I have one speed that I comfortably fall into when I go out for a run.  It’s a nice, easy, sight-seeing pace that allows me to run with minimal effort for hours and hours. I don’t believe in listening to tunes (although I have been known to sing out loud) so my pace is genuine – something that comes from within me, like my personal metronome.

But, as I have lamented of late, I am in a running rut and I have begun to take action to dig myself out.  As part of my Learn to Run 5km clinic, the group leaders have begun adding fartleks into our group runs.  Simply, we go out for a slow, casually-pace run and, on the call of the leader, we all put in a 30 to 45 second burst of speed and then resume the casual pace.  These bursts are not supposed to be your flat-out fastest sprint but merely a faster-than-tempo spurt. During our weekly runs, we have been doing 3 or 4 fartleks over our 45 minute run.

Did I mention that this Learn To Run clinic involves weekly homework?  Well, it does.  We are encouraged to complete 3 other runs each week and they should involve the same casual pace and fartleks.

Being a good little school girl, I headed out yesterday to run my favourite close-to-home trail loop and, for the first time, I added in 4 fartleks. What I learned is – it is hard to be honest and truthful about your running when you are on your own, on familiar trails.  I found that I was putting off the speed work because an incline was coming up. Instead, I would cheat and wait until the trail began its downward slope before I decided to pick up the pace.  Is this cheating? Or is this smart?  I never seem to know the difference.

The other aspect that I found easy to fudge was the timing.  I am a bit old-school, in that I don’t carry some techno device that will calculate my minutes per mile or my gps coordinates.  For pete’s sake, I don’t even where a watch!  So how long is 45 seconds, when you don’t carry a time-piece?  Somewhere during my first fartlek, I decided that four footfalls took a little more that 1 second, so I would count every fourth step until I reached 30.  I have NO IDEA if this was accurate.  Each fartlek could have been anywhere from 20 seconds to 3 minutes.  Who knows?

But, in all honesty, those little speed bursts kept me very aware of my pace throughout my run.  After each fartlek was done, I was gasping and almost staggering along, trying to keep out of the salal and huckleberries at the trail’s edge.  I consciously tried to run relaxed and slow right up until the urge to ramp up my pace came through me again.  And then I worked on my recovery, both in breathing and in pacing.  That has to count for something, right?