Fartlek Training for Running

The word Fartlek often produces laughs among runners, but there's nothing funny about this form of interval training.  Fartlek is the Swedish word for 'speed play', and reflects the fact that if you want to include speed training in your running program, you don't have to stick to rigidly prescribed intervals of distance or time – there are endless ways to alternate periods of faster and slower running.

Indeed, interval training can include a wide variety of forms – what Fartlek adds is fun.  By throwing in random elements, it can make interval training seem like a throw back to the days as kid when you raced your friends to the end of the street or across a field.

The bottom line is that speed work is the most effective way to run fast, whether you do it on the track, on a grassy field, through the woods, on the street – it doesn't matter where you are, you can adapt the basic principles to make it work for you.

Whether you are running strictly prescribed intervals on a track, or doing Fartlek in the woods or a field, there are certain principles that apply:

• Warm up – ten to fifteen minutes of easy running is the best warm up
• You should alternate bursts of fast running (the intervals) with slower periods (recovery)
• Recovery can be either walking or slow jogging – you need to allow time for your heart rate to slow down.  The recovery period should be around the same length as the speed interval
• The longer your speed interval, the slower you will go
• Run your intervals at a pace that allows you to complete your set of intervals without noticeably slowing down on the last few 
• Most runners do intervals of between 30 seconds to 2 minutes
• The total number of intervals can range from five or six up to twenty
• Cool down at the end with ten minutes of easy running
• Perform intervals no more than twice per week
• Follow a day of speed work with an easy day or a rest day

Where Fartlek is a little different is in the more random nature of the intervals themselves.  Rather than running a set of, for example, ten times 200 metres, you let the terrain suggest the length and frequency of the intervals.

If you are running on the road, you can choose to sprint to the next lamppost, or to the end of the block.  In the woods, it might be to the big oak tree, or the end of the path.

The actual interval doesn't matter as long as you are elevating your heart rate, recovering for a while, then repeating the process.  And because it is more fun that running on the track, you'll find that you actually look forward to your speed training sessions – and ultimately, that's why you run in the first place, isn't it?