Fartleks

I am running at full speed this morning, my legs and arms pumping madly, my heart pounding like a kettle drum, for the distance between one telephone pole to the next.  I slow down and jog easy, trying to recover.  Until the next telephone pole.  I am running fartleks.  (I know, it’s a weird word, bringing to mind visuals you probably don’t want to entertain—but click on the link and look it up anyway.)  I should really leave my watch at home, because this kind of training doesn’t count for time, yet I cannot help looking to see how my time is.  It’s a hard habit to break.

I wear my favorite running shorts— the “naked” ones— and the feeling of the morning air on my legs is delicious.  For the last couple of weeks, the mornings have been downright cold.  My winter training pants do their job, but I have already been missing the feel of bare skin, wind, the freedom of wearing less.  I am still wearing the same pair of Nike Free sneakers I bought last winter and they are going strong, despite the many miles I have put on their thin soles.  I am weightless this morning.  Weightless and winded.

I run along Marmion Way, dreading the long uphill end of the street, where I know the sprinting will be a challenge.  I know it will also affect the rest of this training session, but this is what fartleks are all about— pushing to the edge again and again.  I am lucky today.  I increase the distance to two telephone poles fast, then two to recover, and I only have to sprint up part of the very steep end of the hill.  The recovery poles take me almost to the corner and I round it picking up speed.  I burst onto South Street where the road is nice and flat and challenge myself to run three in a row, then recover for two.  I make it all the way to Eden Road.

I fly down the hill past Lynne’s house.  She is backing out of her driveway and I hope she doesn’t see me.  I don’t look back to check.   I continue to the third pole on her street.  I slow down again, then reach the next pole near the bend.  I don’t consider looking up and across to the Twin Lights, but rather put every single ounce of energy into the next sprint.  By the time I reach the third pole I can barely breathe.  I stop for a minute and bend over, resting my hands on my thighs.  I am panting hard and a little nauseous, wishing I had skipped that quarter of a bagel my daughter left in the kitchen this morning.   A woman I know is walking toward me, and I welcome the break as we chat for a couple of minutes.  When I take off again, all my energy has returned.  I run full-tilt for three poles, recover for two, and continue this way to the end of Eden.  My running friend Susie passes me in her car and I think  I must look crazy, speeding up and slowing down like this.  I laugh at myself, then decide to take the entire road between the marshes at full speed.  The road here is flat and smooth, so I let myself run right down the middle like a maniac— legs flailing, elbows pumping wildly, sweat running into my eyes.  At the end of that stretch, I allow the recovery to be a walk for one pole distance, then a light jog for one more before picking up speed again.

Pebble Beach is cool this morning.  The tide is low.  The smell is clean and sweet, the seaweed damp, freshly washed in to the shoreline. There are no telephone poles to use here, so I mentally break up the dirt road into quarters, leaving the sharp, steep curve at the end to split in two. I steal a few glances to see where the swans are as I push myself along the firmly packed sand, turning my head quickly so I don’t lose my footing.   I spy them on the beach this morning, poking around in the sand.  It both breaks my heart and brings me joy to witness their swan one-ness.  I press on.   I am so exhausted after the sharp hill that I just jog up the long hill of upper South Street to the corner before resuming this speed workout.

The rest of South Street is easy.  I go back to the two and two distance, really pushing hard, still hoping no one is watching me.  I feel ridiculous doing these intervals.  It’s just that after last week’s session, I ran two and a half miles at sprint speed the next day and it was the easiest run I have ever done.  I would like to run that speed for a full 10K.  This urge for speed came on suddenly– I think maybe I’m bored with my usual running schedule, and a bit disappointed not to have run a seven minute mile for a couple of months.  Five or six days a week, about 40 miles, split into four or five easy runs with one long day should be enough, but I feel the need for a change.

I turn onto Dean Road, run a couple of more high speed lengths, then ease up for a three minute cool down.  I check my watch and see I have been at it for almost an hour.  My legs ache; the muscles strain and protest even at this relaxed pace.  I think about how good a cool glass of water will taste, followed by a big mug of my favorite recovery drink: coffee with steamed soy milk, sprinkled with cocoa and cinnamon.  It’s enough to get me to my front door without falling down.  That, and the pleasure of knowing I just ran six miles of fartleks in my “naked” shorts one last time this year.

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One Comment on “Fartleks”

  1. Craig Says:

    Fartlecks has got to be my new favorite word, thanks. So how does it fit into your regime? One day of fartlecks for every two or three regular days? And I would have loved to see you dashing like a maniac between the marshes, what a visual!


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