Fartlek may sound like a dirty word, but it is a Swedish word meaning “speed play.” A fartlek is an informal type of speed work that can be done anywhere. The idea is to sprinkle in bursts of speed while running. You can do fartleks while on an easy run, long run, or even when you are outside playing with your kids.
A great run to integrate fartleks into is the easy run. Use the first mile or so to warm up, running at an easy pace. Pick a point that is not too far ahead of you. It could be a lamp post, street sign, roadside tree or any stationary object a few hundred feet away. Pick up your pace and run hard towards that point. When you reach your destination resume your easy run pace until you feel recovered. Repeat the process with another landmark. Continue this for the rest of your run and then cool down for a mile or so.
Fartleks do not have to be done outside. On the treadmill you run the same way and increase your speed for short periods. Use cues from around you. For instance, if you are watching television you could run fast for the duration of a commercial or the entire commercial break. Use music and run fast for the first part of a song. If all else fails watch the timer and run fast for 60 seconds, 90 seconds or an amount of time that feels right.
Now you know what a fartlek is and how to integrate them. But how do fartleks improve your running?
They teach you to run fast. The best way to increase your running speed is to run fast. Running bursts of speed faster than your normal race pace will adapt your body to speed. Do not forget to concentrate on good running form and breathing.
Fartleks also help you lose weight and improve your cardiovascular health. Running intervals increases post workout calorie burn. Even when the workout is over the body is still burning fat from your body. Running intervals also puts stress on the heart and lungs. This alternating periods of stress and recovery, followed by rest, improves the strength of both the heart and lungs.
Fartleks also have the benefit of conditioning you to run fast even when your legs are tired. How many races have you tried to put on a burst of speed at the end and just felt as if you were wading through mud? Your legs were too heavy to move fast. By doing fartlek at the end of a long run, you will practice running bursts of speed on tired legs. This comes in very handy at the end of a race.
Fartleks are a fun way to make a run more enjoyable. Running at a steady pace over distance can become monotonous. Working fartleks into your workout will break up the run and make it more enjoyable. Think about when you were a kid and raced to the playground or ran to the slide and back. It is always fun to feel like a kid again!
Do fartleks once or twice a week and soon you will be seeing improvements in your running and overall fitness.