Ilove doing fartlek runs, as these sessions provide an opportunity to run on my favourite local trails and lock into a rhythmic tempo without focusing on hitting splits.
A fartlek is defined as “continuous training with interval training,” and the word is Swedish for “speed play.” I get excited when my coach, Jim Finlayson, pencils a fartlek into the plan. This is one of my favourite workouts to do in a build-up to a goal half-marathon. It feels invigorating to meander along some of my favourite local running paths, and the bursts of speed help wake up my tired legs during a heavy and intense cycle of training.
Each workout helps build strength and fitness, and sessions like these make you stronger for the next one. Try not to fret about pace, but rather, look at these sessions as building blocks to becoming a stronger, healthier and more consistent runner.
How to warm up
I like to keep the fartlek continuous by doing a 20- to 30-minute warmup jog and then going directly into the workout and cooldown without a break. A good warmup helps prepare the body for the quicker tempo and rhythm to come.
20 x 1 minute @ half-marathon effort (increased to 5K effort toward the end, if feeling good) with 1-minute float recoveries (20 to 30 seconds slower per kilometre than marathon pace), followed by:
10 x 30 seconds @ 3K-to-5K effort with 30-second float recoveries (20 to 30 seconds slower per km than marathon pace)
How to pace the fartlek correctly
The one-minute “f loat” recovery, which is meant to be steady, rhythmic and sustainable, is an important component of the workout. The key is to run the hard efforts at a pace that feels sustainable, so that you can keep the recovery somewhere around 30 seconds slower per kilometre than marathon-pace effort. If I am having trouble keeping a steady pace during the f loat recovery, then I will slow down the one-minute pick-up efforts.
Focus on an effort that feels rhythmic, smooth and controlled. If you are feeling good, first increase the pace of the one-minute f loat recovery, and if you can sustain that, the next step will be to gradually increase the effort of the one-minute effort. To truly zero in on effort, I love to do these fartleks on the Millennium Trail in Ontario’s Prince Edward County, as a trail forces me to really hone in on proper effort, instead of checking paces on my watch. The crushed gravel surface puts less strain on my body and helps reduce the risk of injury. If you don’t have access to a gravel trail, treat yourself to a workout in your favourite place to run.
If you are new to fartleks, do not be afraid to modify things to what feels right for you. Start off at a conservative effort and adjust the number of pickups, but keep the recovery steady.
How to cool down
A good cooldown is just as important as a good warmup. I will typically do a 20- to 30- minute cooldown jog. To promote recovery, remember to eat a good post-run snack within 30 minutes of finishing your session.
Emily Setlack is a Canadian national champion in the half-marathon distance, 5,000m and mountain running. She competed at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships and finished 11th at the IAAF World Mountain Running Championships, both in 2018. At 39, she finished second at the 2019 Canadian Olympic Marathon Trials in 2:29:48.