In my younger days (warning: old geezer reminiscence coming up) when I was more serious about running as a sport, I used to do something called interval training. Basically this means running fast for a while and then slower for a while and then repeating until you collapse in a puddle of sweat. The running books are full of detailed instructions for intervals that read something like "run 6x800m at 3:30 pace with 400m recovery at 2:00 pace followed by 4x400m at 1:40 pace with 400m recovery at 2:10 pace....and so on and so on." It all has the impression of being very carefully and scientifically worked out to optimize your training success. Incredibly earnest, not to say obsessive.
Then there was something called fartlek which is a form of interval training for folk who are a bit more casual or perhaps just numerically challenged. It has the same mix of faster and easier running intervals but you can be more flexible about the length and spacing of the intervals. Maybe you just say you are going to run at a faster pace to the next tree and then jog slowly for a while. Then run to the next corner and walk until you reach the lake. No need for a measured track or a stopwatch or a 500 page training manual.
For those of you in the back row snickering at that word "fartlek", it's Swedish and means speed play. Fart=speed. Lek=play. Now stop snickering.
I've never heard of anyone using fartlek in sailing but then I don't get out much these days. Last Friday I launched my Laser off Fogland Beach on a gorgeous afternoon for sailing with just enough wind to demand full-on hiking upwind but not so much that the waves were actually hitting me in the face. Perfect. So I decided to see if a version of fartlek would work for building hiking stamina and endurance.
You see, I take it as an article of faith that the reason that all the fit young guys beat me upwind in a blow is that they can hike harder and longer than I do. The harder you hike the faster you go. The fitter you are, the harder and longer you can hike. Must be true. So if I want to go faster I need to be younger and fitter. Well, fitter anyway.
So on Friday I invented a sort of hiking fartlek. I hiked as hard as I could while I counted up to 50, and then shifted gears to slightly less intense hiking while I counted up to 50 again. (If there were trees and corners in the middle of the Sakonnet River I could have used them as landmarks to break up my hiking fartlek as you do in running fartlek. But there aren't any. So I counted.)
And then I repeated while I counted up to 60, 70, 80, 90.... until I reached the point where I had reached my maximum time for flat-out full-on hiking also known as onset of the quads saying, "Hey dude, enough is enough. Who do you think you are, Paige Railey?" So then I carried on with the exercise but counting down and doing progressively shorter intervals.
It's amazing how such a simple act as concentrating on counting makes the time go quickly. A bit like counting sheep to help you go to sleep I suppose. So after half an hour or so of upwind I went downwind for a spell, way past my starting point and then started fartlek hiking again. This time the quads insisted on some shorter intervals so it was count up to 30, tack, count up to 30, tack, and so on and so on until I was back at the beach.
Well, wasn't that incredibly anal-retentive of me?