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Fartlek workouts are a great way to get your wheels spinning for a prolonged period of time, without the stress of having to hit splits in a track workout. This effort-based type of speed workout can be done on roads, trails or treadmill.
A fartlek workout is simply a series of faster pickups with a recovery interval in between. The length and speed of the pickups, as well as the recovery intervals, can be totally up to you.
Following an easy warm-up jog of 1–2 miles, find an object off in the near distance, be it a tree, rock, telephone pole, top of a hill or trail intersection, and run to it at a pace faster than you would if you were out for an easy run. Once you reach your destination or start feeling fatigued, jog gently or even walk until you feel recovered. Then repeat the process the rest of the run, mixing up the distance and speed of each pick-up however you wish—this is, literally, speed play! While the hard running takes place only over short spurts, I promise you’ll be pretty wiped by the time you finish!
If you prefer more structure in your speed play or are tied to the treadmill, set your watch so that your pickups are of a predetermined duration, whether it’s 30 seconds, 10 minutes, or anything in between. These are the types of fartlek sessions I like to assign to my athletes because they’re a little more structured and specific than “true” fartlek workouts.
Use shorter pickups to practice sprinting, and utilize longer intervals to run strong at a steady effort you hope to maintain in a race. A mix of short, fast running and longer, steady stretches will help increase your aerobic capacity, thus improving your ability to maintain a faster pace for a longer period of time.
Since a fartlek workout is more intense than an easy run, and thus more taxing on your body, be sure to give yourself a few days of easy running or rest to ensure you recover completely from the workout.
Now go get after it!
Updated from an article that first appeared October 2014