A fartlek workout prepares a runner to handle the uneven paces of a race. In a race, runner usually runs fast, then slower, then fast again. This variation in your pace is do to the terrain, and the race itself. The best runners are the ones who can respond to mid-race surges even though they are in a lot of pain. Here are some pointers about how to use a fartlek to prepare you for great racing.
What is a Fartlek?
A Fartlek (swedish for “speed play”) is simply sprinting and jogging off and on during a run. For example, a normal fartlek workout be a 40-60 minute training run. However, instead of keeping the same pace through the whole workout you sprint, then jog, then sprint again whenever you feel like it. You can customize fartleks to how you feel. If you feel sluggish, limit the number of sprints you do, and take more time to recover. If you feel great, run the sprints hard, and sprint again maybe when you don’t feel totally recovered.
One good way to run this workout is to pick out objects ahead of you, like a telephone pole and sprint from that pole to the next and then jog. One reason that fartleks are so popular is that it is so flexible.
Before starting a fartlek, make sure that you warm up at least 10-15 minutes to ensure that your muscles are loose enough to handle the accelerations. Also, cool down 10-15 minutes after the workout. The fartlek can be a difficult workout, and if you don’t warm up and cool down, you could have some very sore muscles the next day. Starting to run fartleks can be tough on your body if it isn’t ready for the faster pace, and can lead to injuries such as achilles tendonitis, IT-Band soreness, and runner’s knee To help cut down on the risk of injuries, make sure that you are running in good running shoes and don’t have any signs of over-training. After the workout, it is also very important to refuel your body by drinking water and eating protein-rich foods to get the most benefit from fartleks and help your muscle recovery.
Although the fartlek’s popularity is partly due to its flexibility, many coaches like to make the workout more structured and give it more of a track interval feel. For example, a structured fartlek might be: 10-15 minute warm up, 2 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 3 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 4 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 4 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 3 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 2 minutes hard, 10-15 minutes cool down. This workout is stated easier by calling it a: 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, with 2:30 rest. A structured fartlek is great because, since it is run on trails or roads, it gives you the benefits of track work while also providing you the chance to run hills.
In his excellent book “Daniel’s Running Formula,” Coach Jack Daniels suggests the following workout when feeling lethargic: Run 10 steps (counting one foot, not both) then jog 10, run 20 and jog 20, run 30 and jog 30, and so on up to running 100 and jogging 100 (or more if you wish). This is a great way to get obtain a good workout when your body simply does not feel like exerting itself.
Incorporating Fartleks in Your Base Training
Check out my section on speed training on my base building page to see how often you should do fartleks. The general rule is that you should be running at least 20 miles a week, and have a good month’s worth of base before attempting to run a fartlek workout.
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