What is a fartlek you ask? It might be your favorite new running work out because it is completely unstructured and you make the rules, which really aren’t even rules! Even better, any runner can do these whether you are a beginner or an elite.
Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish and are designed to be playful and unstructured. They consist of a series of fast and slow bouts ranging from a relatively hard effort back down to a conversation paced run. These runs are not specifically laid out ahead of time.
A great way to do these is to start out with a nice slow 10 minute warm up and follow it up with a fartlek workout of about 20-40 minutes long followed by a nice slow 10 minute cool down to finish up. During the 20-40 minute workout, you set the pace and you determine when to go for it and when to stop. When doing your faster portions you can run at either maximal effort or just below at a submaximal effort and then ease back down to your conversation pace. The goal should be to go back and forth between these harder efforts and easier efforts a few to several times during the workout. Or if you are just beginning and 20 minutes seems like a long time you can simply go from light pole to light pole or mail box to mail box alternating fast and slow. Either way, don’t you just want to get this workout in so you can tell someone you were doing fartleks today?
Fartleks can be done on just about any terrain; on a track, sidewalks, hilly areas, trails, and even on the treadmill (which is useful as some of us are getting doused with snow right now).
While you are doing these playful workouts, your body will be reaping the rewards of an improved cardiovascular system as it works to take in more oxygen and work better at kicking out the lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This workout is going to make you stronger and shield you from later injury. If you are planning on training for a race or doing longer runs in the future this is also a great way to train yourself to handle small bouts of physical discomfort without diving into a 5k or a 15 mile long run.
The next time you just don’t feel like doing your usual run, lace up your shoes and go get your fartlek on!