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What is Fartlek Training and How Can it Take My Running to the Next Level?

As much as we love revelling in the endorphins that stem from the ‘runner’s high’, every athlete knows the importance of mixing things up when it comes to training. Whether it’s a fresh route, a recent podcast discovery or new gear, nothing keeps us on our toes like hitting refresh on the way we run. The fartlek training method is great for this.

For anyone not familiar, fartlek training — or “speed play”, in Swedish — is a type of interval training that encourages you to “play” with surges of speed. Whether you’re a fartlek beginner or a pro, read on for all the benefits, the classic fartlek training methods (including the Mona fartlek), and how this exciting type of training can turn up the dial on your running game, as well as those dreamy, dreamy endorphins.

WHAT IS A FARTLEK RUN AND HOW CAN IT HELP YOU TO RUN FASTER? 

The fartlek method is simply defined by a continuous run, which encourages you to vary your pace and distances. Unlike typical interval training, recovery time in fartlek exercise consists of a slower pace, rather than stopping completely. The objective is to push yourself, physically and mentally, through short bursts of fast running, to harness your full running potential. That’s what personal bests are made of. 

Now for the science bit. A fartlek routine will work your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, helping you to run faster. As you run at a steady pace, your body supplies the oxygen it needs to feed your muscles. In this zone, you’re working on your aerobic and cardiovascular health. Meanwhile, during the high-intensity bursts of running, you’re starving your muscles of oxygen, therefore working your anaerobic energy system. This is your fat-burning, muscle-building happy place, which results in faster runs. 

HOW IS FARTLEK DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SPEED WORKOUTS?

Fartlek training is different from other speed workouts because it offers more flexibility and tends to be less demanding. Take tempo running, for example. Like fartlek, tempo runs focus on enhancing your speed; but with tempo, this is achieved by running continuously and steadily around your anaerobic level. Tempo runs tend to be a lot longer and more sustained, too.

Fartlek running, on the other hand, offers way more in terms of flexibility. There’s no set route or pre-measured distance. From hills to parks, you can complete a fartlek workout on any terrain and you don’t need to train for a long time to feel it packing a punch. A Mona fartlek training session, for example, usually lasts around 20 minutes, yet you really feel it afterwards. More on the Mona method later. 

WHY SHOULD YOU INCORPORATE FARTLEK INTO YOUR TRAINING?

So, we’ve established that a fartlek routine results in faster runs, but what are some other benefits of fartlek training?

FIVE BENEFITS OF FARTLEK TRAINING

  1. Fartlek training keeps your runs interesting. From treadmill to track, the wider variety of terrains you run on, the better. Think rocky paths, uphill climbs and park jogs. These will all help to boost your endurance. Let’s get exploring!
  1. A fartlek workout boosts your lactate threshold. By pushing yourself to keep running without rest, you’ll train your body to reuse lactate, meaning you sustain your energy for longer. 
  1. Fartlek training improves performance in other sports. The benefits of fartlek training extend far beyond running. Fartlek exercise can help boost endurance for all kinds of sports that require a blend of anaerobic sprinting and aerobic recovery periods – think football, basketball and tennis.  
  1. The fartlek method boosts your mental resilience. As every runner knows, smashing a personal best sometimes means a strong dose of mind over matter. As fartlek training encourages you to push your limits, you’ll find yourself breaking through mental boundaries more often. 
  1. Fartlek training is suitable for all levels. Thanks to the adaptable, flexible nature of fartlek running, the method can be used by beginners and professional runners alike. 

HOW TO DO FARTLEK WORKOUTS

There are no boundaries when it comes to fartlek running. You can play around with varying speeds and distances as much as you like. Try picking a landmark in the distance – this could be a tree, a lamppost, a car or a park – and run to it at a faster pace. Once you’ve reached your chosen landmark, slow down to a more comfortable running pace to recover. Once recovered, pick your next landmark and run to that at a faster pace, and so on.

Fartlek training beginner? Try walking the slower parts, building up to running at a slower pace once you’ve got the hang of it.

FARTLEK TRAINING EXAMPLE

Perhaps one of the most popular examples of the fartlek training method is the Mona fartlek. It gets its name from Australian long distance runner, Steve Monaghetti, who used this technique throughout his illustrious running career. Taking around just 20 minutes to complete, it’s a good one for when you’re short on time. So, how does the Mona fartlek method work? 

HOW TO RUN USING THE MONA FARTLEK METHOD

  • 10 minute warm-up jog
  • 2x 90 seconds fast-paced run
  • Recovery run
  • 4 x 60 seconds fast-paced run
  • Recovery run
  • 4 x 30 seconds fast-paced run
  • Recovery run
  • 4 x 15 seconds fast-paced run
  • Recovery run 
  • Cool down

Try repeating this run every 4-6 weeks so you can keep an eye on how far you’ve come with your speed and endurance.

Ready to hit the trail? Get exploring new places, boost your speed and endurance and you’ll no doubt discover your new personal best along the route.

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Writer of words that win awards. Past horse-rider, gymnast and dancer. Now loves running (usually after a small human; fastest when the biscuit tin is dangled in front of her), pilates and yoga.

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