Fartlek …

lek (v.)

of certain animals, “to engage in courtship displays,” 1871, probably from Swedish leka “to play,” cognate of English dialectal verb lake (see lark (n.2)). Related: Lekking.

In some birds such as grouse, birds of paradise and the Ruff the males congregate in some hallowed spot and put on a display. Females visit and make their choice. The most beautiful or vigorous or otherwise appealing males get the vast majority of the copulations, most males miss out. Larks incidentally lark about in individual displays, strictly speaking they are not lekking species.

Fartlek shares some of the etymology and I hope that by introducing the topic this way I have caused a momentary image of male athletes gathered together farting loudly in order to entice female athletes to have sex with them. But no, fart is the Swedish for speed. Fartlek is speed play. It’s a form of training that introduces bursts of high intensity exercise into long slow distance sessions, an informal means of pushing the heart rate up without the regimentation of interval training.

My training objectives are to increase endurance and increase my average pace. It means that there has to be sessions when I take a bit more out of myself than is comfortable so the plan is

  • One long ride a week
  • One interval session
  • One or two rest days
  • Three or four other rides.

Riding on my own I tend to go into a meditative state and set my pace by perceived effort. I hammer away at a pace just short of my lactate threshold. a habit formed in the remote past. When riding with others the convoy moves at the speed of the slowest ship (or breaks up). Someone is getting less of a workout than they would really like. If that’s me I like to inject the occasional burst of speed, get the heart into at least the cardio zone and then slow down to let my training partner catch up. Fartlek.

Not every ride has to be flat out, indeed going too hard too often will lead to a lethargy that leaves you too tired to undertake the next planned ride or declining performance. Fartlek is a good way to break up the other rides into small periods of effort and longer periods of recovery. It provides an opportunity to take in the scenery and keep the activity fresh.

Set aside the fart for the moment lekking is fascinating behaviour and the most fascinating of all is the Ruff Calidris ( formerly Philomachus) pugnax. Lekking males develop a neck collar whilst the Reeves, the females even have a different name, remain their usual plain selves.

The video shows the boys showing off and occasionally fighting …

… but most fascinating of all are the game players, the satellite males. The females gather to watch the spectacle and among them are some males that do not don their finery and join the competition. They simply take advantage of the odd excited female. Whilst the hottest Ruffs get to father the most offspring the sneaky copulaters also get to pass on their genes sufficiently often to account for a percentage of satellite males in the subsequent generation.

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