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Freshen up your pace...beef up your performance.... add zest to success with a weekly fartlek.

Over the past seventy years, 'fartlek' has been succesfully used and seen by successive world champions as a very important training concept.

Fartlek, the Swedish word for ' speed play' is considered the training concept of Swedish coach Gosta Holmer. Holmer introduced the 'fartlek' to bring relief from the repetitive grind of track training and intervals turning hard and productive effort into fun and play.

A fartlek can be defined as a continous run usually away from the track during which the pace is frequently and intentionally changed, where time and/ or distance are each or both left unmeasured.

Swedish middle distance runner Gunder Hagg in the 1940s successfully used this concept. Hagg used a 5k forest loop and would change his pace and surge at least half a dozen times per loop with surges varying from 15 seconds upto 3 minutes. Hagg went on to set 10 world records over 82 days at distances of 1500m - 5000m.

The world's first sub 4 minute miler UK's Roger Bannister also embraced the concept and commented

' So much running on the track became boring and I lost the sense of freshness which comes from putting on spikes only for an important race'.

Fartlek rejects the notion that athletes should have a fixed distance to run and embraces 'initiative' and most importantly 'impulse'.

1960's 1500m Olympic champion, Herb Elliot and coach Percy Cerutty took the concept of 'speed play' to a higher level. Cerutty famously commented ' Training shall not be a daily grind upon a grinding track' and urged his athletes to 'Tap the primial and bestial energy from within'.

Elliot used a beach environment regularly for training, swimming, log lifting and surging up sand dunes to promote allround fitness. Speed play over the dunes simply depended on how steep and long the next sand dune happened to be!

World and Olympic champion and record holder Seb Coe used a grassy hill circuit. His father, Peter Coe would simply blow a whistle to start and finish a surge to replicate race situations where Seb had to learn to cope with race situations where he had no control.

Portugeuse Coach Mario Pereira, utlised 'fartlek' to even greater effect faced with a lack of any track facility. Pereira successfully coached champion distance runners Carlos Lopes, Fernando Mamede and Rosa Mota.

'We studied well known schools of long distance running throughout the world and took from each what we thought to be of greatest relevance to us and evolved our own method'. This method was soundly based on speed play away from the track. Just look at these extracts from their training regime.

Monday AM 1 hour running on grass
Monday PM 1 hour of cross country
Tuesday AM 10 x 400m on road with 75 seconds recovery progressing to 20 x 400
Wednesday AM 1 hour varied running on beach
Wednesday PM 1 hour running on grass
Thursday AM 1 hour running on grass
Thursday PM 1 hour varied running over country
Friday Road running with fixed time surges of upto 9 minutes ( 3000m approx distance covered) with 6 minute recovery on the go at reduced pace. Way to go Carlos!!!

Bruce Bickford used what is termed as a 'Ladder fartlek in his training... 3 minutes hard followed by 3 minutes easy...then 4 minutes hard and 4 minutes easy...all the way upto 7 minutes followed by a steady warm down.

Okay, so what can we today learn from the greats of running years past.. I would argue a lot! I am convinced fartlek can and WILL pep up your training and performance, and should be incorporated into any distance runners training regime.

The potential benefits of regular 'fartleking' are both physiological and psychological and would sit well within LIAM CAIN's 800m training programme article.

Fartleking is 'Task specific', requiring the athlete to accelerate even in the face of fatigue just as in a race. I would argue that this would be an ideal substitute for either or both TEMPO and LACTIC ACID threshold training.

Fartleking is ideal for those who simply do not like the track but need to work on their speed.

Fartleking can also be used a transition session between steady road running and high quality track work.

Fartleking is an ideal alternative to a track session particularly wher an athlete may be involved in 2 to 3 track sessons per week.

Fartleking is more FUN than other workouts.

Over the years, my studies have suggested that fartleks fall into two main, broad categories.....HILL and TIMED.

Simply forget about your watch and work hard over the varied terrain. Long slow running with surges over grassy knolls or sand sand dunes. Why not try a few holes at your local golf club with steady running upto the green and then surging around its perimeter. Surges in hill fartleks are determined by the length of the hill or the size of the green. Progress by including more holes or hills or by a harder effort over your existing circuit.

In Timed Fartleks, surges are timed regardless of terrain as used by Bruce Bickford and Carlos Lopes. Progress by shortening recoveries or increasing the length/ and or the effort in the surge.

The DYNAMICS of fartleking are simple. 'Go with the flow' and listen to your body. It will tell you when you've had enough! I recommend a 10-15 minute 'WARM IN' at long, slow pace followed by a series of HILL or TIMED surges at either just below OR above race pace and then a recovery at LSD pace. For long distance runners, I would also suggest a minimum circuit of 6 miles with 10-15% difference in effort during surges, and for middle distance runners a shorter circuit of 3 miles but with a HIGHER overall pace leading upto the surges followed by a 15 -20% higher effort in the surges.

I think it is up to individual coaches and athletes to be CREATIVE and take advantage of your local topography and terrain. I hate to say this but history suggests 'Fartleking' has a proven track record in helping produce world champions and maximise any athlete's potential.

Grasp the nettle and have FUN!

Sherwood of Sherwood Forest
UKA 4 Children in Athletics
UKA 3 Endurance
UKA 2 Sprints
BAAB Senior Club Coach:rolleyes:
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