30 November 2021|Physiology, Plant Based Eating, Trail running
It’s Tuesday morning…every Tuesday morning. The thin air of high altitude Iten is a little thicker today. It is full of eager anticipation. It’s the morning of the day in the week that the Kenyan runners who have flocked to this small village of approximately 10, 000 people come to gather and send it down!
I am with a disparate group of foreign runners on The Kenyan Experience. We have some solid 2.40 marathoners but we are now rubbing shoulders with several who can run that distance well under 30 minutes faster!
The whole village sizzles in anticipation. Although the atmosphere is dampened somewhat because the recent World Champion 400 meter hurdle champion Nicholas Bett has been involved in a fatal car crash the weekend prior. A minute of silence is observed and then the top running coach announces the workout. He gives the order of 5 minutes warm-up then 1 minute on 1 minute off.
In August the temperature is brisk in the Rift Valley but the runners warm-up — for most a 2–3 km mostly jog down the concreted road has warmed people up. Now the fun begins! And truly fartleks are fun- good hard runningfun!
The runners warm-up jog potion is punctuated by calls of ‘poli poli’ take it easy! The 3.30 per km pace on a pot-holed clay-based track is nowhere near easy! And then the efforts are super hard! The first one is on a punchy hill and the high altitude plays havoc with the anaerobic systems of the outsiders trying to adapt!
Most newcomers get in 9 kms before they have been dropped by the pack. The strongest leaders will finish 14 kms undulating to say the least in about 44 minutes.
Most readers of this blog will likely have a basic concept of Fartlek, the original term meaning ‘speed play’ in Swedish, so we won’t spend too long defining our terms or explaining what fartlek actually is.
Fartlek plays such an important role in the training toolbox of Kenyan runners and as an endorsement of its benefits its a weekly inclusion in Eliud Kipchoge’s training plan. But it can help you become a better runner too.
Fartlek is nothing new to most serious or long term runners but often it is deemed to be a secondary less important type of training than intervals for examples. Many use fartlek’s when returning to training after injury and seen as not yet ready for full training, or as an occasional activity.
In Kenya, the session fartlek holds far more prestige as a session and is a key ingredient in almost every training recipe.
The pluses for including the fartlek in your own recipe!
Fartlek is great physical training. You can develop all of endurance, speed, speed endurance, strength, aerobic capacity. Lots of bang for the buck in such a session.
It’s more of a psychological issue than a physical one. Fartleks are so underrated outside of Kenya because they don’t fit with the prevailing approach of detailed analysis and measuring every last aspect of your run.
Or rather, they could do, but they don’t look as impressive!
Fartlek’s often appear less impressive or less ‘valuable’ in a world that favours strava stats. The average pace hides the impression of the entire run. It may end up being the session with fewer dopamine boosting kudos in a week than a far sexier training tool like a bunch of very fast 1/4 milers!
The free-flowing nature of a fartlek is its biggest strength. With a fartlek, you’ve already accepted that the pace and the stats are not always paramount. This created the the opportunity to play around with things such as pace ranges and also including hills within the workout.
For a Kenyan, fartlek makes up approximately 50% of all hard workouts. So one out of every two baller workouts is a fartlek. For most runners, this means Tuesday track and a fartlek on a Thursday, before a weekend-long run. The other days filled with aerobic efforts!.
Kenyan’s run it hard during fartlek training for sure, but it’s entirely effort based, and this results in a reduced tendency for an athlete to beat themselves up if it doesn’t go quite as formulated. And this is good for the athletes mindset!
And let’s not forget that a fartlek is fun!
Originally a fartlek in the strict sense of ‘speed play’ was for unstructured variances in pace , the more common method these days is something planned. But a typical session of 11/2 minute fast, 2 minute easy repeated x15. for example, is still a more flexible form of running than having everything prescribed to the second as many track workouts are. Especially on pot holed undulating clay based roads!
So, relax, take a leaf out of Eliud Kipchoge’s training diary, and head out to an undulating course in a natural environment and enjoy a fartlek with the hard mixed in with the ‘poli poli!’