Fartlek running

The original speed play technique in running training

Fartlek training basically means you run as you please and play around with the speed element of the training session. When coached properly it can form an invaluable element of a runner's training pattern, allowing for unpredictability and a range of running techniques. Here's our introduction to fartlek speed play.

The word fartlek is a Swedish word which means "speed play". It was first used on the pine needle paths of the Swedish forests by Gosta Holmer, coach to world record holders Gunder Haag and Arne Anderson.

Fartlek training basically means you run as you please and play around with the speed element of the training session. However, coaches have tended to move away slightly from the real essence of the fartlek-type session to make it more structured. In this way, it cannot only be utilised over the terrain previously mentioned but also on the roads, over playing fields and even on the track.

Coaches will often have a pre-determined set time for the session such as a 50 minute fartlek, which will contain 15 speed efforts. The longest is over 1,200m, the shortest over 60m with the rest of the efforts in between these parameters with a jog recovery following each effort.

On a road, the coach may say that the efforts should take place between a set of lamp posts with the next set a jogged recovery, building up each repetition to say 10 lamp posts with six lamp posts jog recovery.

In these structured sessions, the athlete knows the set time of the fartlek, the number of efforts, the range of efforts and the recovery after each effort. However, certain coaches, in a park, on the track and over playing fields, will only inform the athlete of the length of the fartlek session which, for example, may be for 45 minutes. The rest of the session, the number of repetitions, the duration of each repetition and the recovery after each repetition are then controlled by the coach using a whistle.

In this way, the athlete does not know what is coming next, how long they will have to run hard for and how long they have to recover. It brings a more structured and disciplined approach to the fartlek session. Using this system, all the energy pathways are involved making it very similar to the race situation, as well as involving other important training ingredients.

The short sprints with long recovery involve the pure sprint system.

The longer repetitions, which are run quickly with a short recovery, involve the lactate system (burning legs syndrome).

The consistent steady running, strides and recovery stages, involve the oxygen system (you can talk during these sections).

Fartlek training can be used at any time of year, by mixed ability groups and with athletes of all ages. However, it must be progressive throughout the season which means increasing the length of the session and number of repetitions that are run within it.

It should also be progressive throughout the athlete’s career. The younger athlete should start with the whistle controlled fartlek, progressing to the structured fartlek as they get older so that they can be left to do it alone. The pure fartlek session is best suited to the more experienced runner who has the self discipline to ensure that they get the best out of each session.

Remember, fartlek is an added variety to training to improve all the energy pathways and ingredients mentioned above - it is not an easy option!


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