16 Feb

The F Word

Paul Smith with Ron Hill

Paul Smith is following in the footsteps of Ron Hill and building up a lengthy runstreak (runstreak = running every day). Along the way Paul is producing an A-Z of running based on his experience. In an occasional series, we find out that F is for fartlek ...

Call it immature, call it cheeky school boy humour, but I always find that I must have a wee chuckle whenever I hear the word spoken or the see the word written down. Swedish for 'speed play', the session has been known to drastically improve performances when integrated into any training regime.

Developed by a Swedish running coach by the name of Gösta Holmér, the fartlek was used as a key method in restoring the success of the nation's cross-country team in the late 1930s. After Gunder Hägg's remarkable 1942 (the Swedish distance runner set ten world records that year), the fartlek started to gain widespread notoriety.

Essentially, the session combines a mix of continuous and interval training. Many runners fall into the trap that it's just a straightforward interval session, when really its dependant on how fast you feel you can push it rather than hitting a consistent speed. To warm-up, use the first 5 to 10 minutes to loosen the legs with a gentle jog, then up the pace for a steady long hard time/distance i.e. 1 mile then drop to recovery pace for say 5 minutes.


Next, you need to intergrate some speed work, easy running interspersed with sprints of perhaps 50-100m and repeat. Continue into the 'quick steps' phase, easy running with 3 or 4 quick steps as if you're trying to overtake an opponent in a race. Keep on running and if at all possible include a hill with a decent incline and run full throttle to the summit, to get the heart and lungs bursting.

A quick recovery then run fast pace for one minute. Repeat all of the aforementioned as many times as you desire and don't forget that warm down jog to decrease chances of injury and minimise DOMS (delayed onset muscles soreness)

I'm knackered describing that session but I can't stress how much I've benefited. The key term is 'speed play' and that quite literally means playing with speed, upping and downing the pace whilst out on a training run, not only is it beneficial to performance it also adds variety and keeps it fun.