Fartlek your way to faster fitness

Soldier running in waterFartleks are a great way to quickly increase your running strength and stamina. Unlike interval training which involves increasing intensity for consistent times throughout a run, Fartleks are more dynamic, and also make use of the terrain to create a less controlled workout.

Fartlek is a Swedish word that means playing with speed. So the emphasis of Fartlek training is increasing speed over different distances and times, and ideally on various inclines. So, how do you do fartleks?

To do a Fartlek running session, simply find a running route that allows you to easily add some 2 minute quicker runs and 45 second sprints into your usual run.

To start, warm up for about 10 minutes with a steady jog, and then run at approximately 80% max intensity for 2 minutes, then slow to a recovery pace for 2 minutes. Follow this with a 45 second sprint (aim to run flat out for 45 seconds).

The aim of the 45 second sprint is to mimic the intensity levels of a professional 400m sprinter, although do not worry if you do not run 400m in 45 seconds! Where is the best place to fartlek?

Fartleks work best outdoors and off pavements, i.e. in parks, public footpaths, beaches etc. where there are no obstacles, roads to cross and few other people around.

You need to be able to run without worry of knocking pedestrians over while storming across the imaginary 400m finish line. If you are fortunate enough to live in a hilly area, then utilizing the hills can work very well.

Use the longer hills for the 2 minute quick runs, and the short hills for the 45 second sprints, then use the downhill sections for recovery jogs and the flats for the steady run.

Example of a Fartlek session

  • Warm up with some easy running for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Run at a steady, hard speed for 1.5–2.5 kilometres (0.93–1.55 mi); this is like a long repetition.
  • Recovery period: brisk walking for about 5 minutes.
  • Start of speed work: easy running interspersed with sprints of about 50–60 metres (160–200 ft), repeated until a little tired.
  • Easy running with three or four “quick steps” now and then (simulating suddenly speeding up to avoid being overtaken by another runner).
  • Full speed uphill for 175–200 metres (574–656 ft).
  • Fast pace for 1 minute.
  • The whole routine is then repeated until the total time prescribed on the training schedule has elapsed.

Planning your fartlek run is essential, as you can easily spend too much time searching for the ideal spot for a sprint otherwise.

Circular routes work well so that you can repeat the Fartlek workout several times in one run, and build on your speed, and learn your limits.


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