Because September is the month in which Houston’s weather finally shows signs of a cooling trend, it is the perfect month to start increasing the intensity of running workouts. During August, some CRC Milestone training plans introduced “strides,” which are short (80-150 meter) bursts of sprinting at the end of the run. The primary aim of strides is to improve your running mechanics, but not your conditioning. In September, many of the Milestone training plans add something called “fartleks.”
The word “fartlek” translates into “speed play” in Swedish; a Swedish coach, Gosta Holmer, is sometimes referred to as the father of the fartlek. (Stop giggling!) Often fartleks are described as unstructured workouts, such as sprinting to each stop sign or streetlight. However, runners who are doing fartleks for the first time may seek more guidance. This post provides an overview and six fartlek workouts for you to sample.
Fartlek workouts involve iterations of periods of increased pace followed by periods of recovery. For example, a fartlek workout that I often do – sometimes in the middle of a long-run when I’m not feeling inspired – is to alternate between a fixed number of ‘hard’ strides and ‘easy’ strides. I’ll alternate between running 20 strides of increased effort, followed by 20 strides of relaxed effort, and I’ll continue this pattern for a couple miles.
When I say “increased pace” or “hard strides,” I do not mean an all-out sprint. Rather, increase your pace to the fastest that you could maintain for 1-mile to 5K. You should not be gasping for air at the end of the speed interval, and you should be able to jog (not walk) the recovery interval. How long you run at increased pace can be defined by distance, by time, or by the number of steps. I will focus on duration rather than distance, so that you can complete the workout without needing a to use GPS watch or to run on a track. Note that if you’re running at the ‘ideal’ cadence of 180 steps per minute, then 90 strides will take approximately 1 minute.
Here are six fartlek workouts:
- Short Fartlek Session with Even-time Recovery. Run 1 minute followed by 1 minute rest (jog); this is one set. Perform between 10 and 15 sets at mile or 5K race pace.
- Short Fartlek Session with Half-time Recovery. Run 2 minutes followed by a 1 minute rest, then run 1 minute followed by a 30 second rest, then finally run with 30 seconds; this is one “2-1-:30 set.” Each 2-1-:30 set takes five minutes (including rest); perform between two and five sets at 5K race pace with two minutes of rest between sets.
- Medium Fartlek Session with Half-Time Recovery. Run 4 minutes followed by a 2 minute rest, then run 2 minutes followed by a 1 minute rest, then run 1 minute followed by a 30 second rest, and finally run 30 seconds; this is one “4-2-1-:30 set.” Each 4-2-1-:30 set takes eleven minutes (including rest); perform two or three sets with three minutes of rest between sets.
- Long Fartlek Session with Half-time Recovery. Run 5 minutes followed by a 2:30 rest, then run 4 minutes followed by a 2 minute rest, then run 3 minutes followed by a 1:30 rest, then run 2 minutes followed by a 1 minute rest, and finally run 1 minute; this is one “5-4-3-2-1 set.” Each 5-4-3-2-1 set takes 22 minutes (including rest); perform one or two sets at 10K race pace with four minutes rest between sets.
- Pyramid. Run 1 minute followed by a 1 minute rest, then run 2 minutes followed by a 2 minute rest, then run 3 minutes followed by a 2 minute rest, then run 2 minutes followed by a 1 minute rest, and end by running for 1 minute; this is one “1-2-3-2-1 set.” Perform between two and four sets at 5K race pace; each 1-2-3-2-1 set takes 15 minutes (including rest); rest three minutes between sets.
- The Jack Daniels Fartlek (named for the coach, not the distillery). Rather than determining when to run and when to jog by the clock, count your strides. Run 10 strides hard, followed by 10 strides easy; run 20 strides hard followed by 20 strides easy; keep adding 10 hard and 10 easy strides (30-30, 40-40, etc.) all the way up to 100 hard followed by 100 easy; then work your way back down from 100-100 to 10-10.
For any fartlek workout, begin with a warmup of ten- to fifteen- minutes, and end with a cooldown of ten- to fifteen- minutes.