"Tomorrow, we're gonna run some long grass circuits, then play a game of ultimate Frisbee." They looked at me in disbelief at first, and then realized I was serious. "Speed work in disguise," I said. Or in other words, putting the fun, back into the run!
Back during my early days of running and training, my high school cross country team used to play a game with tennis balls, similar to dodge ball, on a tennis court. I'm pretty sure we invented it but I can't quite remember the semantics of the game itself. I do recall a whole lotta sprinting and how utterly tired we were when we finally finished. These "tennis matches" were nothing more than speed work in disguise, AND a great team building exercise. Capture the flag was another game our team embraced, as hidden speed work.
Sometimes, I think we runners take ourselves too seriously in our endeavor to improve. We build schedules filled with long runs and hill repeats and tempo sessions, core sessions, plyometric sessions, stretching sessions, complaining about our coach sessions…but we forget that fundamental part of any sport or game is to have fun. I don't know about you but I've never figured out a game to play with stretching…ever.
My high school coach allowed us the freedom to work hard and play hard. When we weren't running a grueling hill session up to Sporting Hill Elementary School (the school that overlooked my high school in Pennsylvania), we were playing a rousing session of "sharks and minnows." And that was quite fine with him, so long as we performed on race day. My senior year we were 8 wins, 2 losses in conference meets. Not too bad for minnows.
During the 1984 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, a 37-year-old from Portugal led the field into the Olympic Stadium in the men's marathon, setting a Games record that would last for six Olympiads. Carlos Lopes won that race in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 21 seconds. But running wasn't his first sport. It was soccer. Years of playing youth soccer helped Lopes build an aerobic engine that led to a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics, then the marathon gold in 1984.His running was stimulated by a game!
The Swedish word "fartlek" (insert chuckle here, but yes, that is the word) is loosely defined as "speed play." This method of training involves changing paces during a run for various lengths of time. Some changes are short and fast, some are more controlled and longer, but it's however you feel. It is unstructured speed work, very similar to how we ran and played as children. All you need now is someone to count to 20 while you hide, then try to catch you as you sprint back to base.
Page 2 of 2 - Fartlek was a big part of my training after college. Since I no longer had a regular team around me, I often looked for ways to break up the monotony of running hard alone. And since kicking a soccer ball along the Harrisburg Pike wasn't really an option, I used the concepts of speed play to charge up my runs.
The team scenario obviously adds more options to play, but even solo runners can spice it up with a little imagination. In an open field or park, tale a tennis ball, throw it as far as you can and then go chase it (add a bark or two and check out the looks you'll get). Or make up a scavenger hunt list of items, give yourself a certain amount of time, then go! Hmmm…that gives me an idea for my cross country team next Earth Day.
Running can be boring or it can be fun. It all depends on your outlook. But to this minnow, running is the Ultimate! Now go put some fun back into your run.
Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer. Shearer has been running since 1978.