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. Here are the details:
What: 5-4-3-2-1 minute pickups starting at 5K effort/pace and increasing the intensity a notch (~10 sec/mi if precision is your thing) as the duration of the pickups (and recovery jogs in between) get shorter. Your recovery is to jog slowly for half the time of the pickup you just completed (i.e. 2:30 jog after the 5:00, 2:00 after the 4:00, etc.), hence the name of the workout.
Warmup/Cooldown: Warm up before the workout with 15-30 minutes of easy running followed by a set of drills and 4-6 x 20-second strides (i.e., accelerate for 5 seconds, spend the next 10 seconds at near-top speed, and then gradually decelerate to a jog over the final 5 seconds. Catch your breath for 40-60 seconds and then repeat 3-5 more times). Cool down after the workout with 5-15 minutes of easy running.
Why: I like to use this as sharpening session leading up to a race. The purpose of this workout is two-fold: 1. The first rep is to work on 5K pacing and practice not going out too fast. 2. The last four reps simulate the middle and latter stages of a race when you’re fatigued and need to find another gear to respond to a move and/or finish fast.
Where: Road, trail, track, or treadmill, this one can be done just about anywhere.
When: I typically assign this workout 7-14 days before a race for the reasons described above. This provides a nice stimulus while also allowing for plenty of recovery time afterward.
Variations: There are many! (Which changes the Why and When of the workout, FYI.) You can try doing two sets of 5-4-3-2-1 with a longer recovery (~5-10 minutes) between sets during a heavier phase of training further out from an important race. You can also stretch out the duration of the pickups (and adjust the intensities and recoveries accordingly), e.g. 10-8-6-4-2, starting at half marathon effort/pace and getting ~10-15 sec/mi faster as the reps get shorter, etc. The permutations and combinations are essentially endless!