le fartlek

Fartlek: a recreational, effective method for making progress


'Fartlek' is a Swedish word that means 'running games'. Runners in the far north of Europe were the first to employ this method, which imposes no constraints. They used the ground at their disposal to work at various paces. Today, all types of runners use this training method at least once during their season.


Fartlek for beginners

After you've acquired a solid grounding at an endurance pace, you will want to change your pace, test yourself and discover your limits. In a word, you'll want to enjoy yourself. These changes of pace are very recreational and help break the routine of pure endurance jogging. They also help you make progress, which is far from a trivial consideration.


Fartlek for experienced runners

For seasoned runners, fartlek is the ideal training method to resume running after an injury or simply to re-motivate yourself and enjoy new sensations. It enables you to break free of a rigid training schedule with compulsory times, which always requires a great deal of motivation, energy and mental strength.


The two types of fartlek

Free fartlek: you decide to speed up as and when you feel like it during your runs. For example, you could run up to a tree or road at a faster pace, run uphill quickly, run downhill at full speed, etc. You decide the distance you want to cover and the pace. You don't need any equipment (stopwatch, heart rate monitor, etc.) for this type of fartlek since you alone are in control. This is a return to the roots of running, with your feet guided by your sensations and desires alone.

Despite everything, any type of training also has several disadvantages. Free fartlek encourages you to remain in your comfort zone rather than surpass yourself.


In the long-term, your progress will be slower if you don't set a few rules, especially the essential rule of gradually building up your training. By building up your training, you will take your running several stages further over a period of weeks and months.  Structured fartlek was developed for this very reason: it combines a training schedule and some degree of freedom for your pace.


Structured fartlek: you run quickly during time intervals set according to your objective:

- Very short intervals will develop your Maximum Aerobic Speed (MAS) (e.g., the classic 30 sec fast - 30 sec slow).

- To develop your power on hills, practise on hills and include, for example, a recovery period during which you run back downhill at a moderate pace to your starting point.

- To work on your anaerobic threshold, opt for intervals of 6' to 15-20’ with jogging recovery periods, etc.

In structured fartlek, your training sessions are programmed to ensure you progress both in the intensity and volume of training.Using a heart rate monitor also enables you to check your work slots, thus making your training sessions even more reliable.

This training method is especially geared to reaching your objectives while also refusing to follow highly scheduled training sessions on a track, for example, or if there simply isn't a track near your home or workplace.


Fartlek is better in a group!

Here is a typical group fartlek training session that is both intensive and very recreational. Take a group of 5 runners of fairly similar standard. Each runner leads the group at his or her chosen pace. The other runners in the group do not know how long this pace is going to last. The other runners should try to follow the leader, without overtaking. The difficulty lies in the fact that no one knows when the leader is going to stop to recover. The runner in second place then leads the group. This new leader speeds up when he/she decides. Only the leader knows how long this is going to last. And so on. Each runner leads the group 2 or 3 times.

Enjoy your fartlek and do whichever type is best for you. Always remember that enjoyment is what gets you running!