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Fartleks - More than just a funny word

 Friday, June 17, 2016


After lots of easy runs, I'm excited to get reintroduced to more 'quality' workouts. I often use the term 'quality' for structured workouts that are harder than easy runs, though easy runs are also so valuable! I wouldn't refer to my 'quality' workouts yet as being 'hard' or 'fast', and we're avoiding 'speed' until I'm done nursing and my ligaments can go back to their normal tension. My 'quality' training currently includes things like pickups, surges, fartleks, and eventually hills & tempo/ threshold runs. This past week I did my first fartlek run of the season, which forms a nice bridge between easy running and more structured training. 

What is a fartlek? The funny word is actually Swedish for 'speed play.' It earns us runners a funny glance when used in conversations with non-runners, but fartleks are so worth including in a training cycle! A fartlek workout is a loosely-structured run, where sections of faster running are alternated with easy running. The length of each faster segment is generally at the discretion of the runner (not the coach), though the coach may give some guidelines so they work the right system. Some runners like to fartlek by landmark (i.e. run hard until the park bench), and others like to go by time (run hard for 2:00). It's also OK to just run hard until you feel like taking a break!

Here is how Coach MK Fleming describes the 'Aerobic Floating Fartlek' workout: 

"Ease SLOWLY into this run, letting your heart rate gradually rise to 140bpm for 20 minutes. Then unspecified duration of 'harder' effort followed by an unspecified duration of easier effort. The goal of 'harder' is to push comfortably hard, not aiming for a goal pace, just an effort that feels sustainable for at least an hour. The goal of 'easier' is to keep moving while your heart rate falls. Once your heart rate no longer falls below 160 on the 'easier' portion, the aerobic intervals are over. Slow, easy sub-140 effort 'till the time runs out."

She gave me a few more individual notes: "This series - take as much recovery as you need. No recovery goal on the intervals. Push as hard as you want for as long as you want (try to cap this at 5 minutes though, the risks outweigh the benefits past that point) then take as much recovery as you need. No heart rate goal here, go hard again once you feel ready. Set aside at least 10 minutes for warming up and 10 to cool down.

My first fartlek workout of the season was on a morning where my sister-in-law was staying with us between flights, so we snuck out at 5am to get the run in before work. We were able to warm-up together for 15 minutes, and then I ran my fartleks out & back on a bike path, meeting up with her for the easy segments. It was a fun way to 'time' the fartleks, as I never knew how quickly I'd meet her after turning back. It was also a hot & steamy morning, so I shortened the length of each 'hard' segment as my HR climbed and I got hot & tired. 

Here is what my last week looked like. 

  • Monday - Rest day: Nailed it!
  • Tuesday - Gentle 30 + Resistance Bands: My ankle was feeling a little tweaked, so I just did a 15 minute walk.
  • Wednesday - Easy 45: Night run - my best late run so far despite humidity & impending storms. My neighbors probably think I'm nuts for running laps around the neighborhood at 10pm, but that's OK! 
  • Thursday - Rest Day: YAY. After a night run, I'm not game for a morning run, so a rest day is perfect.
  • Friday - Aerobic Floating Fartleks - 60 minutes + Resistance Bands: See above!
  • Saturday - Recovery 30: With my sister-in-law watching the kids, I was actually able to enjoy a rare run with my hubby! It was hard to keep my heart rate under the 120 cap because It. Was. HOT. My hubby kicked it in the last 3 minutes since he's not under a HR cap. Lucky guy! I'm sure the super-easy recovery pace was good for me, but I would have loved to run faster that day.
  • Sunday - Vanilla Long Run - 1:25 with HR cap of 140: Baby wasn't cooperating with sleep last week, and by Sunday I was feeling the fatigue. I took a 'field trip' to a flat gravel trail to give my legs a break, and just 'got through it.' This wasn't my worst long run, but wasn't my best either. Baby sleep regressions are tough, so I just have to be patient and take it a little easier on weeks when I can't get decent sleep. I try to arrange my workouts to get as much sleep as I can during this stage of mommy-hood. As MK says 'Sleep is food, don't starve!'

How is your training going? Do you like to 'fartlek'? Comment on my #ChasingPotential Facebook posts on our Life Time Run page to join in the discussion! 

Last blog post: "Core After Baby - Part 2" 

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Rebekah Mayer, National Run Training Manager at Life Time Fitness. Follow me on Instagram at rebekah800, on Twitter at @rebekah_mayer and our team at @lifetimerun. Find us on Facebook at Facebook.com/lifetimerunclub