Thursday 21 September 2017

Fartlek training can help you find your fitness zone

Catherina McKiernan in action during last year’s Great Ireland Run.
Catherina McKiernan in action during last year’s Great Ireland Run.

Catherina McKiernan

It has been great to witness the explosion in numbers taking up running in recent years and for many, it has been a life-changing experience. Initially, novice runners like the challenge of a 5k or 10k, but through time they get more ambitious and want to progress and improve their times.

They find that setting new challenges is something that allows them to compete with themselves to see what they can achieve. When I'm asked what is the best way to run faster, I stress the importance of working on running technique. When you have good running form it's much easier to run faster.

In fact, speed is a byproduct of good running mechanics. I often compare running to building a house, in that you need to have a good solid foundation and then you can work on your speed. How to speed up? Fartlek training is a Swedish term which means 'speed play'. It is a form of interval or speed training that can be very good in improving your speed and endurance.

Many runners, especially beginners , enjoy fartlek training because it is more flexible and not as demanding as traditional interval training. It doesn't have to be done on a track and can be done on all types of terrain.

Fartlek training helps runners develop self-awareness and introduces variety into their training programme. It's entirely up to you how hard or easy you make the session.

Short fast bursts will help you sharpen your pure speed, which is most important for races like 5ks and 10ks. Longer periods of speed help to raise your anaerobic threshold, which improves your speed endurance which is good for longer races like 10 milers and half-marathons.

To do a fartlek training session, try introducing some short periods of slightly higher pace into your normal runs. Maintain the faster pace for a short distance, or time intervals such as 200m or 30 seconds to one minute. The intervals can vary throughout the run and you can use landmarks such as a lamp post or a tree. Once you complete a fast segment, slow your pace to a slow jog, until you have fully recovered and your breathing has returned to normal.

Then return to running at your normal pace and then put in another slightly fast interval at various stages during your run.

In this way, you are putting slight extra stress on your body, which will lead to improvement in your speed and your ability to maintain a faster pace.

An advantage of fartlek training is in how it allows a runner to concentrate on feeling the change of pace and developing self-awareness and pace judgment skills which will help during a race.

Another advantage of introducing some speed during your run is that there is more likely to be a prolonged rise in metabolic rate for up to eight hours after intense exercise than after moderate physical activity.

This means that the faster your run, the more chance you have of burning extra calories after the run is finished, than if you run slow throughout. Personally, I like the fartlek training and faster running sessions as I can really get into the zone and for that period just focus on my form and speed and forget about the stressful things in life. At the end of the day isn't that the reason why most of us run in the first place.

@cat_mckiernan

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