It’s true: Fartlek is almost as fun to do as it is to say. “Fartlek” is Swedish for “speed play” and consists of bursts of speed in the middle of a training run. This running plan will help you improve both your speed and your distance.
Essentially, it’s an unstructured interval session, the track without the rules. Fartlek training for running gets your legs used to a variety of paces and in the process gives you an enhanced awareness of your ability to keep up those paces at various distances.
After warming up, run at an easy training pace, throwing in bursts of speed for various distances throughout the run. Vary the speed and times of the speed sections, from as short as 15 seconds to as long as two or three minutes. Between these bursts, allow yourself enough recovery time to match roughly 2/3 of the effort time.
The recovery pace, though, should be faster than the recovery jog you might do during intervals on the track; keep it moving at an easy training pace.
It’s a good idea to pick out a landmark—a tree or a fire hydrant or a bend in the path—where a speed section will end before you start picking up the pace. In other words, you have to know how far you’re running for each section. Because the idea is to keep up a constant pace until you reach that landmark, it’s important to pace yourself at the beginning. Don’t tear off so fast that you can’t keep up the pace through the end of each speed section.
A fartlek session can be as easy or as difficult as you wish to make it. Use fartlek for anything from a light recovery run to a grueling workout. As always, however, start out easy. Your first fartlek sessions should contain distances and paces that you feel comfortable with and that you feel you can gradually increase in future sessions. A twenty to thirty-minute fartlek session should be adequate for most runners. There is very little reason for them to go as long as an hour.