The last few weeks The Girl and I have been enjoying the unstructured yet structured offseason running. What do I mean by that? Well, we’ve got a slew of runs to do weekly, a healthy mix with a long run, a tempo run, a couple of shorter runs (that we can swap out with cycling or swimming), and then finally…the fartlek run.
The fartlek run is the pinnacle of unstructured fun, running or otherwise. Fartlek means ‘speed play’ in Swedish, and the goal is to have an interval-like session, but without the structure of intervals. Meaning that intervals typically have a set work (run hard) and rest (recovery) period. Usually defined by time or distance, and usually repeating itself over and over again at that defined interval for a very specific number of repeats.
But fartleks by definition are designed to be opportunistic, so you mix and match speed and distance as you see fit. As Wikipedia puts best, Fartleks “differ from traditional interval training in that it is unstructured; intensity and/or speed can be varied whenever the athlete wishes.”
So how are we implementing this?
Well, our coach has put together an initial warm-up of about 15 minutes, after which we build into a higher heart rate for a few more minutes. Then, we’ve got a prescribed set of time – tonight was 20 minutes – that we get to ‘play’. Do as we please with very little instruction.
In most cases the goal is to have the ‘work’ (running some variation of hard) be between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, but we get to decide when, how far, and how hard.
What’s cool about this is that we both get to mostly run together. We end and start in the same place, and since the paces aren’t too different when we’re talking shorter distance – so even if she ends up being 10-20 seconds back, it doesn’t matter to the overall goal of the workout.
In order to keep it interesting, we’ve been alternating selecting how far, where, and how fast. I’ll go first and choose the next point to run to, and then she’ll return the favor on the next one a few minutes later. And we repeat ourselves over and over again. You never really know what the other person is thinking in terms of the pain they wish to apply for the next segment.
Usually the run to point is a tree, pole, car, or building down the road, or around the corner. For example, tonight included one that was a loop around a few neighborhood buildings. Sorta like an urban track, except without knowing really how far it would be.
We also included the ‘wildcard’ one – which means that neither of us have the slightest clue how far we’ll have to run. How do we do that? The easiest way is by counting cars. In our case we decided we would run hard until we saw three red vehicles parked on the left side of the road. The right side didn’t count, nor did purple cars.
At first tonight we (or maybe just me) were pretty concerned, as the first 200m or so there wasn’t a single red car. Crap I thought, we could be running a long time. But then one appeared on a side street – which, technically was the left side of the road (I wasn’t about to ask for a judges ruling here, I took it!). About 30 seconds later we got the second one, and then about 15 seconds after that the third and final one.
Note about selecting car colors, if you choose silver or gray, you’ll want to have a really high quantity – something like 15 or 20 cars. If you choose yellow, I’d suggest a lower number. Same goes for aqua…really low number. You can also play car companies/brands, types, and so on. Or fire hydrants, sewer grates, no parking signs, etc… Just look around and look for semi-common objects to count off.
At any rate, the overall run tonight was just shy of 50 minutes, and I never based my running effort on HR or pace. I simply just ran what felt fun. Sometimes that was faster – had one quarter mile section at about a 5:05/mile pace, and sometimes that was slower (though, not a lot slower). When you’re running shorter distances you can have a bit more fun with it.
Both The Girl and I commented that the time goes by really fast (no pun intended), and in fact, we went a few minutes longer than planned. But since it becomes more of a game, you don’t even notice it. I think we both could have easily been out there really around the neighborhood in circles for quite a bit longer and had fun with it.
Tomorrow we’ll have a longer 60m tempo run…which will be just as much fun – I enjoy a nice long building tempo run. Good times!
Ok, back to eating holiday cookies I go…hope your week is going well! Oh, and P.S. – it’s The Girl’s birthday Thursday (today), so leave her a note over there. :)
Thanks for reading!