The cancellation of races due to the COVID-19 pandemic left runners in an odd situation. At the publication of this post (April 2020), it is at least months before racing resumes. Most want to maintain or improve their fitness, but not peak early or burn out. The solution is not in following a prolonged race-specific cycle; that will only backfire. Instead, year-round workouts provide the happy medium for building fitness without burning out.
Year-round workouts apply moderate stress. These are not gut-busting workouts with epic splits that will garner massive kudos on Strava. These are moderated doses of faster running that you should recover from relatively quickly. You should not dip into the well on these runs; if you feel like you have to dig deep, it’s time to call it a day.
The mental challenge of the workout also matters when you are not training for a race. You want to save your hardest mental efforts (such as these workouts) for race-specific training. Too many mentally demanding workouts will burn you out when done too often.
So, in short, these year-round workouts are physically and mentally moderate. You can do them at any point without a high risk of physical overtraining or mental burn out.
These workouts are ideal if you are approaching a season full of virtual races, when your focus is more on participating in events than peaking, tapering, racing, and recovering.
All that said, these workouts are versatile enough to be beneficial in race training segment. I use 2-min intervals to maintain leg speed in a marathon build and ½ mile cruise intervals leading up to a half marathon. These truly are versatile, year-round workouts!
This first workout places very little stress on the body – yet offers significant adaptations. Strides and surges are short bursts of fast running. Strides and surges improve running economy (how efficiently you use oxygen at any given pace) and leg speed.
Strides are typically 15-20 seconds in duration, done at near mile pace and completed as drills after a run or as part of a warm-up for a speed workout. Surges are short bursts of faster running thrown into a run; when done for 20-30 seconds at a fast effort, they function similarly to strides. Whether done during or after a run, strides and surges should be done at a fast pace – but not a hard effort. The duration is short enough that you should be able to easily recover; your breathing should not labor heavily.
Sample workout: 45-60 min run, with 30 seconds fast/90 seconds easy in the middle
Out-and-Back Progression Run
The out-and-back progression run is as simple as it sounds. You run out a certain distance, and then run back (or the second half) faster.
This workout is infinitely adaptable. You can adjust the duration and intensity: shorter with a faster finish, or longer with a finish at aerobic threshold or lactate threshold efforts.
The biggest benefit of this type of workout is how it trains you to tune into your body’s effort. You learn how to conserve energy early on and how to push later in a run – both beneficial skills for when you do race.
Two-minute intervals provide just enough faster running to keep you fit, without the recovery demands of a workout such as mile repeats. They are an enjoyable workout as well, providing the thrill of running hard without the mental demand of long intervals.
As with any fartlek workout, you can scale the rest intervals to change the intensity of the workout. For an off-season workout, you want at least equal time recovery (2-minutes) or longer.
Sample Workout: 6 x 2 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy
Half-Mile Cruise Intervals
The intensity of cruise intervals is somewhere between that of a normal interval workout and tempo run. For my athletes, I often call the effort “fast tempo.” It falls around the pace sustainable for a 45-min race – 8K-10K pace for most runners. For the duration of these intervals, the effort should feel comfortably hard yet in control. If you are huffing and puffing, you are working too hard.
Sample Workout: 6 x ½ mile at fast tempo effort, 1.5-2 minute recovery jog
Hills are one of the best training stimuli for a base building period or off-season. You develop strength and explosive power without the wear and tear of speedwork. You will get stronger and faster with a lower risk of injury.
A hilly fartlek uses the terrain to dictate intensity. You run hard on uphills, recover on downhills, and run easy to moderate on flats. You can make this run more difficult by opting for a hillier course. Alternatively, if you lack skill on downhills, change the parameters so that you run at a hard effort on the downhills.
Sample workout: 40-50 minutes with a hard effort on uphills
What is a go-to workout for you?
Do you do strides and surges regularly?