Many runners are looking for ways to run faster and improve their race times. Even if they are just hoping to achieve a new personal best and not necessarily looking to break records, faster running is something that many people strive for. Training to run faster is simple thanks to a technique known as “fartleks”.
Fartlek means “speed play” and is a training technique used to improve running times. Fartleks are by their very nature unstructured, though you will see many coaches and training plans try to put a box around them. Anyone can do fartleks, many people have probably used them to run faster without even realizing it.
Running a fartlek is simple, you just pick a spot off in the distance and run a little bit faster than normal until you reach it. Then you drop off back to your normal running or walking pace until you are almost completely recovered, then you pick another spot and do it again. The speed you run, the number of repeats you do, and how far you should run your fartlek is different for every runner based on their current fitness level.
When running a fartlek, you should run faster than your normal training pace, but not a sprint. You want the pace to be challenging but not overwhelming. The goal is to get your body accustomed to the faster pace over weeks of fartlek training. When you run faster, your body has to learn to produce more energy and deliver it more efficiently to the right muscles. Your body figures out how to do this on its own, you just have to create the need.
The same holds true for the distance of your fartlek. You want to run long enough so that your body knows that something is going on and begins to adapt, but not so long that you are getting exhausted. By the time you are done with the fartlek interval, your breathing should be heavier, you should be sweating more, and you should feel a bit tired but not so tired that you would not be able to continue for a while longer.
For a new runner, you will probably do two fartlek intervals per run. This means that you start off doing your normal training run, and two times during that run you toss in a fartlek interval. As your strength and fitness levels improve, you can increase the number of fartleks intervals or just run faster or longer during each interval. Fartleks work to help you run faster by being unstructured and different. Your body doesn’t know what is going to happen so it works as hard as possible to get through the current task and be prepared for the next time it happens.
Because everyone is different, and because fartleks strength lies in the fact that they are unstructured, it is impossible to present a simple chart telling every runner what they should be doing for their fartleks. Just go out and do them. Pick a spot off in the distance and challenge yourself to run to it faster than normal. If you have a partner you can even race them to it (but don’t over do it). Do that a few times during your runs and in no time your base pace will begin to improve.
Fartleks have been used for decades to help both casual and elite runners run faster. They are simple and fun to do and they are very effective. Try to resist the urge to throw numbers at your fartleks. Forget about your heart rate, you pace down to the second or your distance down to the half meter. Just get out there and run!