Fartlek fun offers plenty for speed freaks

Fartlek training can benefit running speedFartlek training may well strike fear into your heart. But with a little planning and flexibility, it can be as easy or tough as you like.

It’s a Swedish word which, when broken down, Fart means (speed) lek means (play). So, ‘speed play’.

As Matt Fitzergald’s excellent Runner’s Diary states: “A fartlek run is a base run sprinkled with short, fast intervals – usually 30 to 60 seconds at 10k to 1500m pace.”

I’d heard of fartlek before, but not really understood what it meant. Indeed, I once encountered someone at my local parkrun who, while I didn’t think it at the time, may’ve been doing a fartlek. Really, it sounds worse than it is.

Well whatever, it irritated me back then because whenever I passed him, a little while later he’d just sprint ahead again and either slow down or stop completely. In hindsight he might’ve been performing fartlek drills, rather than antagonising other runners. Doing a run this way is actually a useful method of keeping things from going stale. It’s well worth a try, particularly if your event has plenty of space.

A fartlek can work anywhere. Popular drills can be done around an athletics track, where the extra foot bounce is ideal. My firm routes tend to be a blend of steady inclines and a few flat bits, but they work nonetheless.

Of course, some runners hate the mere suggestion of stopping mid-run, or slowing up as in a fartlek.

But the very notion that you have to run without stopping or easing off is flawed. A particularly tough 10k on a very hot day saw me require regular stops. Frankly I was blowing out my arse. But for all the stop-starting I still posted a respectable time, one which I wouldn’t have got near had I attempted to stumble through the last 5k without short rests.

Just look at the millions of people who’ve completed marathons. All shapes and sizes can attempt it and there’s no right or wrong way to get to the finish line. Except taking the bus. Don’t cheat yourself.

In his book, Fitzgerald offers several examples of a fartlek, such as five easy effort miles combined with 6x30secs of a quicker pace. These are all decent start points for anyone with a solid recent running history and those keen to build a fartlek into their weekly fitness routine.


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