Catch The Pigeon Fartlek: Playing With Speed

Some of you may have heard of fartlek training.  Some of you may know that fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”.  Every so often I like to give my runners a session that really does allow them to play with speed.  I like to call it “Catch the pigeon”.

Unlike it’s more formal brother, the interval session of fixed efforts for fixed durations, the premise of a fartlek session is simple: varying efforts for varying periods.  I take it one step further a turn it into a game – why not really play with speed.

All you will need is:

  • 1 group of enthusiastic runners
  • 1 run leader or coach (or a lead runner)
  • A safe loop of a few hundred metres

After a good warm up, the group of runners start off at an easy pace, remaining as a group.

The leader asks for a volunteer (or selects someone) to become the first “pigeon”.

The pigeon then sets off, at a faster pace of their choice.

At a random point between 5 and 20 seconds, the leader shouts “catch the pigeon” and the group all set off to catch the pigeon as fast as they can.

When the first person catches up with the pigeon, both the pigeon and the catcher slow back down to the easy pace.  The remaining catchers continue until they are back with the pigeon at the easy pace.

Once everyone is back in the group, the next pigeon is identified and sets off before the group take on the next catch.

This continues until everyone has had a turn at being the pigeon.  If you have a small group you may want to get people to be pigeon more than once.

And it’s as simple as that!

Depending on the ability-spread of the group, you may like to consider getting the pigeon and catchers to turn and easy run back towards the rest of the catchers to help group everyone back more swiftly.  Equally, if the easy pace needs to be a brisk walk then that’s fine too.

I’ve been really surprised at how, even with beginners, the athletes seem to put in more effort using this session compared to a defined interval session.  I think there’s something about chasing and being chased that pushes people harder.

Have you done something similar?  What else do you to keep your training interesting?  Why not try it and let me know how you get on?


3 thoughts on “Catch The Pigeon Fartlek: Playing With Speed”

  1. This sounds like the “Indian” runs we did in high school. Not sure how politically correct the name was, but it was a similar premise. The person at the back had to haul it up to the front. Meaning, one person had their speed session at a time and could set the pace for a given amount of time.

  2. This sounds like a lot of fun! I love fartleks but tend to run on my own so have never done anything quite like that – although I may just have a secret game of catch the pigeon next time I’m out and try to catch up with random runners who don’t even know that they are pigeons. 🙂

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