Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning “speed play.”
A Fartlek run is just that—playing with speed! It’s a form of interval training with fast bouts of running followed by a recovery period at conversation pace.
While there are many benefits to Fartlek training, a Fartlek run is meant to be fun and unstructured. You don’t really need a specific plan going into it and you don’t even need a watch. The goal is to vary your pace (at about 70-90% effort) throughout the run and vary the time/distance of the sprinting and recovery phases.
A traditional Fartlek run uses landmarks on your route as markers. Sprint to the next mailbox, jog two telephone poles, sprint to the next driveway, etc. The increase in speed incorporates both the aerobic and anaerobic systems, challenging the cardiovascular system.
A more structured Fartlek run would be performing 8-10 one minute surges followed by one minute conversation pace running. You could also try one minute sprint/recover, two minute sprint/recover, 3 minute sprint/recover, and so on. There is a plan in terms of repetitions and duration but distance and pace is not a concern like a typical speed workout at the track.
A fun Fartlek workout in a group situation includes a whistle. Sprint when you hear one whistle, recover at two whistles. Another group Fartlek could be the old “Indian” drill where runners form a line and the person at the end of the line has to surge to the front of the line and repeat this for 30-60 minutes.
Running at the same pace all the time will cause a runner to plateau. Experiment with Fartlek runs to change gears and recruit different muscle fibers. It also helps simulate the racing experience. Think about the small surges to pass another runner or slowing down to a walk at a water station.
What are the benefits of a Fartlek run?
· Increase speed
· Improve endurance
· Build strength
· Recruit different muscle fibers
· Varying intensities means greater calorie burn
· Practice and promote good running form
When should I incorporate Fartlek running into my training?
Fartlek running is great when you are starting to incorporate speed workouts into your training. Make sure you have a good 4-8 weeks of aerobic base building down before you start any interval training. I like a few weeks of Fartlek running in transition before sending any athlete to the track.
Don’t forget to warm up before beginning a fartlek run! Start with only a few repetitions in Week 1 and over time increase the number of repetitions along with increasing speed intervals while decreasing rest intervals. Remember this is a form of interval training and a hard effort so limit to once a week—not every run! With any interval training you want to avoid doing too much too soon.
Do you incorporate Fartlek running into your training?