XC Lingo for Dummies

Words like "fartlek" and "tempo run" are thrown around a lot in cross country, but what do they really mean?? Let's break it down.

Fartlek: Our friends over at Runner's World describe it as "Swedish for "speed play," and that is exactly what it's all about. Unlike tempo and interval work, fartlek is unstructured and alternates moderate-to-hard efforts with easy throughout. After a warmup, you play with speed by running at faster efforts for short periods of time followed by easy-effort running to recover. The goal is to run at harder efforts but not a specific pace." Fartleks help get your heart rate up but also allow you to recover some in the middle without having to stop running completely. 
Runner's World

    Example: Your coach may tell you to run hard for 30 seconds, then run easy for 10 seconds, and to continue doing that for X amount of minutes or miles. 

    Red Flags: Make sure you are really changing up your speed significantly between the hard and easy portions, or else your effort becomes more tempo-effort or even race-effort if you are not recovering properly.

Tempo Run: "A tempo run is a faster-paced workout also known as a 'lactate-threshold' also known as LT, or threshold run. Tempo pace is often described as "comfortably hard." Tempo running improves a crucial physiological variable for running success: our metabolic fitness."
So how does it work? "
By increasing your LT, or the point at which the body fatigues at a certain pace. During tempo runs, lactate and hydrogen ions-by-products of metabolism-are released into the muscles. The ions make the muscles acidic, eventually leading to fatigue. The better trained you become, the higher you push your 'threshold,' meaning your muscles become better at using these by-products. The result is less-acidic muscles (that is, muscles that haven't reached their new "threshold"), so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster." 
Runner's World 

Example: Your coach may tell you to run 6:45 minute per mile pace for 3 miles. He or she will base that on your 5K PR and how physically fit they think you are to reach that comfortably hard mix, without approaching race pace. 

    Red Flags: Your tempo effort should never feel as hard or harder than a race. You should get done feeling like you could keep running at that pace if you really had to, but you are definitely tired and ready to be done. If you feel like the effort is too hard or too easy, be honest with your coach so they can adjust your pace next time. They won't know unless you tell them!

Intervals/Interval Training: "Interval training, also known as interval workouts or interval runs, are short, intense efforts followed by equal or slightly longer recovery time. Unlike tempo workouts, you're running above your red line and at an effort where you are reaching hard for air and counting the seconds until you can stop-a controlled fast effort followed by a truly easy jog. The secret is in the recovery as patience and discipline while you're running easy allows you to run the next interval strong and finish the entire workout fatigued but not completely spent. Just like rest, your body adapts and gets stronger in the recovery mode."
So what are the benefits? "
Improved running form and economy, endurance, mind-body coordination, motivation, and fat-burning." In similar fashion to a fartlek, you are giving your body time to recover between hard efforts, but in the case of intervals, the hard effort is harder and the recovery is full rest versus a jogging rest. 
Runner's World

Example: Your coach may tell you to do a half-mile, kilometer, or "mile repeat" in X amount of time, based on your 5K PR and how physically fit they think you are. 

    Red Flags: This workout is HARD! It is supposed to help you mimic race-pace and prepare you for upcoming races, so don't fret if the pace your coach gives you sounds scary! Just trust them and you'll be surprised how physically fit you are!

There you have it! Have more questions about cross country lingo? Send us a message on Twitter and we will help you! @MileSplitIA