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Boredom Blasting Run Workouts to Change Up Base Training

BY Andrew Simmons

Base-building workouts don't need to equal boredom! If your athletes feel burned out on their regular run training, try mixing in these fun workouts.

Winter is the time for base training and long, slow runs to build fitness for the future months of racing ahead. While this is a solid plan strategically, it can often feel monotonous and uninspiring. Sometimes we need to add some variation to base-building workouts in order to re-energize. Introducing elements of uncertainty, rewards, or penalties can create workouts that can push athletes further and train them to better respond to the unknowns that come with racing. You can modify these workouts to accommodate any level of athlete by tweaking the number of reps, recovery or sets. As always, take your athletes’ current ability and training goals into consideration before dragging and dropping in a workout.

Boiling Water Fartlek

This workout consists of 3-8 reps x 3 minutes at your athlete’s 13.1-10K pace. On for 3:00 minutes, off for 3:00 minutes in Zone 2. Recovery decreases by 30 seconds each successive time until the athlete gets down to 1:00. 

The recovery can be modified in 2 ways. One is “slow boil,” and the other is “fast boil.” The fast boil is where you cut down the recovery by 30 seconds each rep (3:00 On, 3:00 Recovery, 3:00 On, 2:30 Recovery). The slow boil option is to make this a staple workout weekly and decrease the recovery by 30 seconds each week and see if the athlete can maintain the 3:00 efforts each week. This workout is a great mix because athletes have to stick to their pace, and with every rep, the stakes get higher and higher. 

The Michigan

This workout consists of the following:

  • 1600 meters at 10K pace, followed by 20 seconds of rest, then into a 2km tempo, 30 seconds slow jog.
  • 1200 meters at a 5K pace, followed by 30 seconds rest, then into a 2km tempo, 30 seconds rest, 
  • Hammer 800 meters at a 3km pace, followed by 30 seconds rest, then into a 2km tempo, 30 seconds rest 
  • Lastly, a final all-out 400-meter rep.

This is a fun workout because it is a classically hard session that has a good mix of endurance, speed, and mental toughness. If your athlete is bored with the monotony of intervals and tempos, throw a few chilis in the mix and light a fire under those buns! I’ve given this workout in the past and had athletes request it again to see if they could better their time. This might just be the hardest session you give your athletes all season. This is an excellent session for an athlete preparing for 5k, 10K, or for the early prep for a half marathon, bumping up from a high level of 10K training. 

Penalty Laps

Set up a workout with a strict time standard, like 10x 200 meters under 40 seconds. You can do it in two ways, just like the boiling water fartlek. You can have them run reps until they get 10 reps under 40 seconds (which could require running a total of 13 or 15 reps), or you can keep to the structure of reps, and for every rep they miss, they have to pay a penalty of your choosing (jumping jacks, push-ups, wall sits, etc.). In the past, I’ve used this workout with strength-focused movements like farmer’s carry, hang cleans and pull-ups. Most people don’t bring barbells and plates trackside, but you can get creative with body-weight movements to add a flair to your workout.

The Tempo Sandwich

This workout consists of 4 x 400 meters, followed by a 5km tempo, then 4 x 400 meters. Regular tempos can get boring. Making it a progression adds a little sweetness, but sometimes adding a little spice helps too. This is a tempo sandwiched between two sets of intervals. This workout isn’t specific to 400’s and 5k’s — you can adjust the intervals and tempo to meet the needs of your athlete. Don’t be afraid to put longer intervals up front and shorter intervals off the back. This is not only challenging but also a great way to teach your athlete how to measure their energy and capacity. In the past, I’ve had athletes start out the first series of intervals well within their capacity, complete the tempo at half marathon pace and suffer through the final series of reps, ultimately ending in a best-effort closing interval. 

Coin Flip Intervals

This workout is dedicated to Andrew Hirzel from my hometown running club in Kalamazoo, MI. This workout was traditionally done as a set number of 400m repeats where you would flip a coin over your shoulder as you took off for an interval. In advance of the workout, the group would decide which was the “extra effort” side. If that side was facing up when you came around at 400m, you would have to run an extra 200 meters at your current pace or faster. This adds a fun element of uncertainty to the workout and creates great camaraderie with teammates that are all suffering in the potential unknown together—definitely a lung burner but also a big hit when you’re just trying to build some fitness.

These are just a few workouts I’ve used with athletes at Lifelong Endurance and Peak Performance Running over the years to keep the “fun” in training. My youth athletes always enjoy it when I pull a rabbit out of the hat because it pulls the team together around an objective or completing a tough session as a team. These workouts are great workouts for groups and individuals as they can really rev people up and get them cheering their teammates in at the line. These workouts are all designed to provide a framework that can be manipulated to the needs of the individual. Good luck, and have fun with these!

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About Andrew Simmons

Andrew Simmons is a USATF Level 2 and TrainingPeaks Level 2 certified coach and the founder/head coach of Lifelong Endurance. Athletes who want to improve their race times in distance running have found major success with his Individual Coaching and Training Plans. Andrew resides in Denver, CO, where he still trains as a competitive amateur. Follow Coach Andrew on Facebook and Twitter.

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