Not every workout will leave you hunched over with your hands on your knees afterward—in fact, most of them shouldn’t—but every once in a while you just need to go out and make yourself as uncomfortable as possible.
I recently sat down with Christine Yu, an award-winning journalist and author of Up to Speed, a new book that I would describe as a comprehensive guidebook that dispels false narratives around women in sport, dissects the latest research into women’s sports science and performance, and advocates for more and better research to improve the future experiences of active and athletic women across the age and identity spectrum.
Looking for a challenging but not-too-hard workout to knock out before your next race? Look no further than the 5-4-3-2-1 halftime fartlek. It starts fast and finishes even faster but it will be over before it really starts to grind your gears down.
Tracksmith recently announced the launch of the Varsity Club, an NIL program designed to support a small number of top-level college track & field and cross country athletes by providing them a gear stipend, mentorship, and the opportunity to travel to Europe for training and competition in summer of 2024. The program caught my attention for a few reasons: one, it's Tracksmith's first foray into the NIL space; two, it's an application-based initiative, differentiating it from other NIL deals brands are making with athletes; and three, it's headed up by Nick Willis, who was a seven-time All-American at the University of Michigan and understands the landscape of collegiate track & field as well as anyone. Anyway, I had a lot of questions, which Nick was generous enough to answer for me.
My favorite workouts are pretty universal in nature, meaning you can go to them whether you're focusing on something as short as a 5K or as long as a marathon. The 3-2-1 Mile Cutdown session fits that bill.
There’s a lot of confusion around the tempo run but stripped down to its core, this workout simply boils down to maintaining a steady effort for a prolonged period of time. And while the definitions of steady and prolonged can vary depending on a variety of factors, for the sake of simplicity and ease of creating a common understanding, let’s call the “classic” tempo run 5 miles at half-marathon pace. This is a pretty standard workout you’ll see utilized by a wide range of athletes and coaches to build aerobic strength, improve efficiency, and/or practice running race pace. The 5-n-Go Tempo adds a slight twist to the classic tempo run by squeezing down the pace for a mile or two at the end.
Yasso 800s are perhaps the most well-known speed workout amongst dedicated marathoners of all levels. The premise is pretty straightforward: If your goal is to run a marathon in, say, 3 hours flat, you should be able to do ten 800m repeats in 3:00 with a 400m jog for recovery between reps. A 2:45 marathoner would run their reps in 2:45, and so on and so forth.
One of my favorite all-purpose workouts to assign my athletes, whether they’re burning rubber on the track, shredding grass on the cross-country course, kicking up dirt on the trails, locking into a rhythm on the roads, or doing some combination of the aforementioned, is the 5 x 5 Fartlek.
These workouts require a lot of focus while improving the physiological and psychological endurance you'll need to race well at longer distances. One of my favorite threshold workouts is a bunch of 1-kilometer repeats with a short rest (30-60 seconds) in between intervals. We start at half-marathon pace—better to start on the side of too slow than too fast—and get a little faster as the workout goes on without going too crazy.
I use some version of this short-medium-long format for all of my athletes depending on who they are, what they’re training for, and where they are in a training block. This hill workout is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one and there’s probably a place for it in your program.