Following on from my last post, which covered raw speed, speed endurance, and intervals, it makes sense to cover other aspects of so-called 'quality training'. These sessions together make up the smallest volume of mileage, typically less than 15-20 % on a conventional training schedule.
Fartlek is Swedish for 'speed-play' as 90 % of runners seem to know. However, considering the number of people that know what it means linguistically, just a minority seem to actually understand what it is, and what it does for you.
A basic summary of fartlek
Fartlek is effectively periods of intense running interspersed with easy running. The periods of intense running usually vary in length, pace, and effort throughout the run. Below I'll discuss the two main approaches to fartlek that we tend to encounter.
The first approach is the unstructured fartlek run. It is a very simple idea; go out for an easy run, and at desired points up your pace to whatever you feel like, for however long you like. There are no restrictions and the freedom of training how you want can be refreshing.
For this reason, unstructured fartlek is normally measured in time rather than pace; alternating from an easy pace to 800 m pace makes it difficult to glean anything useful from average pace. I recommend trying this out on easy weeks to get away from hard training weeks, and on trails or hilly routes (see below).
The second approach is structured fartlek. As fartlek evolved it made sense to coaches to keep a few factors contstant - typically the time or distance of each lift in pace. This makes fartlek measurable and allows you to track progress.
This is why I prefer the structured fartlek: you can run 200 m at 5-10 km pace, 200 m easy, and cycle through that for 40-50 mins, giving you confidence at race pace and also training your body to adapt to a moving recovery.
You can build up from as little as 10-15 mins up to however long you like, and then focus on increasing the pace of the faster periods. To avoid running too fast, increase the speed of the easy jog to give yourself a restricted recovery.
Suggested fartlek sessions
Here are some ideas for fartlek sessions at race pace:
- 200 m at 5 km pace, 200 m at easy pace - for 20-40 mins
- 300 m at 10 km pace, 100 m at easy pace - for 30-45 mins
- 400 m at target 10 km pace, 400 m at a steady pace - run 8-12 km
- 1, 2, 3, 5, 3, 2, 1 mins at 5 km pace, with 2 mins jog between each effort or equally;
- 300, 600, 900, 1500, 900, 600, 300 metres at 5 km pace, with 200 m jog between each effort (take 100 m off each effort if you're slower than 25 mins for 5 km).
Fartlek and hills together
Fartlek can be integrated with hilly routes to give you a quality workout. Run hard up the hill and jog down the other side for recovery. This is valuable because fast downhill running is not recommended for long periods as it places stress on the joints.
Questions about fartlek? Ask me on Twitter, or contact me by e-mail (see my profile).