April 22, 2016

What’s the deal with Whistle Fartleks in our track workouts?

*Track Coaches ”“ you do not need a whistle, be aware of your surroundings and do not use a whistle or even a loud voice (get creative) if there are games on the fields,  a quiet neighborhood 6 am setting, etc.   Do not become a nuisance.   Be smart, and if you have questions ”“ CALL ME 703-200-3081 (anytime tonight, or in the morning I’ll be up and out by 5:30 AM for Reston Track).   A good trade off might be simply holding your hand up in the air during the interval and dropping it when not in interval.   Or a stick.   Or a book.   Make people pay attention.


Ok ”“ the question is how is this read, and why have we not used these before?  

Track: 10′ W/U, 3 strides or pickups, 3-5 x 4-?’ whistle fartleks @ Z4 or lower – Focus on Technique as you change pace    


History that is applicable to why we have this workout

Over the last 11 years we’ve played with a few different training methodologies, concepts ”“ whatever you’d like to call them.   We started with a 3 week build and 1 week of rest.   There are a few Zrs still on the team who were here then, you can ask them how productive that third week normally was (it wasn’t, due to fatigue many of the workouts were simply difficult to complete much less perform at level of expectation).   People were exhausted, mentally frustrated”¦ those “third weeks” were basically torture sessions and provided no real value in training.

So ”“ we switched to a 2 week build and 1 week off.   We saw improvement, but still later on I started to use reverse two week builds with one week off where possible.   So, we would have the hardest week initiating immediately after a recovery week. Then the next week is slightly easier.   Then recovery week.   Then week 1 would be harder than that last week 1”¦.then easier, then recovery week.   That’s a reverse build.

Then this winter we tried something totally off the beaten path for our team simply b/c we are trying to increase and improve group attended workouts.   Weekend recovery runs and rides were generally lame.   So ”“ instead of starting that reverse build cycle on a Monday ”“ we change the start date to Saturday.   Effectively ”“ we just shifted it two days forwards.   And we kicked off that first hard week with a track workout on Saturday.   Thus ”“ no track work was held on the Wed of the first week.   But, the second week of the two week build we’d have the traditional wed track.

A few things happened.

  1. The new weekend workouts (Track on Saturday, epic boot camp followed by easy local ride) were WILDLY successful.   Starting at 60+ the very first week and that was in the miserable cold rain.   People loved the track workout as a team ”“ there was huge energy and massive turnouts and it was just plain fun.   Kramer’s Sunday boot camps are not to be missed ”“ she lives up to her nickname of “ShowTime”.
  2. Team Z builds a pattern in people’s lives and our members become creatures of habit.   So the second thing that happened was Team Zrs (also creatures of habit) became frustrated due the change in our normal 11 year old “pattern” of what workouts happened when and where (no track this wed, but yes next wed, etc.).


Thus:   Being the badass coaches we are we have decided to hybrid the best of both worlds.   Give the masses their “cake” (kidding).   But also keep the weekend work week “kickoffs” (the Saturday Track and boot camp) that I FRICKING LOVE BECAUSE OF THE PARTICIPATION!  

Problem:   If we do track workout # 1 to kick off a 2 week reverse build on Saturday”¦.   Then track workout #2 of that build on Wed of that same week.   Then track workout #3 happens again 7 days later ”“ that’s three potentially extremely stressful/difficult workouts on your body, mind, and soul.   All three of them happening within 10-11 days.   And that does not include the hard long weekend runs and rides in between them.   That is not ideal.   That is why we skipped that first wed track workout this winter (people hated losing the pattern).


  1. We stick with the “kickoff” weekend (Sat track, Sun epic boot camp) and continue with the (in general) reverse two week on one week off build methodology”¦.
  2. Track workout # 1 and # 2 both happen in the first 10 days of the build.
  3. The remaining 10 days of the build are declining in volume and intensity (through the recovery week). Again ”“ this is in general.
  4. So I don’t want to Crush your reverse build by giving you a crap hard work out in the middle of it when you are likely already sucking gas out of a rubber hose to keep the engine running.

Enter the Whistle Fartleks which are new to everyone.   From Wikipedia:   Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training. Fartlek runs are a very simple form of a long distance run. Fartlek training “is simply defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running.”

Then we add the term whistle ”“ which will only apply if you come to a team track workout.

How the workout is executed.   This only truly works if you come to a team track workout.     You warm up for the first 10 minutes.   Then you do 10 minutes or so of drills.   Then, as a team we start the whistle fartlek.   You start the fartlek in Zone 4 and you run until the coach blows the whistle (or, yells).   When the whistle is blown, you slow your pace to Zone 2, but you don’t get to stop.    You do not know how long the Z4 interval will be, which is the key.   It could be 7 minutes, could be 1 minute.   Could be that we do 5 of those, or 3 of those ”“ at whatever interval.

The Value is simple:   People tend to train too hard in general ”“ that’s across the board in all disciplines at all workouts UNLESS you use Vo2Max testing and are religious about following your watch.     By the time this third track practice occurs in the reverse build most people (if you train properly and follow the training plans) will be pretty tired.   The last thing I need is for you to run, when tired, at too long of an interval and too hard of a pace which has no benefit but to make you even more tired.   But I want you ready to perform that last long weekend before recovery”¦I digress”¦

The point is you don’t know when you will stop the Z4 and you don’t know how many of them. Only the coach does.   And the beauty of it is that we can change our minds on the track.   Our goal is to watch YOU and make our judgement on when to rest you and when to stop you so that you do not have to do it for yourself.     And, even more beautiful is that the athlete will tend to run easier (high Z3 or low Z4) to be conservative b/c you don’t know when you are going to be able to rest.   And when that rest comes its in the form of running in Zone 2 NOT walking or stopping.   So, you run the fartlek intervals conservatively.  And instead of worrying about how fast you are going you focus on form, and when you accelerate or decelerate between intervals you try to maintain form (same form at 12 min miles as it is at 8 min miles ”“ cadence, etc).   That’s not easy to do.

So ”“ this whole email is to say, the purpose of the workout is to help keep you guys from over training.

While this is most effective with the team.   You can execute them on your own.   Which is why I actually provided SOME structure to the workout.   So for those of you who can’t be with us at the track, you can do 3-5 fartlek runs of some preset/pre-determined interval that you set yourself (based loosely on the guidance in the workout as written).   You make the call on the interval.   The ideal would be that you listen to your body and keep from overdoing it.

So ”“ if you come to track you just need to warm up and do drills and worry about nothing else. Fartleks will start 20 minutes into the workout (or so).   IF you are late, you miss the boat.   The coach can throw the intervals below out the window if he/she desires based on what we see on the track.   But if you are going to do these on your own –  how do you read the below?

Track: 10′ W/U, 3 strides or pickups, 3-5 x 4-?’ whistle fartleks @ Z4 or lower – Focus on Technique as you change pace  

I think that makes sense now that you’ve heard the story.   The only variable is”¦how many of them and for how long.   At the track, I’ll watch faces and listen to your body language.   I can stop newer folks sooner.   Or I can stop people who did not miss workouts and are tired sooner while I can let fresher people run longer.     The hard part on your own is to know how long and how many.     So keep it on the conservative end.   If you see 3-5 x 4’-?’ like above”¦.start your Z2 run and do 3 x 4 minutes at Z4 or lower focusing on perfect form.   The goal is to get in at least 20 minutes after warm up and drills.   At least.   Max would be another 40 minutes.   So you might do (4 minutes easy, 4 Z4) x 3 = 24 minutes.   Or you could do (6 minutes easy x 4’ Z4) x 3 = 30 minutes.