Musical Fartlek

It’s hard to convince an athlete to hold back. Suggest rest days or tapering, and you’re bound to get a cranky response. It took years of injuries to finally embrace rest as a critical part of my training. Still, it’s hard to keep from feeling guilty when I have a short or slow run (even when I’m doing exactly what my running coach has scheduled).

Over the last couple of months I’ve been adding more consistent running back into my schedule. My trainer has reminded every time we work out that there is a time and place for intensity. While I was training for the Boston marathon, I had to save most of my intensity for running. More recently we’ve turned our focus back to building up my strength, and with our strength-training sessions routinely lasting 75 minutes or more, all of my intensity has been in the gym.

My runs have been slow, and I’ve just begun to (gradually) build weekly mileage. This morning I went out for an 8-miler (my longest run since April!), adding in some hills and with no goal other than to find some street art and enjoy a small break in Atlanta’s hot weather. I was running by feel, trying to stay relaxed, not worrying at all about my pace.

I had a good playlist on my iPod, with nothing so fast as to tempt me to misbehave. But as is often the case, music influences my runs. Today I noticed how – even without a lot variation in the tempo of the music – each song was pushing me along in a different way. Some encouraged me to hold myself back settle into a relaxed pace. Other songs were more playful and reminded me to have some fun along the way.

My favorite song on this morning’s playlist (Sometime Around Midnight by The Airborne Toxic Event) starts off as a melancholy ballad, then builds in power and beautiful intensity. It came on at just the right time – that point in my run when I wanted to push myself – not exactly faster, just a little harder, paying more attention to my body and form and using my strength to power through. And then, with the next song, I was reminded to fall back into my easy pace.

Growing up I enjoyed running Fartleks (‘speed play’ in Swedish), but I’ve gotten away from them over the years. Today’s run encouraged me to put together a few new playlists that I can use to mix things up (even while being careful not too build to much too fast, and to save the real intensity for the gym), and challenge and entertain myself on some of my upcoming runs. If a Fartlek is fun, one where the pace and intervals are guided by music has to be even better.

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