Fartlek Training

Fartlek, a staple workout adds freshness to your training by varying paces and terrain over a continuous run.

From the Swedish meaning- ‘speed play’ is defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slow recovery jogs.

The basic idea is to run hard during the ‘on’ section and try to recover on the ‘off’/easy section while maintaining a continuous run.

This occurs over a predetermined time period or distance. The focus is on being able to change and sustain different paces and being able to surge when needed.

It challenges the body to adapt to various speeds, conditioning you to become faster over longer distance.

It is great for a variety of fitness levels and can be customized according to personal preference and what your current training situation is.

Fartlek can be structured or run off feel. It can train and improve all energy systems with a range of speeds from aerobic to anaerobic running. It keeps things interesting while allowing you to run according to how you feel.

There are endless combinations of times/distance, paces, terrain to make your fartlek’s interesting. This training provides a lot of flexibility so you can do a high intensity session to really challenge yourself or a lower intensity session if you are tapering for a race or coming back post injury.

Fartlek training can be used to achieve different end goals, but it stays true to its original Swedish meaning, ‘speedplay’, a game of varying pace running.
Try to remain disciplined and compete the workout. Remain controlled and relaxed during the faster efforts and remember that the

recovery is part of the workout too! As you practice these, you will become more aware of your body’s limits and know what pace you are capable of running your efforts and recoveries.

They are a great way to get a hard and beneficial workout in without the mental stress of interval sessions where everything is measured precisely.

The key to successful fartlek running is in the recovery segment. It should be a decent float, not jogging especially for longer duration on/off’s as it is good to keep the heart rate up for the duration.

Instead of putting all your effort into the fast sections and struggling through a very slow recovery, you should control the fast section and maintain a better pace on the recoveries. This way, you will teach your body to recover whilst running at a fast pace.

You increase lactate levels during the ‘on’ sections, then your body must clear the lactate during the recovery segments in order to be ready to go hard again for the next fast effort.

Essentially, you are teaching your body to become better adapted to cope with and removing lactate at a faster pace during your recovery which will transfer to race day and allow you to race faster. This is when you really start to see your endurance take a positive turn.

This a particularly important mechanism for all 5k- marathon runners regardless of actual race speed.

Shorter faster sessions can also be used to improve speed and running economy.


The classic Mona Fartlek
20 minutes fartlek with rec the same as hard effort. It is a mixture of long and short intervals which is very demanding.

2 x 90s w/90s rec
4 x 60s w/60s rec
4 x 30s w/30s rec
4 x 15s w/ 15s rec

The classic and basic Canova Fartlek

20 x 1’on/1′ off

10 x 2′ on/1′ off

You can also use a basic combination of 12 x 45 sec hard/90 sec easy starting out for 5k training for example and build from there.

This is one of my fartlek sessions that I did last year. The efforts were increased as the length of ‘on’ section decreased.
6 x 90s on/45s off, 3′ easy, 8 x 60s on/off, 3’ easy, 3’, 8 x 30s on/45s off

3 x (4′ @ threshold, 2′ easy, 3 x 1′ hard, 1′ easy)

1’/2’/3’/2’/1’/2’/3’/2’/1′ hard with equal recovery

Always begin with at least a 10-minute warm up and a few strides to get the body prepared for the faster stuff to come in the session.

Strides are essentially short repeats of approx. 100m at faster speeds with plenty recovery. They develop neuromuscular coordination and efficiency at high speed. They are generally done at mile pace depending on your goal. Concentrate on maintaining good form and staying relaxed. They should feel choppy-legs should be turning over quickly.
Avoid tensing the neck, shoulders and arms. Tight muscles, clenched jaws and excessive movement all inhibit the body’s ability to run fast.

Enjoy getting creative with your new training sessions.

Michelle Greaney (Athletics Ireland Level 2 National Endurance Coach)

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