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What is Fartlek Training?

WELCOME TO EARTH: Fartlek Training


This month’s letter comes from Colin, Devourer of Galaxies and Supreme Ruler of The Gargathian Supervoid! Colin writes:

Hi, POSSESSED mag! My name is Colin (yes, THAT Colin), and my question is this:

What exactly is ‘Fartlek Training’? It sounds gross. LOL.

Love, Colin.

Thanks for your letter, Colin, and great question!

In the 1930s, there was a Swedish Olympian by the name of Gösta Holmér who was charged with coaching the not-so-great (at the time) Swedish cross-country run team. During this time, Holmér invented Fartlek training, which involves eating a bucket of broccoli and deliberately inducing IBS for added propulsion. Ha-ha. Now that the obligatory fart joke is out of the way, let’s talk about what Fartlek training really is.

Fartlek training is basically a form of interval training (invented by Gösta Holmér for real) where you alternate between fast and slow running to improve cardio, speed, and endurance. According to Google Translate, ‘Fart-Lek’ is Swedish for ‘Speed-Play,’ which means that the word ‘Fart’ in Sweden equals ‘Speed’ in English. Did the billposters for the 1994 Keanu Reeves blockbuster Speed read Fart in Sweden? Sadly, no. But Colin, I digress. Fartlek training is a sort of unstructured interval training. You’re not obeying a clock, and you choose when and for how long you run fast. For example, let’s say your average medium-intensity pace is 5 minutes per kilometer, and your regular run distance is 8 kilometers. If you were to make this run a Fartlek session, you wouldn’t hold that medium pace. Instead, you would periodically run at high intensity throughout the run. Some people break the slow and fast parts up into even blocks (for example, 10 rounds of 2 mins fast, 2 mins slow), while other people just do what feels good for them.

Sounds a bit loosey-goosey, arbitrary-barbitrary, doesn’t it? Well, it kinda is. But there are ways to format the run so that you’re not tempted to sprint two or three times and then settle into a relaxed pace for the final 30 minutes, you lazy bum. One way is to verbally abuse any large and angry-looking men you encounter. They’ll give chase for at least five minutes, and you will have run as fast as you possibly can during that time. Be sure your verbal attacks are cutting by selecting a physical feature the large man might be sensitive about. For example, if he is a bald man, say something like, ‘Hey, bald guy,’ and then sprint. Or if he has a tattoo on his face, you could cry, ‘Hey dickhead! Nice face tattoo! Didn’t you get enough hugs from your dad?’ and run like your life depends upon it. Which it does.

A much safer way to get the most out of a Fartlek training session is to listen to music and only increase your speed during the chorus of songs and then slow down (recover) during the verses. This is a great way to ensure you put in the effort (provided you choose songs with choruses). You can be clever about this and make a Fartlek training playlist that would allow for a 10-minute warm-up (perhaps Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’? It’s almost 10 minutes long) followed by 20 minutes of tracks with choruses for the Fartlek, then finish off with a 10-minute warm down (‘Purple Rain’ again. Why not? It’s a really good song). The most important thing is running as fast as possible during those choruses.

Another common way to do Fartlek training is to choose landmarks along the run—lampposts, trees, discarded mattresses with ‘Nothing Really Mattress’ painted on them by someone who has no imagination—and race for them. For example, you might sprint between two lampposts that are 200 to 300 meters apart, then recover for a certain distance, and then increase your speed again until you reach another specific lamppost. There are no hard and fast rules to Fartlek. You get to figure out what feels right for you, which is nice so long as you really try, you lazy bum.

Whatever method of Fartlek you choose, the benefits will be terrific. You’ll improve your cardiovascular health by challenging your body to maintain a faster pace for longer distances, and you’ll be introducing something new to your running schedule to keep it interesting and fun! Remember to start with shorter and less intense intervals in the beginning and then gradually increase intensity until you break a speed record or vomit.

Good luck, Colin!


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