What is a "Fartlek" and breaking down the running jargon

Running should be fairly straightforward.

But look at any training plan and you'll find several hard to understand or confusing phrases like tempo or aerobic threshold, leaving many runners scratching their heads. Or worse, ignoring them.

Tempo

Shaun Moore, Head Coach at 605 Run Club in Melbourne says tempo runs – also known as an anaerobic threshold or lactate-threshold runs – are where runners struggle mentally.

"These runs are hard to nail at first, but once you get the mental strength over these challenging runs they help you to believe you can run at paces you previously thought were out of reach."

A standard tempo run is done at a pace that feels comfortable at just below your 10k pace, but by the end of your run you reach a state known as comfortably hard – where your body shifts to using more glycogen for fuel.

"Here, you're working at around 90 per cent effort, but you're still in control," says Moore. A good way to gauge if you're tempo is right, is breathing: you should be able to hear your breathing, but you shouldn't be sucking in air.

Fartlek

Fartlek is a Sweedish term for 'speed play'. Moore says Fartlek running involves playing with different paces rhythms during a continuous run.

"These sessions are based around running at a high intensity for a short period of time – say 30 or 60 seconds, followed by a similar rest period," he says.

A great workout is a Mona Fartlek named after Australian long-distance runner Steve Monaghetti, who would use this as part of his training:

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  • 2x 90sec hard, 90sec float
  • 4x 60sec hard, 60 sec float
  • 4x 30sec hard, 30 sec float
  • 6x 15sec hard, 15 sec float

Interval

Put it simply, intervals are short periods of high intensity effort followed by a recovery period of the same time or longer at a lower intensity. Moore says this is ideal for runners of every ability and helps improve speed.

"When interval running is a consistent feature of a training plan, runners see the benefits quickly."

The most common issue runners face with interval sessions is knowing the right intensity for both the effort and recovery period. Moore says starting the session too high often results in runners blowing up towards the end of the session.

"Another common mistake is when people run too fast during the recovery period, which impacts their ability to run at a higher intensity during the hard efforts."

The key - aim for a jogging pace during recovery.

Aerobic threshold

A commonly forgotten concept, aerobic threshold is a steady-state effort that you could theoretically perform for hours.

"An aerobic threshold session is a longer run where you start easy, work into a rhythm and by the later stages are running at a strong, steady pace.

"Simple, yet highly valuable, these runs are done over a moderate distance with the pace set just below your lactate threshold," says Moore.

He recommends runners add this style of training into their midweek long run.

"An example would be a midweek long run for 120 minutes with the final 30 to 40 minutes being ran at aerobic threshold pace," says Moore.

Progression

Progression runs, once called the Kenyan secret, are Moore's favourite training session at the moment. They are a run with structured pace increases from beginning to end. The distance and pace will vary based on your specific training goals.

"So much can be learnt from what initially seems like a simple eight kilometre progression run," he says.  

"These runs teach you how to pace the start of your run, gradually increase pace along the session, and most importantly, help you to finish fast and strong. They are extremely important for training the mental side of your running - because come race day, you've been subconsciously training to pace early and finish fast."

Recovery

Recovery runs can be the difference between runners becoming injured or building a strong base for future sessions.

"Recovery days and runs are exactly that, yet so many runners tend to run too fast or do too much, and don't allow their bodies to get the full benefit from the sessions that they're recovering from," explains Moore.

Long

Long runs are the backbone of any successful training.

"Building up your ability to run many kilometres is a psychological benefit that builds confidence and self-belief," says Moore.

"There's also many physical benefits to long runs including helping to strengthen the heart and lungs," says Moore. Long runs also increase your muscles' and liver's ability to store glycogen, strengthen your musculoskeletal system, give you a greater ability to work through muscular fatigue and increase your body's ability to use fat as fuel.

Most experts agree that 20 to 30 per cent of your weekly mileage should be devoted to the long run.

The high of crossing the finish line inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. Whether you're a newbie to the running scene or a seasoned athlete, Laura brings the latest running trends and gear to readers across Australia. With a day job in the corporate world and a busy toddler, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to sharpen her mind and challenge her body.

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