Many athletes will have raced a traditional Christmas paarlauf recently, but as Matt Long and David Lowes explain, this format can also be an excellent training session
Paarlauf – sometimes written as “parlauf” – literally means “pair running” in German and is essentially a two-person relay on a track in which one runner completes the hard effort before passing on to the partner and then, if necessary, jogging back to wherever the next changeover point is.
Often treated as a race, it is usually up to the pairs themselves to decide how to divide up the running, but it can also be useful in training for distance runners.
When used in training it typically involves one runner commencing their effort halfway down the home straight and running for 200m to the mid-point on the back straight where their partner is “tagged”. While the partner runs their corresponding effort, the first runner typically jogs across the infield of the track ready to rejoin their partner and commence the next effort.
This being said, at this time of year it is appropriate for athletes to use non-track surfaces for this type of session. Athletes can either be worked over a set distance or agreed time – for example, 3 miles or 20 minutes.
Paarlauf running works the lactate shuttle energy system in the body. Exercise physiologist George Brooks articulated the dynamic action of lactate in terms of its metabolic capacities both within the muscular and circulatory systems which produce energy, thus enhancing performance.
Internationally respected coach educator Peter Thompson iscredited with the notion of “lactate dynamics training”. Paarlauf running puts this concept into practice by deliberately increasing lactate production through the alternation of intense periods of running with less intense, but still active modes of recovery.
Paarlauf – good and bad practice
Pair people off who are of similar, rather than vastly different, abilities. Failure to do so “punishes” the weaker athlete, who struggles with a lack of recovery while the stronger athlete tends not to be worked hard enough because the recovery becomes too generous. For example, the better athlete would run 29 seconds while the one with lesser ability would run 35 seconds, meaning the better athlete gets a longer recovery time.
Encourage athletes to remain active during their “roll-on” recovery and to pace the recovery appropriately. Athletes not experienced in the etiquette of paarlauf often race to get to the changeover point before remaining static for several seconds before their partner arrives.
If you’re going to have athletes running across the infield of a track then the session can only be done when throwers aren’t using it.
Progressive overload can be achieved over months and years by varying the mode of the paarlauf. A common way of doing this is to extend the traditional 200m efforts to 300m on the track and to jog back over 100m to meet the partner before embarking on subsequent efforts.
Note that this means starting and finishing at different points with subsequent efforts. Paarlaufs can be a traditional and excellent way of making hard work fun in a competitive environment.
Case study: British Milers’ Club Academy Autumn Training Course
Matt Long, who was lead coach at the course, worked his squad in a paarlauf around a marked football pitch for a timed first set of 10 minutes. The athletes, aged 13-16, typically performed up to 10 efforts of 30 seconds in duration with a corresponding “roll-on” recovery of a similar duration.
After the first set of efforts and a five-minute jog undertaken by the athletes, assistant coaches Paul Hayes, Andy Owen and Pete Torrence got them to reduce the duration of the second set of work to seven minutes in duration. This change was made in order to shift the latter part of the session towards working speed endurance (intensity of the efforts undertaken) and reducing aerobic endurance (volume of efforts undertaken).
» Dr Matt Long is a 2013 winner of the BMC Horwill award while David Lowes is BMC course director