Workout Of The Week: The Halftime Fartlek

Fartlek workouts should be done away from the track. Photo: Mario Fraioli

I love fartlek workouts. You can do them almost anywhere, make them as hard as you want to and even change them on the fly if necessary.

The Halftime Fartlek is a session I like to use with athletes who are returning to serious training after some time off and want to avoid the track for a few more weeks. I’ll also use it with runners who are peaking for a key road or cross-country race. The basic framework of the workout is the same in each case, but the duration of the intervals and the accompanying effort level can be adjusted to suit your needs.

So how does it work? In its most basic form, the halftime fartlek is a set of descending intervals of a pre-determined length at a given effort level. The recovery between intervals is half the time of the last one you completed, hence the name of the workout. For this workout you’ll need a basic watch, but a fancy GPS or heart-rate monitor is hardly necessary. Don’t worry about covering a set distance in a certain amount of time. When the watch says to stop, you stop. Pressure’s off. That’s the beauty of the halftime fartlek.

Scenario 1

Say you’re just getting back into serious training after a few weeks of well-deserved downtime following a big race and aren’t ready to step on the track yet. You can set up the halftime fartlek as such:

— 10-15:00 warmup, then run 5-4-3-2-1 minutes at 5K-10K effort (Note: Effort is the key word here—don’t worry about hitting specific pace.), followed by a 10-15:00 cooldown. For recovery, take 2:30 of easy jogging after the 5:00 interval, 2:00 after the 4:00 interval, and so forth.

Or, you could shorten the length of the intervals and perform multiple sets, such as:

*10-15:00 warmup, 3-5 x [2:00-1:00-30 sec @ 5K effort], 10-15:00 cooldown. Again, recovery is half the duration of the preceding interval. Take 2-3 minutes in between sets.

Scenario 2

On the opposite end of the spectrum, suppose you’re approaching a big road or cross-country race and want to keep your legs moving in the final days leading up to it. The halftime fartlek is a great workout to do on the roads or trails 2-3 days beforehand. Adjust the length of the interval and effort level based on the distance you’ll be racing.

For example, heading into a shorter race such as 5K, I’d suggest the following variation of the halftime fartlek:

— 15:00 warmup, 4-3-2-1 minute pickups at 5K race effort. Recovery is—you guessed it—half the duration of the interval you just completed. Take 2-3 minutes between sets. Finish with a 15:00 cooldown.

That’s 10 minutes worth of broken-up running at race effort a couple days out from your big event. It’s enough to keep your legs and lungs engaged without wiping you out before the starter’s gun goes off. Of course, it’s up to you to keep yourself under control during the workout and not go harder than you should just because you’re feeling good.

For a 10K, simply bump up the duration of the intervals and back off the intensity a little bit. Two to three days before your 10K race, try the following workout:

— 15:00 warmup, 4-3-2-1 minutes @ 10K race effort, then 3-2-1 minutes slightly faster than race effort, all with halftime recovery. Take a 3-minute jog recovery between sets and finish with a 15:00 cooldown.

If approaching longer distances such as the half marathon or marathon, try the following version of the halftime fartlek four days before your race:

— 10:00 warmup, 8:00-6:00-4:00-2:00 all at goal race effort with halftime recovery between intervals, 10:00 cooldown

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