Trying to improve speed and endurance with Runkeeper Pro’s help

Over the last few months, my speed and performance have stagnated. I’ve been disappointed as I know that I should be able to put my foot on the gas and go faster but when I try I seem to burn out.

In reality, my pace isn’t going to set me high up any leaderboard and I’m still trying to work out how I’m going to get around the Great South Run’s course of 10 miles in October and survive!

A while back, I read about Fartlek training. Fartlek is Swedish and means ‘speed play’. It consists of alternating a number of ‘fast’ sections with periods of recovery. One of the benefits is that you can use Fartlek training in any run and it doesn’t need to be structured. The idea is that you can simply choose a point in the distance (a lamp-post for example), run fast to it, recover and then choose another landmark and repeat. Much more flexible than ‘intervals’ where you typically have to cover a certain distance, e.g. 400 metres.

In reality, I didn’t think I’d have the self-control to keep up with the fast sections (most likely giving up after one or two) so decided to create a workout in Runkeeper Pro that would use the principles of Fartlek training whilst giving me some structure. If Runkeeper’s voice told me to run fast, I was more likely to take notice and do it!

As a relative beginner, here’s the workout I defined:

  • 10 minutes steady (warmup)
  • 30 seconds fast (fast section #1)
  • 4 minutes steady (recovery)
  • 30 seconds fast (fast section #2)
  • 4 minutes steady (recovery)
  • 30 seconds fast (fast section #3)
  • 4 minutes steady (recovery)
  • 30 seconds fast (fast section #4)
  • 4 minutes steady (recovery)
  • 30 seconds fast (fast section #5)
  • 4 minutes steady (recovery)
  • 30 seconds fast (fast section #6)
  • 4 minutes steady (recovery)
  • 8 minutes steady (cooldown)

In Runkeeper, the Training Workout definition looks like this:  

Training workout screen 1 from Runkeeper's iPhone app

This basically gave me a 45 minute workout which was perfect for my lunchtime run. Once the workout was defined in Runkeeper, I was ready to try my first Fartlek workout.

The 10 minute warmup seemed to take forever and I was waiting in anticipation for the first fast section. When it arrived, it came as quite a surprise and I hit the accelerator and went for it.  A very short time after Runkeeper had finished her announcement, the fast section was over and I had 4 minutes to recover at my ‘normal’ pace. It didn’t take me long to recover so it was just a case of waiting for the next fast section to begin (which came sooner than I thought!)

I made it through the workout and completed the 6 designated fast sections and had a really good (for me) average pace for the workout. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without being disciplined by Runkeeper and even managed a couple of extra fast sections during the cooldown period just to make sure my average pace was good.

Of course, Runkeeper wasn’t only great for getting me through the workout, it also helped to show me just how much my pace was improved during the fast sections (as shown below). (As a related aside, it would be great to be able to view this data via Runkeeper.com as well as be able to dig deeper into the data. Hopefully, one day soon, that capability will come.)

Fartlek Intervals #1 from Runkeeper iPhone app

Fartlek Intervals #2 from Runkeeper iPhone app

Fartlek Intervals #3 from Runkeeper iPhone app

Fartlek Intervals #4 from Runkeeper iPhone app

The pace per interval can be seen below (with fast sections in bold):

  • 10 minutes steady 10:36 min/mi
  • 30 seconds fast 08:07 min/mi
  • 4 minutes steady 09:37 min/mi
  • 30 seconds fast 09:15 min/mi
  • 4 minutes steady 10:09 min/mi
  • 30 seconds fast 06:42 min/mi
  • 4 minutes steady 10:30 min/mi
  • 30 seconds fast 07:41 min/mi
  • 4 minutes steady 10:55 min/mi
  • 30 seconds fast 07:22 min/mi
  • 4 minutes steady 11:05 min/mi
  • 30 seconds fast 10:03 min/mi
  • 4 minutes steady 11:05 min/mi
  • 30 seconds fast 10:03 min/mi
  • 4 minutes steady 11:18 min/mi
  • 8 minutes steady 10:13 min/mi

This activity can be viewed at http://bit.ly/cp7dik on the Runkeeper website.

My plan for future Fartlek workouts is to:

  • introduce more fast sections
  • introduce longer fast sections

Using Fartleks is pretty new to me but I can see how they can add some spice to a workout as well as prove that you can run faster if you push yourself a little. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut just pounding the pavement at the same-pace workout after workout but what you need is variety in terms of how the workout is structured and where you run.

For more information about my favourite iPhone app, check out http://runkeeper.com.

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