The fartlek really hasn’t been that big a part of my training over the years and, after exchanging a few emails with local Masters elite Reno Stirrat (Whirlaway), I’m beginning to second guess that. Some quick background: the fartlek has nothing do to with the release of noxious gases. Instead it basically involves changing paces over the course of a run, alternating speeds as the runner sees fit to get the most out of the workout. The term itself is Swedish and simply means ‘speed play’.
If you think my sense of humor is juvenile and immature, you should’ve seen me back in high school. Imagine an even more immature version of EJN being told that the day’s workout will be a fartlek. Huh? Fart lick? I’m glad I was able to look past the name and continue with the sport. It really is a simple but effective format to use in training, and if you do it right you can really reap the benefits from it. As Reno explained to me, there are two forms of fartlek: structured and free form. This was interesting to me because I guess I viewed all fartlek workouts as free form, even if you did set up a structure to work off of.
Here’s Reno to tell us about one of his go-to workouts, the fartlek:
I have been doing the structured form of fartlek for 25 years. The free form is a true run and play and I have done this since 1970 when my high school cross country coach had us doing it. When I do this I warm up 4 miles then for 6 miles I run at different speeds and distances on my whims. I might see a tree about 250 yds away and will sprint to it and imagine I’m kicking in during a race. A minute or two later I pick up the pace and just go until I feel like stopping. It’s even more fun with a group when each person takes a turn and does “their thing” and what a workout it is.
Reno in action at the Newton 10k (courtesy of Krissy Kozlosky)
The structured fartlek can be done by distance or time; I prefer time. It’s a great workout to get in at the end of the summer when you’re tired of the track but need a quality workout. This one I use for 10k training:
Warm up 4 miles, then 10 [email protected] 5:48 pace, 3 min recovery, followed by 3×5 min @ 5:40 pace w/ 2 min recovery between intervals, then 8x 1 min @5:30 pace w/ 1 min recovery, and 6×30 @ sub 5:20 pace w/ 30 sec recovery. Cool down 4 [email protected] sub 7:05.
When I was younger everything was under 5:00 min pace, but then I was running sub 30 for 1ok.
Before GPS watches I would do the workout by feel for the effort. Now with a GPS watch, I know the exact pace. This workout always tells me if I’m in good race shape. The workout always progresses from longer to shorter and faster. As I tire this forces me to run faster. The hills are an unknown factor which keeps the workout honest and competitive because I don’t want to slow the pace over the hill.
Recently I did this workout and really pushed it and was pleased with how I felt. Having missed the winter and marathon training I didn’t have the strength I normally have so this was a real test for me. The workout was a little longer with the Cranberry 50k in mind.
I did the workout by myself. The weather was 81 and sunny, a bit warm, humid and windy. I ran part of it in the Milton Cemetery over some small hills (and no cars). Doing road workouts in the cemetery has always been something I like. In the winter I do it even more because I don’t have to worry about cars. When doing a fartlek I don’t have specific courses but try to simulate a race course I’m training for. The 50k has small hills and is not flat.
Warm up 4 miles, 20 [email protected] 6:15 pace, 3 min recovery, then 6×5 min @ 5:55 pace w/ 2 min recovery between intervals, then 12×1 min @5:45 pace w/1 min recovery, then 6×30 sec @ sub 5:20 pace w/ 30 sec recovery. Cool down 6 [email protected] sub 7:05.
I hit all these times pretty close, with some faster and some just a little slower (hills). After doing this workout I did a 30 miler at 7:09 pace (with a 6:40 average over the last 10). Without the fartlek workout I would not have the confidence to run that fast after 20 miles. Now I feel good about attempting the US 55 to 59 record for the 50k.
Perhaps I should’ve said this earlier but Reno is 58(!!!) years young and still running like this. Reno is a key contributor on those powerful Whirlaway masters teams, and in a couple of weeks he’ll be going for the US 50k Masters (55-59) record. It’s amazing…the guy is a beast, and I’m glad he’s on my team! There will be more on his record attempt coming up on the Level, both before and after the race. Stay tuned!