Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning speed play, and it’s a great way to get faster without an organized speed session. Fartlek is also a word that garners lots of giggles when used in front of children and immature adults. 🙂
The concept is very simple – pick up your pace for any given time until you need to recover, slow down to recover, and then repeat. Running fartleks is a very informal form of interval training, with no strict rules, no set distances, and no time goals.
Fartleks can be done alone, or when running with friends. As with other forms of speed work, you should be well warmed up before picking up your pace for your first fartlek.
Warm up for at least a mile, and once thoroughly warmed up, make it fun. It’s as simple as that. Pick a mailbox or street sign up ahead and make that your starting point. As soon as you reach that point, pick up your pace. Don’t run at a full out sprint, but pick up your pace so that you feel more challenged than you normally do on a run. When you need to recover, slow down. Once you slow down, pick another object in the distance for your next fartlek.
If you find yourself cutting your fartleks short, pick an object to run to instead of running until you need to recover. I actually find this type of fartlek training to be more fun. More often than not, the ending object pushes me a little farther than I would have gone on my own.
Fartleks are not necessarily the best workout for lazy runners. If you need a lot of structure, or find yourself cutting corners whenever possible, a track workout might be better for you. You might need the structure of being told you need to run eight 800-meter repeats at 3:20 each with a 200 or 400-meter recovery. If, however; you can be trusted to push yourself, you’ll find fartleks to be a fun alternative to a track workout.
There are many variations of fartleks, and you can certainly make up your own versions with a little creativity. Take your surroundings into consideration, and always make safety a priority.
Some of my favorite fartleks include:
- Run/Walk Fartleks – When I take my clients who are wanting to become runners out for a training session, I tell them we are doing run/walk fartleks. We walk as a warm up, and then run until they need a break. Rather than letting them walk immediately, I pick a tree in the distance and encourage them to continue running to that point. Once there, we walk until they are able to run again. If I don’t push them that extra bit, they will want to start walking the second they feel tired, not realizing they’re capable of running a little longer.
- Hill Fartleks – When running on rolling hills, you can run fartleks by picking up your speed when running up the hills, and recover on the flats and downhills. If you’re new to running, you can do the reverse. Pick up your pace on the downhills and run slowly, or power walk the uphills.
- City Block Fartleks – When training in the city (if the sidewalks aren’t too crowded), you can run the block fast, and then slow down to a recovery pace at every street crossing. This type of fartlek will have you running the speed portion of your intervals much longer than your recovery run. For these fartleks, you might want run at a slightly slower pick-up pace since your recovery is shorter.
- Photo Sprint Fartleks – I coined this term for when I pick up my pace to run ahead of my friends in order to turn around and take their pictures as they run toward me. On the contrast, sometimes I stop to take a picture of something along the trail and then I need to pick up my pace to catch back up. Not only am I able to take pictures along my run, but I get the added benefit of a little bit of interval training.
- GoPro Fartleks – Bill and I invented this form of fartlek running just this past Sunday. The person in front holds our GoPro (on a stick) out in front, filming our legs as we run. The lead runner picks up the pace while filming our strides. We both run strong as long as we see the red light flashing. Once the lead runner turns off the camera, we run at a recovery pace until the lead runner starts filming again and the red light returns to flashing.
Fartleks allow you to enjoy speed work without a lot of structure and rules, so get out there and have fun!
- When was the last time you fartlek’d when running with friends?
- Do you currently incorporate any type of speed work into your workouts?
- What other types of fartleks can you think of ?