The Fartlek Session – Part 1

One of South Africa’s top runners, Donovan van Gelder, shares some great tips for runners on improving performance. This is a six-part feature, with a new article up each week. Enjoy the first part in the series below…

Running Sessions (2)

The Fartlek Session 

The fartlek session should be a weekly staple in every runner’s schedule. The more experienced will know that I did not just swear. Fartlek is in fact Swedish for ‘Speed-play’. It is said to have first been coined by a 1930s coach called Gosta Holmer, but I think that for as long as people have run, there has been ‘speed-play’.

Why do I think that? Well there’s a clue in the name… play… because it makes running fun.

The benefits of including fartlek into your weekly training are well established. Running at race pace with intermittent recovery periods will train the body to handle those speeds and, when rested, you will be better adapted to hold those speeds for the duration of your chosen event. For the racers among us it also teaches a change of pace, which is essential for responding to competitors’ surges or allowing you to make your own.

Now, although the original definition of a fartlek session is an unstructured variation of pace, there are many ways to perform a good fartlek session, including some quite structured runs.

*Waiver – only do these sessions if you want to run faster!

Session One – The Unstructured Session

Keep things simple to start off – on a route that you have with lots of twists and turns (perfect for a trail). Warm up for a period of 10-15 minutes. The warm up should start very easy and gradually build in speed and effort as the muscles loosen; so that by the end of the period, you are running at a nice steady, conversational pace but not just jogging.

Your ‘base-pace’ for the rest of the run is more or less at your long, endurance run pace; so not fast but not at recovery levels. I estimate around 75% of your maximum HR or within 15-20 bpm of your 8km time trial effort HR.

After every corner, accelerate – you might have to limit the number if you have lots of corners on your route and if your fitness is still in the early stages. Do this in a smooth manner so that you gradually increase your speed from your base-pace to about your 5km running speed over 100-200m. At that point, ease up again but only to your base-pace, there is no slowing right down to completely recover.

You should always be focusing on your form while running, but while dong the accelerations concentrate even harder. Here are some quick tips:

* Lean slightly forward from the hips.

* Foot-strike under the body’s centre of gravity.

* Pull back with the hamstrings at the moment of contact with the ground.

* Fast, springy cadence.

* Quick, economical arm movements and position.

* Relaxed upper-body.

Make sure to end off the run with a cool-down period. The opposite of the warm up, this should be a gradual easing up in pace.

Check back with us next second to find the second part of this series.

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