Before we get into Fartlek Training Examples, what exactly is it?
Fartlek translates into “speedplay” in Swedish and it was actually first performed there in the 1930s. It is now practiced by runners worldwide and is an excellent training tool to include in our arsenal.
As its translation of “speedplay” implies, fartlek should be both fast and fun. We increase and decrease our pace how we choose to, it is not structured in any way.
Fartlek Training Examples:
On the road
When on the road to do a Fartlek Workout, we can be running easy before increasing our speed for 30-45 seconds then going back to a relaxed pace. We might then spot a distant object (E.g. light poles, bus stops, buildings/shops, fence post, etc.) and decide to run harder towards that as our goal before again slowing down to an easy pace to recover.
Once we’ve recovered and are cruising at a conversational pace for some minutes, we’ll want to do a faster 2-3 minutes around a block or down the road before again recovering. We may then stumble on a short hill that we decide speed up (don’t shy away!).
Continue to mix things up in terms paces and times and find things to run to and around for the workout.
On the track, Sports oval or Recreational park
On the track, sports oval or recreational park with a circuit/loop, we can do a Fartlek Workout by constantly varying distances and paces at any point on the loop. We could decide to do a short sprint of 50-60metres before recovering and then doing a moderate effort for 400metres before recovering. We can then go hard for 200metres, go easy until rested and then a moderate pace for 2-3 minutes before returning to an easy pace. The aim is to mix and match as we see fit and enjoy it.
On the trails
Doing our Fartlek Sessions whilst trail running is one of the best way to go about it as most trails will have a mix of flat and hilly terrain for us to utilise. As described above, vary paces and distances and constantly find things to ‘attack’ such a short segments of hills either on the incline or decline or running towards distance objects such as trees or rocks.
On the treadmill
The weather will never ever be guaranteed to be on our side so it’s always good to have a Plan B for our Fartlek Sessions. Or we might just prefer training on the treadmill (Hello Netflix). Performing Fartlek Workouts on a treadmill is actually a great way to do them because of the control we have on the pace and incline levels without any distractions from the road or trails.
As always we want to be mixing things up as much as possible. For example, we can run fast paced for 15-20 seconds up an incline of 12 degrees before resting and changing it up to a moderately paced 2 minute effort on 5 degree incline. Then we can do a faster effort for 10-20 seconds on no incline before resting and switching it up to a 1 minute moderate effort at 8-9 degree incline. There are endless possibilities!
(…or we could intentionally go run up Hills for an entire Fartlek session…….said no-one ever. But no really, you really should. Click here to see why.)
Benefits of Fartlek Running
How Fartlek Improves Our Running
-Improves our running economy by adding mini speed or mini tempo paced work into our runs without being too taxing on the body.
-Improves our pace control as the variety of paces we will be running teaches us how to manage our paces and also how our bodies and minds responds to such paces
-Not overly taxing on our body as the goal for the workout is mainly aerobic development with bouts of “speedplay”. However, keep in mind that we can also have Hard Fartlek sessions if we wish but be careful not to overload the amount of hard sessions we are doing per week.
-Improves strength (opening strides & including hills). The increased paces with Fartlek can help us develop speed and strength in our legs by constantly activating and working our major muscles without being too taxing.
-Dynamic Stretching occurs when opening strides. Many runners tend to have short stride lengths while running longer aerobic workouts; especially during base training. Fartlek helps add in mini-speed runs which naturally opens a runner’s stride length to enable dynamic stretching to occur.
How Fartlek Improves Our Running Program
-Helps us ease into to more structured workouts. Going from base aerobic endurance training to a set of structured and harder speed, tempo, interval, and hill repeat workouts can be shock to the system. Introducing easy and harder Fartlek running in the second half of our base training can help make the jump much easier.
-Transitions our legs and engine to speed work, tempos and intervals. Easy and hard Fartlek workouts are a great addition to base training that helps our legs get adapted to all of the speed, tempo and interval paces as well as some faster hill running if we’re lucky….or not.
-Mixes up otherwise very structured workouts. Doing very structured workouts week-in-week-out can get very tiring and monotonous. Having rest sessions using easy Fartlek workouts is a great way to freshen things up once in a while.
Key Tips for our Fartlek Workout:
Before commencing any of the Fartlek Training Examples above:
-Always warm up for at least 5-10 minutes.
-Get our legs woken up for our session with some more ‘strides’/’pickups’ for 30-80m x4-10 sets.
-Don’t pre-plan the run – get creative!
-Aim for 20-40 minute fartlek session to start off with and end the session based on how we are feeling.
-Aim to vary our speeds constantly. As described in the Fartlek Training Examples above.
-Keep in mind the workout shouldn’t be too strenuous and therefore more difficult to recover from. A good way to gauge this physically is to run harder until our breathing is just starting to become laboured and then drop off pace immediately.
-Keep our legs feeling relaxed despite picking up the paces. This will keep them feeling fresh and improves running economy
-Make sure to recover appropriately from the last effort before beginning our next speed run.
-If feeling up to it, do some easy strides/pickups to conclude our workout
-Cool down for 5-10minutes
Key Mistakes to avoid in our Fartlek Workout:
-Doing the same course and using the same cues for speed sections over and over – keep mixing it up with roads, tracks, trails and hilly courses!
-Not recovering enough between speed sections – we want to keep feeling fresh throughout the workout not overworked and wanting to stop ASAP.
-Thinking about our times and pace too much – remember this is an unstructured workout!
-Going too hard for too long – this is not a no-pain-no-gain workout, do not risk overuse injuries and overtraining! Slowly add in more “speed time” as our fitness improves.
-If doing this workout with a friend, it is best to do it with someone at our fitness level.
-If we are doing the workout with someone or multiple people, we should avoid trying to race or keep up with them if it means going too hard. It is therefore best to perform these sessions on a track or oval so that everyone can each perform the session at their own paces without losing the social component.
Before we go Running off to do a Fartlek Session:
Fartlek Running is supposed to be fast and fun, do not change it to a no-pain-no-gain workout.
Be relaxed without taxing our body too much in our work periods – especially if we are already doing a range of structured and harder workouts in the week.
Use a variety of surfaces to train on to keep things interesting and fresh.
We can get really creative and have a lot of fun with how we want to go about Fartlek training – it is really a runner’s “playtime”!