Friday, February 18, 2011

Excuse me, did you just fartlek?

I haven't talked about my attempts to cram for an upcoming half marathon (NEXT SUNDAY GAAH), but I've been good about getting in at least four and sometimes five runs a week.  I will probably run a post with my crammed training plan after the race---I want to wait until I cross the finish line because frankly I don't want to propagate what I did if it causes me injury.

Some days, I feel in the zone and time seems to pass calmly while my thoughts wander and my iPod plays.  Other days, I get so bored that running feels like drudge work, and I want to quit barely a few minutes into my workout.  On those days, I turn to any method I can to find pleasure in these runs.

Lately, I've been fartleking.  I've been fartleking a lot, and I love it.  The other gym-goers on the indoor track probably think there's something wrong with me when I pass by them and fartlek, but I can't help it.  Sometimes, I just need to fartlek and I can't hold it back.

....Why are you giving me that look?

Oh, I think I understand the confusion.  Allow me to explain:

Fartlek (n.): A loosely structured interval training method that uses bursts of speed used to build strength and speed. It is used by runners, cyclists and in-line skaters.
--- Definition Courtesy of

The word "fartlek" is a Sweedish word meaning "speed play."  I first came across it in an issue of Runner's World magazine from 2007, when I first began running thanks to the influence of my very healthy coworkers (their influence lives on in my friend Alisha, who works there now and blogs about her training regimen).  You can read the original Runner's World article about fartlek, written by the incomparable Jeff Galloway, here.

The basic idea of fartlek is to run at an easy pace---whatever that pace is for you--- while "throwing in bursts of speed for various distances throughout the run."  (Source.)  The key word is "various," as you want to mix up your speed bursts to be shorter or longer; the bursts can be as short as a few seconds or as long as a few minutes, depending on what you feel like doing.  (Id.)  Give yourself enough time to recover at your easy pace before bursting again.

That's the basic idea.  In practice, it can be a lot of fun.

When I fartlek, I emphasize the play part.  (Is that the fart?  Or the lek?)  Listening to music on my iPhone, I stay aware of the different beats and tempos of the songs.  Some songs make me want to run at a consistent pace.  Some songs make me want to sprint during the chorus.  Some verses make me want to run with long paces, while some staccato segments inspire me to pick my knees up to my chest with each step.  This seems to work best on the indoor track (or outside, if weather allows), as I can easily vary my pace on a whim.  The key part for me is sprinting when I feel like sprinting and not forcing the movement if I don't want to.

As I said, people sometimes look at me funny.  But I could care less since I'm having so much fun being ridiculous.  The best part about fartleking to me is just having a good time, playing with the music while pushing my body, and distracting myself from the sometimes-tedium of distance running.

I'll close with my all-time favorite fartlek:

Barenaked Ladies: Fun & Games

I seem to have an understanding with myself that every time this song comes on, I run at a normal pace until the bridge.  Starting at about 1:58, I slowly speed up in line with the crescendo in the song.  By the time Ed Roberts yells, "And all this will go undetecteeeedddd!" I am running as fast as I possibly can until he drops the note.  Then I return to my comfortable pace.

Give it a shot!  If all else fails, at least it will be fun to tell your loved ones that you fartleked.

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