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Today’s workout comes from two-time Olympian, and Australian 10,000m record holder, Ben St Lawrence. He is the co-founder and coach of Run Crew, a coaching group and racing team.

This session is great at helping you to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, and that’s essentially what running is all about, right? This mix of hard efforts, with ‘floats’ where you back off the gas but not too much is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to train your body and mind to pick things up even when your body is screaming at you to slow down. The temptation to back off a little on the efforts, or to reduce the float to a jog is always there, but by quieting this little voice and pushing through, you’re getting invaluable practice for the toughest point of the race, the last mile. When the questions start to be asked of you, you will have been to this point (physically and mentally) many times in practice and be able to tell yourself, “I’ve got this!”.

The Session:

15 – 20 min easy jog.

20 min of fartlek, going 2 min fast (about current 10k effort), 1 min float (just backing off the gas a little, but not too much, approx 30 sec/km slower than your 10km effort), 1 min fast (about current 5k effort or slightly faster), 30 sec float (same as first float). Repeat this for 20 min, finishing with a 2 min effort.

Jog for 2 min (jog, not float) then run at tempo pace (approx Marathon effort) for 8 min – making the whole workout 30 minutes long.

15 – 20 min of easy jogging.

Check out Ben’s workout for a (very speedy!) example.

How to do it:
There are a few gear changes throughout the session, and no time to really switch off, as long as you keep the floats honest (easier said than done!). The first few efforts feel great, but as the minutes start to tick by, the float recoveries (particularly the 30 sec after a fast 60 sec effort) start to seem shorter and shorter. Regardless of how fatigued you’re feeling, when the watch beeps you’ll find that extra gear and manage to hold on just long enough. You’re teaching yourself that even when every bit of feedback you’re getting is that you need to slow down (or at best, maintain pace) you CAN pick it up again. Even if you mess it up a little and go too hard on one of the efforts, the lessons learned will help you to get more closely dialled in to exactly where your limits are and how that should feel.

Some mental tricks to help you through:

The 2 min is ‘allowed’ to be slower than the 1 min, so focus on this positive rather than how long it is. Similarly, the 1 min effort is only half the length of the 2 min – so focus on how much faster you’ll be able to run.

The only let-up in the whole session is a 2 min jog before the tempo. Enjoy this, then get rolling again for a little icing on the cake. A hard 20 min fartlek in itself would be a great session, but why not get a little more out of it without going too deep? There will be a lot of fatigue in your legs, but you may be surprised that you can get up to a decent tempo and even recover slightly while running at goal Marathon effort. I use effort rather than pace here, as I feel that you should focus on how this feels rather than constantly looking at your watch. I’ve said 8 minutes to make this a nice round 30 min workout, however you could push this tempo all the way out to 20 min + if you’re getting ready for a Marathon.

A lifetime goal of mine was to win Sydney’s 14km ‘City to Surf’, the world’s largest foot race and an event that I first ran as an 8-year-old boy. In 2008 I was 4th, in 2009 I was 2nd to Michael Shelley by 10 seconds and then in 2010 I finally won it by 1 second over Shelley. I won by 1 second in an all-out sprint. I didn’t win because I had improved my kick, that had been there the previous two years, I just hadn’t been in contact over the final mile. I won in large part because I had become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I was ready for the pace changes, the hills and the rhythm sapping course. Not only had my body become better at dealing with the physiological challenges of these factors, but my mind was ready to ignore the feedback and to answer the questions asked of it. Can we maintain this? Yes. Can we hang on just a little bit longer as Shelley surges? Yes. Can we squeeze a little harder on this hill and make the others hurt? Yes.

I put a lot of this down to the fartlek with float sessions, in all their iterations, that I had implemented into my training over the years. I knew that the screaming legs, burning lungs and pounding heart probably weren’t quite as dire as they felt. I was finally there when it mattered, the home straight down to Bondi Beach. I found one final gear and managed to edge Shelley out and realize a life-long goal, winning the City to Surf 20 years after I first ran it. It still stands as one of my greatest moments of victory.

There are many sessions similar to this, we use a few variations with our coaching at Run Crew, and some famous examples would be Mona Fartlek or Deek’s Quarters. Give this one a try and let me know what you think.

Follow Ben on Strava. 

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