The Fartlek

running coach


This fun-to-say workout tends to give people some confusion. No, if you run a fartlek the person behind you doesn’t need to hold his breath. The word ‘fartlek’ is a Swedish  term that means “speed play”. And it truly is a way to have fun with faster running.

A fartlek run is basically a combination of a longer endurance run with some faster bouts of running mixed in. There are many great reasons to include fartlek runs in your schedule and there are many different ways of doing them.

Fartlek workouts prepare the body to adapt to different speeds helping you become faster over longer distances. Whereas intervals typically allow you to stop or walk for recovery, the fartlek workout is a continuous run but with varying speeds throughout. Your overall heartrate will likely be higher than the interval workout due to the lack of complete recovery between intervals. This helps the body become more efficient at clearing lactate from the muscles resulting in an overall faster runner.

What are the benefits of fartlek runs?

  • They improve your speed
  • They improve your endurance
  • They train your body to recover quicker
  • They are flexible (you can make it a very hard workout when you’re in peak training, or dial it down for an easier workout when your body needs a break or is tapering).
  • They prepare you for the ability to switch gears as needed (such as making a strategic surge during a race)
  • They can be customized  for runners of all levels
  • They are fun and offer variety to your routine workouts
  • They improve mental toughness, building willpower and the ability to keep pushing when you want to stop

What are some different fartlek workouts?

The classic fartlek workout is fun because there really are no rules. It is completely unstructured and based on spontaneous motivation and feel. Many runners will run their intervals to visual landmarks. “Run hard to the 5th mailbox. Now jog easy to the stoplight.”  “Run hard to the top of the hill. Jog to the big oak tree.” This is a great way to change up a boring running routine.

Structured fartleks have set times or distances for each surge. For example, you may run hard for 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 minute each with 2 minute easy jog between. Or you run 10 x 1-minute hard with a 2 minute jog between. How do these differ from an interval workout? They are very similar, yet typically with intervals you would stop or walk to recover. Fartlek training is meant to be non-stop running with varied pace throughout. You would continue jogging for recovery between harder segments.

Another great way to do a fartlek run is using hills. Pick a hilly route and do sprints up each hill and jog easy for recovery down hill and on the flats. There is no better way to build a stronger body and mind.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a great workout that uses both aerobic and anaerobic pathways to improve speed and endurance while adding some fun and flexibility, consider adding a fartlek run to your training. If you add these workouts once per week you are certain to start seeing some faster results.

2 thoughts on “The Fartlek

  1. David Reply

    This was an awesome read thank you so much. Reminded me how fun it was when I started running and would do speed play and didn’t know what it was. I’m totally throwing this back in.

    • suzi Swinehart Post authorReply

      Thanks for the comment, David. These are some of my favorite workouts, especially when you feel like you’re in a rut. Go have fun with them!

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