What is a fartlek? They’re a speed run you’re going to love. Why? Well, first of all they’re called “fartleks”. How can you not love that?

Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”. And that’s the second reason you’ll love fartleks — it’s not speedWORK. It’s speedPLAY.

Fartleks are great introduction to speeding up, and also a great transition from off-season to race season. A quick note: speedwork isn’t for brand new runners. But if you’re brand new, that’s OK! You don’t need speedwork to become faster. Just your continued running and/or increased distances will make you more efficient, more fit, and faster. Lucky you.

What is a fartlek?

What is a Fartlek?

A fartklet is a run with periods of fast running and slower running. That’s it. It’s unstructured speedplay where you pick short distances to run fast, then slow back down. Rinse and repeat. There are no stopwatches, rubber tracks, meter marks, heart rate or pace monitors involved. By the way, I vote we call each period of fast running a fartlek, so you run multiple fartleks in a session. Anyone else want to join me on that? 🙂

What is a fartlek? Watch

No watch or pace ranges needed

How do you run a fartlek?

After a warm up and during your run, pick a point to start running faster and a point to slow back down. This is different from just sprinting until you slow down. This is a tiny planned session.

What sort of points do you pick? A mailbox, a light post, a tree, the next block. If you’re running with a friend or group, alternate who picks the end point for funsies.

What speed do you go? You can vary your speed or efforts for each period. See how different speeds feel. It’s playtime, remember?

Focus on your form and learn about recovery as well as speed. In your first fartlek sessions, you will learn how to push to a finish when you pick a spot that didn’t seem that far when you started. And you will also learn how it feels to cruise through a finish and slow down before the fatigue hits.

How often should you fartlek? Once a week for 15 to 30 minutes is a great starting point.

What is a fartlek? Park

Maybe not EVERY palm tree…

Why should you do fartleks?

  1. Excellent way to start speedwork
  2. Practice acceleration and deceleration. Learn how to change gears and engage different muscle fibers.
  3. Get to know your body at different paces and conditions. You learn how your body feels when it’s “fully recovered” from a speed burst. You experience different heart rates. You get a feel for hard vs medium efforts. You can get a feeling for jogging vs walking in a recovery. All of these things will help you tackle harder speedwork sessions down the road.

Fartleks are a great transition for those entering the racing season. Fartleks can wake up your body so you don’t smash into speedwork like a crazed, stiff madman. Even after serious speedwork enters the picture, slipping them in for a track session can remind your body about different terrains and effort vs MUST MATCH THIS SPECIFIC PACE OR ALL IS LOST. Don’t get me wrong though, coaches have also created super-structured fartleks as a race specific training ingredient.

I love running fartleks. They feel like a no pressure win-win situation. Oakley loves running fartleks, too. He loves picking up speed then slowing down, then doing it all over.

What is a fartlek? dog

Oakley the Cattle Dog

Fartleks are a perfect way to introduce different speeds into your running life. They’re casual and don’t need planning, a marked rubber track, or the perfect pre-run meal (else you fall apart like a race pace or tempo run). If you’re beginning to feel comfortable or one-pace in your running life, try out some fartleks today.

Further reading:

  1. Runner’s World: Speed Dial (Tips for beginner, intermediate, and advanced)
  2. Breaking Muscle: What the Fartlek?
  3. The Guardian: Fartlek: Sweden’s Gift to Running (blog post)

What is a fartlek?

Tell me how your first fartlek session goes in the comment section below!