Fartlek – a Swedish word meaning “speedplay”. Most runners know this but do not all really understand the benefits of this type of training.

Fartlek is a form of running which the runner varies the pace significantly during a continuous run.
It is not about running specific distances and at a particular speed (that would be Reps and Interval speed sessions), but it is running how you feel and learning your capabilities by experimenting.
It’s fun, effective and sets you free.
How fast dare you go and for how long?
How much recovery do you need before you are ready to go again?

Initially, runners are wary of doing any kind of speedwork because they find it hard.   However, this type of running is something to include into your running early on as it helps transition to running faster and the kinds of training that will lead to significant improvements.

In a race a runner usually runs fast, then slower, then fast again and Fartlek running can help prepare both mentally and physically for it.

“So how do I fit Fartlek in to my running?” – Start as you would for a steady run.
•  Run easily for 10 minutes to ensure muscles are warm, stop and stretch if necessary.
•  Continue on your way and throw in some bursts of speed. Concentrate on a quicker cadence; if your jogging is about 150-160 steps per minute, try quicken to 180 spm.
•  This is Not sprinting, but it is strong running and it is faster than say your 5k race pace.  Pick out a tree or telegraph pole etc and tell yourself to run quicker to that point.  When you reach the target, easy back and recover.  Then when you are ready, pick another target and do it again.
•  Key points: Don’t make the efforts all the same, do vary pace and distance and concentrate on good running form.
•  Keep them between 30 seconds and 3 minutes and try to keep jogging between them.
•  Do Not confuse with other speed sessions;  Running very fast with longer recover is to work on ‘pure’ speed (not the aim of Fartlek), whilst running slightly slower and short recovery is speed endurance.

Keeping the recoveries short helps the body adapt and you raise the anaerobic threshold

You may think that speed is a bit too serious for you.  Well if you do Fartlek sessions with your friends, it makes them more fun and easier to do, and much more fun than doing them by yourself.

Fartlek can be done with runners of different levels and all runners receiving the same benefit; the faster ones simply run back for slower ones.

There are endless ways to use Fartlek so be creative as you become more experienced e.g. if you run with a group of other runners, take it in turns to start the burst.  The runner who is leading doesn’t tell the others how long it will be (as long as the reps are not too long) so keeps others guessing.

So include Fartlek sessions into your training. Run how you feel and most importantly, enjoy yourself.