Adding fartlegs to my runs

I started running about five years ago after my doctor looked at me during my annual and muttered: “Andreas, you’re getting fat. Do something about that.”

I’m tall, so the weight wasn’t showing, but the scales didn’t lie. It was time to shed some pounds. I despise gyms, so I figured that taking up running would be a good option. As somebody who had never thought about himself as a natural runner, getting going was a scary proposition. In the end, I downloaded one of the many Couch to 5K apps available to my phone, bought some running shoes and started the adventure.

It took me about two months, from a first run that was pretty much an exercise in humiliation, to my first uninterrupted 5K. I was still out of breath, I was crazily over-striding and on my way to shin splints, but I had proven to myself that I could do this.

Two years ago, I joined a running clinic to get rid of bad habits, specifically habit to overstride, and started settling into a morning routine of getting up at 5:30 and going out for a 5k run. But after about a year of steady improvement, I found that I had maxed out. Try as I might, my average speed was hovering around 5:45/km, on a bad day going up and hitting the 6-minute mark. Instead of gaining speed and confidence, I was actually getting slower. Things did not go as planned and the morning run was turning from a source of joy and relaxation to frustration.

That’s when I first read about fartlegs in The Guardian. To quote:

Fartlek has “fart” in it because that is the Swedish word for speed. Lek means play, and so “speed-play” serves as a rough translation, although Fartlek (with a capital F) is how it’s always been known. It was developed by the national cross-country coach Gösta Holmér in response to the Sweden team’s poor performances against their Finnish rivals. 

Two weeks ago, I decided to give this a shot and the results have been extraordinary. First of all, it was interesting to learn how little I was pushing myself. On my first day, I added one sprint per kilometre to my run and was amazed how easily I managed to incorporate these.

I have now shaved 30 seconds off my average time, clocking in around 5:15 per km. Anything faster is currently hitting a bit of a wall, but I am certain that there’s space for further improvement once I’ve established this as the new base time.

It’s winter here in Toronto and while so far we’ve been lucky with the weather, i.e very little snow, I don’t expect this to last forever. But for now, running and building speed in -10 degrees feels great.

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