TRAINING: Sausage sessions

Both as a coach and as a runner there are training sessions that I enjoy more and some less. Coming home from tonight’s fartlek, I had enjoyed myself greatly in both roles. I’ve taken to participating in most of my own sessions as it is a golden opportunity to train with people.

For this evening’s fartlek workout I had chosen a session called the “sausage session” (which is really just a colourful name for “structured fartlek”). It may seem that “structured” violates the very essence of what a fartlek is supposed to be about and detractors would be right in pointing this out. But when you are running as a group, you need to take advantage of that and the sausage session is designed to be random and unpredictable in its own way and knock “us Western runners” out of our cosy even-paced workouts into the sort of roller-coaster running that African athletes so excel in.

A quick history of sausages

The “sausages” were introduced to New Zealand (and the Lydiardites) in 1968 by Roger Robinson and quickly proved a very effective training method both for cross-country specific work and as a way to increase oxygen uptake during the aerobic phase. These sessions were still run at the top aerobic intensities but offered a little something else from the easy and steady mileage during that period.

I first read about the session in an article from New Zealand Runner titled “Where Have All the Runners Gone?” about the steady decline of New Zealand athletics but only really took notice when Keith Livingstone included it in the Lydiard Foundation “training manual” Healthy Intelligent Training.

How to do it

The rules of a sausage are easy: one person leads each interval and no one is allowed to pass out the leader. However, slower runners are allowed to cut corners and faster runners can run wide if they so wish. Each runner is told the duration of their interval and the maximum intensity they should look for.

Today’s “sausage” looked like this:

  • 3 x 3 minutes, 1 minute jog recovery (max 10k pace)
  • 2 x 5 minutes, 2 minutes jog recovery (max 10k pace)
  • 3 x 3 minutes, 1 minutes jog recovery (max 5k pace)

There are not breaks in this workout, you never stop running, and I particularly enjoyed this aspect as it gave a great sense of pace and kept the adrenaline level high. Initially, the runners chasing the leader seemed reluctant to cut corners but as the session went on, more and more used this. The 1.3km grassy circuit at UCD was almost ideal.

Our luck did not stop there: I had precisely eight runners in attendance on the day which meant each runner only needed to lead once. This is another useful aspect of the training session: everybody get’s exposure to how it feels to lead a chasing group regardless of relative ability in the group.

The pace

I decided to lead off to set the expectancy for the pace and was actually too conservative as I ran the 3-minute split at 4min/km pace (a good deal slower than my 10k pace, although perhaps not at the present moment!). From here on every runner who had to take his turn really brought the effort. James Clancy blasted away in before the dreaded “third man”, Jason Kehoe, ran the fastest “sausage” of the day, as we had all feared he would, setting a 3:39min/km pace.

Then came the vaunted 5-minute sections: Jeff Fitzsimons had promised talking pace and snickered about his 25km run the day before. These promises and exertions seemed forgotten as he disappeared away in a rush and held what “a brisk pace” throughout the long leg. Tim Chapman did settle the pace a bit but we were not relaxing by any means (again, unlike what Tim had promised, runners are terrible as setting expectations).

Newcomer to my group Paul Doherty got the first shot at 5k and put in a strong shift before it Sean Burke put in a 3:46 paced turn at the rudder . I noticed during the sessions how different runners adopted different rhythms. Some were on the back of the leader or thereabouts for each single repeat while others would drift back and relax for a few before hammering full force into later (usually in their own leg, a bit of pressure comes with the leader’s mantle). And, of course, it was hard to really know because everyone cut their own corners (or refrained).

Counting warm-up and cooldown the running came to over 15km (more for those admirable fellows who ran to and from the venue) ensuring that this was still essentially an aerobic workout.

Next week

Next week will feature another sausage session: Part of the beauty of the concept comes from the endless variations available. Perhaps I will tease runners with the 1 x 1 min, 1 x 2 min, 1 x 1 min, 1 x 2 min repeat ad nauseum (meaning invariably faster more interrupted running). Or perhaps we’ll do something more akin to a pyramid or a staircase or perhaps something with a very nasty long segment in the middle (10 minutes anyone?). Time will tell…