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Visualizing hyperdrive

9 January, 2010

The quote to end all inspirational quotes: ‘Mind is everything. Muscle, pieces of rubber – all that I am, I am because of my mind’. It was a runner, Paavo Nurmi, who said that. Now, his leg length and lung capacity may have had as much to do with his achievements in running, but the acuity of this insight probably tells us something about the self-discipline of his training regime also. As legend would have it, coach Holmar of the rival Swedish cross-country team, tired of having his arse handed to him on a plate, responded not by driving his runners into the ground — though he may well have tried that first — but by ‘inventing’ fartlek (Swedish for speedplay).

I have done very little by way of fartlek. Partly because I just don’t know how to stay in the range of a target training pace, but perhaps also because I’m reluctant to admit that running, the act itself, is play. We may lose sight of this after setting goals and wading through training schedules, beating addictions or losing weight, but let’s face it, running is not work. It happens so often when I run past a dog, or a small child, that instinctively they take off running beside me. They are free spirits, and that’s what they want to do.

Yesterday, I felt good about the way my training has been going and even considered imposing a rest day on myself. But I felt like running. My legs felt like running, more accurately. I would have given them a day off, but they wanted it. So I went to the gym and started on the treadmill with the idea of doing some resistance training after ten minutes or so. Anyway, I built up very slowly, perhaps 1mph every minute, but worked my way up to a 5:35/mile pace. This is really too fast the day after a track workout so it only lasted about 400 metres, and I continued to vary the speed thereafter, winding up with something resembling a fartlek session of four miles. It felt good, and some old de la soul on the ipod made it even more fun. And whaddaya know, the average pace turned out to be just on the fast edge of easy: putting the ill in treadmill.

If I were a manufacturer of treadmills then I would give the speed control not two buttons but a lever of the type they have on trains and interstellar spacecraft. That’s how you make a gym workout fun.

Today, six miles.

a large statue of Finnish runner Nurmi, covered in verdigris

Paavo Nurmi, courtesy: Jaime Silva

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