack Foster, ran a 2:11 marathon at age 42 in the early 1970s with only fartlek training for speed work. The difficulty of fartlek is that it requires mental discipline to do well, as you lack the structure and direct feedback afforded by the track. The beauty of it is that it simulates race situations much more accurately than the track does, and if you learn to do fartlek well, whether solo or in groups, there’s no better preparation, physically or mentally, for marathon day. And, once you’re ‰âÂèÏup on two wheels,’ it’s actually a lot of fun.

Cross country season comes just in time for mid-to-late fall marathons. Anyone who’s read this space at this time of year knows that I am a whole-hearted advocate for cross country racing for all runners, but for marathoners a cross country race is an ideal speed workout.  It too requires mental agility and physical adaptability and offers variety, intensity, and it’s (have I used this word before?) fun.
I’d write more, but a pair of hyenas are just now dragging me off to meet Fearless Leader. (From a previous issue of NER)

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