Man running in the park

Fartlek Training: the Gift That Keeps on Giving

Elevate your running fitness levels by implementing this simple but oh so effective training strategy.

Everyone has their heroes at school. Mine was a guy called Roger Preece. He was a couple of years older than me, and I knew very little about him, but come sports day- Roger won everything.

Man doing Fartlek training

Imagine my delight when, during gym class, it was announced that Roger would be coaching a few of us students in athletics. I was the first to raise my hand and the “select six” trundled off together, eager to learn his trademark secrets.One thing I remember about Roger is that he was very relaxed when he ran. He stressed to us the importance of not expending any unnecessary energy during a race and if we tensed up, we would ruin our chances of having enough gas in the tank to complete the latter stages of a race. 

During one session, he introduced us to Fartlek training, a running strategy that I would come to implement into my regimen for the rest of my life. After our initial sniggers, he explained that Fartlek was Swedish for “Speed Play” and that it was, for him, the most enjoyable and beneficial part of his training.

It quickly became mine too. A 14-year-old being told to “run fast, then slow” whenever I liked, and to “make it up as you go along” left me with an exhilarating sense of freedom.

Man jogging in the sun

With Fartlek training, there are no hard and fast rules. Just run according to what your body tells you and how it feels. You decide on the duration of your exercise, just run slowly initially to warm up for up to ten minutes, then the rest is up to you. 

I always enjoy finding a landmark in the distance and when I’m ready, upping my speed to 70-80% of my race pace, then slowing back down when I reach that landmark. I run slowly till my breathing is steady, find another landmark and off I go again. A typical 30-minute Fartlek session should include around 10-12 of these pace increases. You might choose to run faster for 100M or more, or for a duration of one or two minutes. A couple of these sessions a month should be all that’s needed to propel your running fitness to epic levels that blow your previous PBs out of the water. 

Fartlek is a great way to condition your body, increase your race pace, and help speed up your recovery times. I find it to be just as beneficial and more enjoyable than standard interval training, where the reps and distance are the same each time. It’s the session where- unless you’re putting in too much effort- you can’t really go far wrong. 

It’s recommended that you’ve been running regularly for at least a month before taking on Fartlek training, but I’m confident that, when you do, you’ll reap the rewards.


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