The Lost Art of Fartlek

Posted: February 26, 2016 in Run, The Plan
Tags: ,

One of the biggest changes of my current Ironman training plan is the inclusion of regular fartleks.  Likely, just mentioning that word is bound to get everyone (even runners) in the room giggling like a school girl but as a disclaimer for all my non-running, non-triathlon peers, unfortunately, “fartlek” has absolutely nothing to do with farts.

fartlekelf-e1411671909499Well, most of the time.

In the past, I have made use of tempo workouts, speed workouts, hill workouts as well and the dreaded long run workout.  And, of course, there’s always the easy run periodically because, well, just because.  Typically, fartlek runs were just thrown into the mix when I didn’t feel like doing any of the other aforementioned workouts but knew I should still be doing something.  In other words, a “fartlek” run was a fancy label to throw on an otherwise lackluster workout just to make it sound more strategized and formal.

So what is a fartlek officially, right?

Basically, “Fartlek”, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training.  Fartlek runs are a very simple form of a long distance run.  Fartlek training is simply defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running. In the past, the old school mentality towards fartlek running has been to simply “sprint to the next telephone pole or mailbox”  and that’s how I usually applied them in my own workouts.  In some cases, it happened completely spontaneously when, say, I happened to find myself being chased by a turkey down the street (click HERE).  Basically, it all amounts to running hard when you feel compelled to do so (in my case, usually on a slight downhill) and then back off again when your heart rate starts to soar like a jack rabbit on crack and it isn’t fun anymore.

Simple.

The whole purpose of fartleks is to prepare a runner to handle the uneven paces of a race. In a race, a runner usually runs fast, then slower, then fast again. During my last Ironmam (click HERE) – shit, in every triathlon or run I’ve ever  competed in – this has pretty much been the case.  This variation in pace is largely due to the race course’s terrain and surges used by competitors at different points through the competition.  There is likely not a single race that I can remember where I wasn’t locked in some silent mental duel with other runners around me on the race course, all trying to break each other as a means of getting finishing one position higher in the finishing results, or on the podium.  In fact, it’s likely the best runners who can physically and mentally respond to these variations of pace and keep on keeping on.

So why now then?

Well, largely because Coach Nicole wants me to and that’s why I pay her the big bucks.  But, still, what’s her overall strategy at this point?

Besides making me suffer that is…

Well, the most ideal time to insert fartlek runs is when you’re making the transition to faster, race-pace type training like, say, after your winter base and before your spring race season begins – which is pretty much where I am now.  By doing a weekly fartlek run for a month before you hit the track, you’ll: 1) avoid the tendency to train too hard, too early; 2) learn your effort levels and how to adjust the workout based on how you feel; 3) develop an optimal base of speed training prior to hitting the track.

There are typically two recommended types of fartlek workouts.  The first, after a warm-up, is to perform 10 to 12 surges lasting 1 minute with a 1 minute jog rest in between with your effort being slightly faster than my 5K race pace effort.  Most runners find this to be at about 90 to 95% of their full effort – to which I can attest to, I assure you.  Research indicates that running at this intensity for a total of 10 to 12 minutes results in a higher VO2 max – your ability to consume and utilize oxygen.  As it turns out, I was doing workouts similar to this on Tuesday nights while HRH  was swimming. I was labeling them as “Hill” workouts solely because the intervals were being performed on a short hill along Welland Vale Rd. in St. Catharines, but each interval took me approximately just over a minute to complete finishing at the required 95%.

GO ME!

So given that this first type of fartlek has been accomplished already, I’ve actually moved onto the second type of fartlek run now, performing 4 to 5 four surges lasting 3 to 5 minutes each with a 1-2 minute jog in between.  My effort here is slightly faster than my 10K race pace effort but not as fast as those in the first type of fartlek.  Most runners here – well, I know I certainly do anyway – find this to be at about 80 – 85% of full on effort.  Research indicates that running at this intensity for a total of 15 to 20 minutes results in a higher lactate threshold – the balance point between the production of lactic acid and your ability to keep it from building up.

Here are the two fartlek workouts I am now regularly incorporating into my weekly training schedule:

Fartlek #1:

  • 10-15 min warm-up
  • 5 x 4 min HARD! (sub 5:00min/km pace), with 1 min easy “shuffle jog” recovery
  • 2 x 3 min  HARD! (sub 5:00min/km pace), with 1 min easy “shuffle jog” recovery
  • 10-15 min warm-down

Fartlek #2:

  • 10-15 min warm-up
  • 5 x 2 min VERY HARD! (4:30min/km pace), with 1 min easy “shuffle jog” recovery
  • Bonus 2 min rest
  • 10 x 30 secs ALL OUT!, 30 secs easy “shuffle jog” recovery
  • 10-15 min warm-down

After four weeks (I’m currently in week #3), I will simply add 1 interval per week in order to continue building on my aerobic capacity and threshold training.

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