TRAINING: Dissecting the sausage session

I’ve waxed lyrical about the structured fartlek type called “sausages”, ever since adopting them based on my readings of the section he dedicates to the topic in “Healthy Intelligent Training” and thought I should give readers a real “view under the hood” to understand how you can run this type of fartlek as “an easy day” yet still run pretty fast. The key guiding principle of “sausages” is:

  • Make it natural
  • Make it varied
  • Make it fun

So parks with some hills and other “natural features” are the best arena for sausages. The second element arises from these four rules:

  1. No one can pass out the leader
  2. The leader dictates the course
  3. Everyone gets to lead
  4. Followers can run wide or take shortcuts as they please

Yesterday, we did a pyramid sausage looking like this:

  1.   30 seconds fast /   15 seconds slow
  2. 1:30 minutes fast /   45 seconds slow
  3. 2:30 minutes fast / 1:15 minutes slow
  4. 5:00 minutes fast / 2:30 minutes slow
  5. 2:30 minutes fast / 1:15 minutes slow
  6. 1:30 minutes fast /   45 seconds slow
  7.   30 seconds fast /   15 seconds slow

The beauty of the above session is that if you include the mandatory 15 minutes of warm-up and cooldown, you have a 51 minute non-stop running session but with only 14 minutes of faster running buffered with plenty of aerobic running. People generally emerge smiling and stronger, ready for the next days “longer” steady aerobic effort, rather than shattered and in need of a 48-hour recovery as after intervals.

Session in statistics

I led out the long 5 minute segment with each of the other guys leading two different segments (we were a small group of just four despite the lovely clear evening, family, work and niggles carrying their toll on our group).

You’ll notice from the Garmin file that we see paces anywhere from 3:20min/km pace to 3:58 (with a 2:53min/km for the last 30 seconds!) with the average pace being 3:39min/km for the 14 minutes. This is 18:17 5k pace, a good bit slower than the 5k pace of everyone in the group, meaning that essentially what you have here is 5k-10k pace efforts (92-96% VO2max pace). Last time I was tested at this pace (16.4kph) my lactate concentration was 5.05 mmol/l.

This could lead to severe acidosis fairly quickly but with the long running recoveries you trigger something that has come mighty back in vogue on running forums around the world of late: the “lactate shuttle” discovered by a physiologist called Brooks in 1984. Fartleks predate his discovery by almost sixty years and happen to be one of the best ways to stimulate this “shuttle” to work. Essentially, while you jog along, your body will transport the lactate in your system out of the muscles into the blood-stream where the body can reuse that energy to fuel the heart muscles or be reused by your liver to produce glycogen.

Am I ready?

I observe that sometimes runners are huffing and puffing through the segments and struggling to recover properly even during a session such as this. To do a fartlek like the one shown above you first need to be quite aerobically fit. Essentially, if you are not fit enough, you will train your lactate shuttle at paces that are way too low to be useful in most races and your focus should rather being on increasing the pace at which you can run steady.

Once you have accomplished this you see the effect I observe in most of the runners joining my Wednesday session. Most run a fair amount of mileage and have an enjoyment of longer aerobic running. You can see the effects of this in training when they hold very consistent pace throughout, their heart rates drop quickly while jogging and they do not feel trashed afterwards.

What if I don’t like this session but want the effects?

No problem. Every time you run a steady aerobic run on a very undulating or hilly route, you are inadvertently going lightly anaerobic and triggering similar effects to the sausage session. So run over very varied and challenging terrain on your steady efforts and your body will get to spend plenty of time “lactate shuttling”.

Why would Lydiard use it?

As I mentioned in an previous article, Lydiard did not know anything about the lactate shuttle when he wrote his first schedules in 1950 but he knew that keeping all the body’s “energy systems” and “paces” somewhat stimulated was important even during aerobic conditioning. He also recognised that this should only be supplemental as such training was useless without focusing your main effort on the adaptations that contribute by far the most to your performance on any distance from 800m to the marathon: steady aerobic running to raise your lactate threshold as far as possible.

My recommendation on how to use it

Sausages are the perfect way to implement this mix of paces for reasonably fit athletes (beginners, should do easier unstructured fartleks first). In the modern Lydiard schedules we use based on the Lydiard Foundation’s instructions, there are two weekly fartleks for distances from 800m to the 10k and one for half-marathons and above (this being for runners doing 7 days per week).

I would encourage athletes not to drop the fartlek if they need to “skip a day”. It is a great help during the high mileage phase in keeping your legs flexible and stressing the body in a slightly different way. In my own programme it falls nicely between two runs of 90-minutes plus, so I use it to blow off some steam and my body tends to feel better, rather than worse, for the longer run the next day. So I know I am not overdoing the intensity. Monotony is one of the main causes of injury and loss of motivation and the Lydiard aerobic phase has often been accused of epitomising that type of training. In reality, it was nothing of the sort with plenty of undulating running, strides, sub-threshold runs (Out and Backs) and fartleks to constantly mix it up. In many ways, the aerobic phases features almost all types of running except hard sustained anaerobic efforts with little recovery.