Although Fartlek tends to be the kind of term to make 10-year-old boys giggle, there's no questioning its value as a way of increasing a runner's speed and overall performance. A Swedish term meaning "speed play," Fartlek sessions introduce variation in speed and intensity to your running routine.
Fartlek training is as different from interval training as a debutante is from a rocker chick. While interval training usually takes place on a track and involves running predetermined distances at a faster than normal speed followed by intervals of easy jogging, fartlek is all about mixing it up. Although it can take place on a track or treadmill, fartlek training is best done while trail running. This is because the "play" part comes from picking an object in the distance and running towards it as though your pants were not quite but almost on fire. How fast and how far you run is up to you. More than other types of training, fartlek relies on the individual's judgment to determine what they're capable of. For this reason it's often considered an advanced training technique. Yet there's no reason beginning or intermediate runners can't benefit from modified versions of fartlek training.
While advanced runners may turn on the steam for five minutes of full-out fast running, beginning runners might try picking a low-hanging branch, a stop sign, or even a person walking a dog ahead of them and run at a faster-than-5k-pace to that object. Follow bursts of speed with recovery jogs. The amount of time allotted for recovery is up to you as well. Catch your breath, let your heart rate slow down, and jog the jelly feeling out of your legs. Then take off for another 30-second burst.
As you might suspect, practicing fartlek requires some running maturity. You don't want to push so hard you injure yourself, yet you need to rise to the challenge of pressing past the point where you want to quit. For this reason, fartlek sessions are great for developing self-awareness of what you're capable of as a runner.
While most runners run fartlek sessions solo, there's no reason you can't have fun with the training with a friend or group. Take turns putting people in charge of yelling out the next object to race to and let the fun begin.
Fartlek training is ideal for building endurance. Your threshold for for aerobic and anaerobic capacity increases, not to mention it accelerates weight loss more than steady paced runs ever will.
So are you rocker chick or debutante running material? Hit the road for some fartlek sessions and find out for yourself!