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Workout of the Week: Larry’s Short Surges

Get more out of your easy runs with this simple speed-laced strategy.

Get more out of your easy runs with this simple speed-laced strategy. 

This week’s Workout of the Week isn’t really a “workout” in the traditional sense. Let me explain by starting with a short story.

One of the most influential and amazing people running has brought into my life is a man named Larry Olsen. Olsen, a former 2:19 marathoner, Masters running legend and successful coach, tragically died in late 2009 while on a training run with friends. In the 10 years I had known him before his sudden passing, he taught me more about running—and how to enjoy it—than anyone else I’ve ever met.

Olsen, equal parts enthusiastic and eccentric, was one of those high energy types who got you excited to lace up your shoes and hit the trails. Running with him was never boring—even on an easy run—because he always like to mix a little fun into the experience.

On an easy run through the woods, for example, Olsen liked to throw in short surges—usually somewhere between 15 to 60 seconds in duration, although they were never timed because Larry didn’t run with a watch—at random points of the run, usually to a landmark such as a park bench or a tall tree off in the distance. It was true fartlek (Swedish for unstructured speed play) and it was a lot of fun. The pickups were quick, sometimes even fast, but never hard or exhausting.

“The pickups are short enough to activate the fast-twitch muscle fibers, but not long enough that it affects the run and doesn’t allow you to finish the workout,” Olsen explained to me in a profile for Running Times in 2009. “And it breaks up the monotony of just running a bunch of slow miles.”

Larry’s tendency to throw short surges into an easy run is a tactic I still use to this day, both as an athlete and a coach. The reason I like mixing this “workout” into easy runs is two-fold: 1. Running fast is fun. Flying effortlessly down the road or trail, even for a short stint of time, is an exhilarating feeling and releases endorphins that will up your enjoyment level. 2. A series of short surges during an easy run prevents you from just slogging along aimlessly for miles on end, helps reinforce good running mechanics and also allows you to practice shifting speeds.

Try Larry’s Short Surges “workout” and get more out of your next easy run. The key is that the surges are not long in duration—30 to 60 seconds max if you’re going to time them—and not challenging in terms of effort. You should be running fast but relaxed, while allowing for plenty of easier running between the surges. A good rule of thumb is not to surge more than once a mile—otherwise you’re running too fast, too frequently and essentially running an interval workout, which means you’re not really doing yourself any favors in terms of recovery.