Learning to run is great. Learning to run faster can be even better.
Running faster offers most of the benefits of slower running, plus an extra dose of the endorphins needed for what is commonly called “runners high”. If you don’t already know, “runners high” is a euphoric, calm state often achieved after a great workout. If you have never experienced this feeling, it is definitely worth striving for.
When I mention running faster to a newer runner, they often have concerns. The first is that they think that you have to be born fast to run fast. The second is that they have no idea of how to start running faster.
Fortunately anybody can learn to run fast. As far as I am concerned, there is no better way to get started in the world of faster running than to do a Fartlek workout.
Fartlek is a workout concept developed by a Swedish running coach, Gösta Holmér in 1937. It is a loosely structured workout in which you run faster for random periods of time, followed by portions of easier running to recover. Over the years, many high level runners have improved their speed using this simple but effective technique.
What really makes Fartlek wonderful is how easy it is to build into your workouts, as well as how unthreatening it is for those new to faster running. Getting started is easy.
You should begin by planning to do a 30 minute workout on a route that is predominantly flat. As with all workouts, you should start out by doing 10 minutes of easy jogging, followed by a good stretch. Once this is done, you can begin the Fartlek portion of your workout.
To begin your Fartlek, start by running at a comfortable pace. While you are running, determine a roadside item in the distance (hydrant, phone pole, etc.) to be used as a finish line. Once you have choosen your “finish line”, you should begin to run at a pace which is faster than your normal pace. This pace can vary from just a bit faster than normal, all the way up to very fast. The choice is yours, and ideally, you should vary it for each faster running portion of your fartlek workout. Whatever pace you choose should be maintained until you pass your “finish line”. Once you have passed your line, resume running at a slow and comfortable pace. Maintain this pace until your heart rate has recovered to a comfortable level. Once this has happened, select another object for a finish line, and repeat this pattern. The Fartlek portion of the workout should last for approximately 15 minutes. Once complete, follow it with a 5 minute cool down jog as well as a good stretch.
The beauty of this workout is its unstructured nature, as well as the fact that you are in total control of the intensity and duration of the efforts you will put in. If you are feeling good, you can go a bit faster, or longer. If not, you can still do the workout; just take it a little easier.
When first trying this, I suggest that you do it no more than once a week. While easy and fun, it is also strenuous, and as with any new demands you place on your body, it is always better to take things slow. Once you have successfully completed Fartlek workouts for a month or so, feel free to add a second one to your schedule.
I expect that anyone who gives Fartlek a try will learn to love this workout. It’s a wonderful way to keep your runs fresh, and it will help you get faster at the same time. What more can you ask for from a workout?