Running friends have asked me to explain what pyramidic fartlek is and how I run it. Pyramidic fartlek is a stepped approach in which you run with “speed play” through different interval speeds, ascending to top speed and descending back to a slow jog or walk. For example, one of the most popular fartlek formats (my favorite) is to run 3 minutes slow warmup, then run intervals of 1-2-3-2-1 minutes each and progressively faster speeds until the 3 minute mark (e.g., run 1 minute at 9:00/mi, 2 minutes at 8:00, 3 minutes at 7:30). At 2 and 1 minutes descending from top speed, cut back on your speed a bit (e.g., back to 8:00 and 9:00 minute splits, respectively). Then rest, meaning walk or jog very slowly for 3-5 more minutes. If you’re up for another pyramid, start over and repeat. Usually I don’t try to do more than 3 pyramids per workout. Sometimes I adjust and cancel one pyramid if I’m wiped out after 2 pyramids and just add slow jogging instead. Adverse weather conditions sometimes interfere with these pyramids so adjust them if conditions suggest you should.
Previously, I thought that 2 minute intervals were the best for fartlek pyramids and that is still sometimes the case on the treadmill (2:2:2:2:2). However, I’m finding the variety in the length of the intervals and progression and regression from top speed is more interesting than the steady-state format. The 3 minute interval is always challenging but I remind myself that I have a shorter “2” and a short “1” arriving soon.
Ideally, runners should strive to reach an acceleration “gliding” point so you don’t feel like you are pushing/overexerting yourself so much. Shorten your stride to try to reach a cadence of 180 strides/minute or higher. For example, if your strides are 1 meter long, try shortening those strides to .9 or .8 meters. My Garmin Forerunner 620 measures my strides so I pay close attention to whether my cadence is over and under 180. (If I’m wearing Yaktrax on snow and ice, I’m more concerned about my safety than my running cadence!) Shorter strides help you run further with less effort. When runners try to “stride out”, lengthening our strides too much, we tend to overexert ourselves and get tired and/or injured.
With a little practice, fartlek pyramids will surprise you (check your top speed at the top of the pyramid!). You’ll learn to draw upon your fartlek speed bursts to pass other runners safely and/or avoid obstacles you encounter.
When running fartlek outside,try to make sure that the path is as flat as possible and clear of areas where I will have to stop suddenly so as to avoid collisions with vehicles, other runners, or dogs. Sudden, unexpected stops can lead to weird injuries so avoid them.
Fartlek workouts make a great substitute for days 1) you would have run long and 2) when you want to do speed work other than “mile repeats” or “Yasso 800s” and 3) you are crunched for time for your run so you want to opt for some high-intensity running.