Fartlek equals fun. And not only because the name might make you giggle. No. These workouts are perfect for breaking any boredom you might experience from the monotony of doing the same structured workouts week after week, month after month.
Fartlek is a Swedish term that means “speed play.” You can think of it as a mix between steady-state running and an interval session. You run steady and pick up the pace for a surge interval every now and then throughout the length of the run.
That means you continuously vary your pace but don’t slow down to a walk.
Your maximum speed will not match your interval sessions. Still, your overall heart rate will be higher because you keep running throughout the workout.
Fartleks develop your endurance and speed in one session.
3 Reasons Why Fartleks Are Your Secret Weapon
1. Fartleks Are A Versatile Speed Workout
The one cool thing about fartleks is that you can run them in a structured or unstructured way.
Unstructured fartleks are the true “originals,” and only your feel and inspiration dictate the length of the surge. You can simply go by feel or use popular landmarks to determine the start and end. For example, I frequently run the same trails. When doing fartleks, I will use particular landmarks, like old trees, trail signs, or a lake, as the start and endpoint for my surges.
If the thought of not having any structure at all scares you, then fret not. You can also structure your fartleks. For example, you can run fast for 1 minute and then recover for 1 minute. Repeat until you have covered 45 – 60 minutes of running.
The great thing about fartleks is that you can also play with the intensity of the runs. Depending on where you are at in your training cycle, your fartleks can be a challenging workout or an easy run.
Feeling good? Attack every hill and recover with a slower pace on the downhills. Feeling tired? Pick up the pace every now and then but keep it easy.
2. Fartleks Strengthen Your Mental Muscles
If you want to improve as a runner, you need to condition your body and your mind.
You need to be willing to get out of your comfort zone regularly and keep going when you want to slow down or give up.
When a competitor passes you, you need to be able to muster the strength and courage to keep up your pace or even ramp it up instead of feeling defeated and slowing down.
Practicing picking up the speed several times throughout a medium to hard effort strengthens your willpower.
It also strengthens your self-belief.
You will learn that you have more in you than you thought. That you can indeed pick up the pace again. That you can fight the urge to give up mentally mid-race.
A medium to hard fartlek workout teaches you how much you can push yourself during shorter surges while keeping your ability to finish the session without needing to slow down substantially or walk.
3. Fartleks Are The Closest You Can Get To A Race Day Situation
Think about your standard workouts for a minute. What do tempo runs and steady-state runs have in common? They are usually run at the same pace for the entirety of the session.
And what is the typical structure of all interval sessions? Correct. You run hard for a set interval and then recover by jogging lightly or walking.
How do these standard workout types compare to running an actual race?
In a race, you don’t run at a steady pace for the whole length of the run. Nor is it all that helpful to lightly jog or walk after a surge.
Here’s is where fartleks differ.
They mimic race day situations in a training environment. In a race, you will run faster to keep up with surging competitors and keep running at a faster, steady pace until the next surge 😉.
You train your body to keep up with the varying speeds during a race by running frequent fartleks.
Example Fartlek Workouts
There are a virtually limitless number of fartlek workouts you can design. Below are my 3 favorite fartlek runs. I have at least one of those in any given week.
1. Hilly Fartleks
I have a small park close to my home, with some artificial hills. I live in the middle of Berlin, Germany, so that is the closest I can get to a proper hill workout during a typical workday. I will run up the hills hard and recover at the downhills.
Sometimes, I will do a few hills early in the workout, and once I tire, I simply run a longer loop and return to the hills less frequently. I still try to run each uphill hard until the end of the workout.
2. One Minute “On” / One Minute “Off”
This is a very basic structure of a timed fartlek. I simply run 1 minute hard and 1-minute “float” and continue this pattern for the entirety of the run. I like to use this style when running small loops in a new area. It is also a good pattern for a treadmill workout on those days when you can not train outside.
3. Unstructured Fartleks
This is hands down my favorite type of fartlek run and my favorite workout overall.
If I had to choose one workout type for the rest of my running career, it would be unstructured fartleks.
They are enjoyable on trails that I know well and pick landmarks to run to. For example, on one of my routes, there are grazing areas for cattle that you can enter via gates. I know where those gates are and decide to run from one to the next faster and recover between the next two gates.
Or I know where road crossings will be and decide at one point to run the rest of the segment fast until I reach the road.
If you listen to music during your runs, you can design your playlist so that you run fast for the duration of one song and slower for the next two. I prefer to stay in my own head during my runs, so I can not give you a good playlist, but you get the idea 😉.
Remember To Have Fun
Fartlek running takes you back to your childhood. Run as fast as you can, recover, repeat. Chase the high of chasing after a landmark goal in the distance, or have fun with your running buddies chasing each other. Enjoy yourself and have fun. You’ll be a better runner if you do.