What is it?

Fartlek runs, simply put, are speed play and as it suggests should be a bit of fun but with some great benefits for your running as well as your general well-being. Fartlek Runs are an unstructured run that alternates between slow and faster paces through short intervals that you decide. It is your intro to varying your pace, if you have never tried any change of pace in a run before then this is where to start.

What does it do?

A run that has changes in pace prepares you physiologically and psychologically for more demanding runs. It will open up your lungs to receive more oxygen which is, in turn, transferred to the blood and in to the muscles, fuelling your Mitochondria (your muscles battery cells) which helps you run stronger and faster.

Running at the same pace is absolutely fine if you are happy with your pace, but if you are looking to improve your times for your 5k, 10k, Half and Full Marathon it is a definite requirement to add some speed to your runs. Fartlek runs are the easiest way to do it because you dictate how easy or tough you want them to be depending on your energy levels. Once you play around with these runs, it makes it easier to try tougher Interval or Tempo Runs.

How do I do a Fartlek Run?

Start with a 10-15minute easy run, it’s important to warm-up your muscles and elevate your heart-rate to prepare your body for slightly higher intensity in your run.

You should use 4 different paces, brisk walk, jog, run, sprint (however you can miss out the brisk walk part if you feel that you don’t need it, but it’s there for after your sprint section should you need it, especially at the beginning of the session before you get used to the paces).

The simplest way to do it is by either using the distance between lampposts or time in seconds.  E.g. Jog 3 lampposts, run 2 lampposts, sprint 1 lamppost.  Or Jog 30secs, Run 20secs, Sprint 10s.

Once you are ready to go, figure out what your markers will be (lampposts, trees, building or in seconds) and start with an easy jog, look ahead and see where you will start to run at your faster pace and then have in view where you will add in your short sprint.  Once you complete your sprint, walk for a little bit but focus on where you will start to jog again.  Repeat this as many times as you like.  The distances are really short, between 40-140m.

What I like about Fartlek runs is that you don’t realise how far you have run until its done.  Because your focus is on short distances, you stay more focused in the moment with the section you are running.  It’s not until I complete the run that I realise that my run has been a little further than perhaps I had planned.

A Guide to Pace

Your individual pace is not important; it really doesn’t matter whether your overall run is a PB or not, in all honesty it probably won’t be, but you might find on Strava that you have some fast segments.

The key to this is that you have definite changes of pace.  Your jog, run and sprint should all be different in average pace.

You will see on the photo from an example Fartlek Run that I did that there are 4 colours (green, yellow, orange and red), these are to show you my different paces.  From the chart here is the breakdown in pace…

Walk: 7:52/8:06 (20-40% effort)

Jog: 5:34/5:56 (40-50% effort)

Run: 4:46/4:51(50-70% effort)

Sprint: 3:54/3:32(70-90% effort)

In the jog, run and sprint you can see that there is a clear definition of pace, with around 45-60s difference in each.  Your paces don’t have to be as dramatic as that but you should be able to feel the difference.  You can think of it when you are running based on a percentage of effort.

Garmin Tracking

I started with a 2km easy run to get me to where I wanted to start the session.  From there I pressed the lap button on my Garmin each time I changed pace, purely for the purposes of showing how my paces changed. Normally on a Fartlek run I don’t really care about what my pace is because it’s meant to be fun and if I’m constantly clock-watching then the fun element is reduced significantly.

Also, if we constantly compare every single run for its merits of pace, we are going to lose the love of running fairly quickly.  Frustrations over whether we are continually getting faster will kill the joy of running because we can’t always keep improving on every single run.  There are too many factors that can affect our running and we should listen to our bodies and start to understand why runs on certain days are more challenging (but that’s for another blog post).

Something to note

When I ran the Fartlek run in the example, I turned in to part of the park and was running alongside a man on the same path.  For part of the run we were at exactly the same pace, but as I increased to the faster run and sprint I sped off ahead of him.  When I returned to walk and then jog, he then joined me again.  This happened for around 10 minutes of the session.  He seemed to be running at an easy but steady pace throughout but I noted that as I varied my run, I was more likely getting more out of my workout with the changes in speed and heart-rate.

If you live in Edinburgh and would like a personalised coached session for this run, then please get in contact with me through the website.  

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