The Fartlek

I was inspired by Nate Jenkins’ Fartlek Friday post, and by how my fartlek went tonight to post a little something on the workout favorite of both elites and regular folks. The fartlek has been one of my go-to workouts in early season training for the past few years and an important supplemental workout during peak training. I usually will run a harder/faster workout on the Tuesday of a week and then run some form of a tempo run or longer, slower intervals on Thurs/Fri, but when I’m feeling fatigued from Tues or have a race coming up, I usually run a fartlek. The best part about them to me is the adaptability and lack of complete structure. Unlike long intervals, or repeats on a track, you’re not chasing some distance, you’re simply going by time. For myself and I’m sure a lot of other runners, it’s very hard to know what my “effort level” equates to in a pace per mile. Depending on soreness, fatigue, stress, sleep, eating, etc etc, my effort level changes daily, not by too much usually, but still, it does change. Especially when I’m just getting back to fitness, I might feel great running at a 6:40 pace due to my legs being fresh and rested one day, but three days of solid mileage later, my easy pace could be 7:10. I bring this up to illustrate the beauty of the fartlek being based on time (in most cases that I’ve heard of anyway) When you run a fartlek like the one Jenkins posted today, a simple 6min/1min setup, running 1 minute hard in every mile (6,7,8 min. whatever that moderate pace mile is for you) or so; you can have ample time to recover on the moderate section in the rest of the time before your next hard minute. So, before I copy more of Nate’s post about it, I’ll move on! I’ve touched on why they work well in early season now, but as I mentioned, my favorite part is the adaptability. So, what does that later in the training block, supplemental workout fartlek look like? Well, tonight’s run is the perfect example, at least in my humble training, for that later season pre-race tuneup. The fartlek I ran tonight was the same one I ran a few weeks ago before the 10 mile race, link here to that workout. Tonight I ran the same workout again before my half marathon on Sunday, and with a few more weeks of good fitness in my legs I felt even better than last time and it was a great confidence booster. Link to tonight’s run here. The structure was; 3 mile warmup, :30 seconds of “hard” followed by 2:30 of “moderate” pace x 10, 2 mile cooldown. Rather than focusing on a specific pace for the hard and/or moderate sections, coach just has me run these with an average mile pace goal in mind usually. A couple weeks ago I ran a different variation; 20 x 1 min hard/ 1 min. moderate and my goal pace was 6:30/mile, also as a pre-race workout on the Thursday before a Sunday race. For tonight I had no specific pace goal in mind, but with warmer weather and feeling stronger I was out to beat my time on the same loop from three weeks ago. I averaged about 6:10 pace over the 30 minutes of fartlek last time and tonight my average was probably at about 5:48, total run time was 1:07:42 for 10.07 miles last time and 1:02:16 this time. Certainly a significant improvement, and I can honestly say that I kept the same effort level, hard pace was not an all out sprint, and moderate pace was easy enough that I was fully recovered about 1:30 into the 2:30.

Hopefully for some Fartlek newbie who finds this post, it will encourage you to go out and try any version of the run! It’s really just a great way to go run like a kid again, even if you strip away all structure from it and just run alternating harder efforts for changing distances throughout the middle section of a run. It’s a great way to break up an otherwise plain old run and inject some fun speed work too. If you’re a fartlek pro, please comment with some of your favorites so I can try them out!

Thanks for reading, and good luck to everyone racing LA Marathon, NYC Half, New Bedford Half or any of the other great races this weekend!

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