With longer days, distance runners are resetting their goals and ramping up their training accordingly. Most runners begin their training with a base phase and move into more intense training later as races approach.
One of the most effective (and enjoyable) ways to elevate fitness from this base phase all the way forward to goal races is with the help of fartlek workouts. A Swedish term for speed play, the fartlek is a surge or pick-up within your runs (i.e. changing gears). Fartleks are simple and can be executed virtually anywhere, anytime, at every phase of your training.
Introductory Base Phase Fartlek
Introducing fartlek work is as easy as tossing in some subtle gear changes during the course of one or two weekly runs. If you have never done any formal fartlek work, here are a few ideas to help you pick up the pace on your next run.
During your longest run of the week, toss in a one-minute surge every six or seven minutes throughout. This surge is not terribly hard: only 15-20 seconds per mile faster than your normal long run pace. At the end of the one-minute surge, return to your normal, relaxed rhythm.
If you have a hard time returning to your normal rhythm, you are running the surges too quickly, and you should back off on the next surge. This type of work has the added benefit of teaching you how to change gears, as well as deal with bad patches during races.
Then there's the "take turn" fartlek. Select a run each week when you are running with friends or training partners. Over the final four to six miles of the run, take turns leading a surge without telling your training partners how long (or fast) the surge will be.
Workout Tip: Set limits on how short the pick-up may be (perhaps 30 seconds) and a cap on how long (three minutes recommended).
After the requisite six to 14 weeks of standard base building, runners begin to look toward the competitive season, and with that comes a change in the type of fartlek work needed. Fartlek sessions should become more overtly strength-based and more designed around current fitness and future goals. Here are a couple of standards.