Fartlek Run: Pro Level Tips to Help You PR in 2024

A fartlek run can be of the best things you can do in your training if you haven’t already implemented this into your schedule.

fartlek run

Every race we are faced with ever increasing changes in pace.

We get set into one pace and then find ourselves at the end of the race able to increase our cadence into an all-out sprint.

How can we one minute go from being 7 miles into a half-marathon thinking we are not going to finish the race and then not only finish but finish in a sprint at the completion of the distance?

Fartlek Run Definition

Fartlek running simply means running at differing speeds. For example, running 5 minutes at moderate pace followed by 2 minutes at easy pace. You can do 2 to 10 sets of this depending on your overall fitness.

Fartlek training teaches you to react to pace changes and if you are competing against someone else other than the clock you will know full well that you will be able to react because you did the work in training.

A fartlek run is a great way to get a huge physiological boost. You are running at very easy efforts but also at vo2 max and your anaerobic threshold. So, you can run at all 3 differing paces in the middle of this type of workout. Fartlek runs teach us to react to surges within the race that our competition may throw at us.

What Should Fartlek Pace Be?

It all depends on your fitness. A fartlek run workout may be a moderate effort in the beginning. For example, 3×4 minutes running at moderate effort (70-75% of your max heart rate) following by 2 to 3 minutes of easy, aerobic running. Of course, as you get fitter the paces can drastically increase. Perhaps, 20×1 minute hard (90-95% of max heart rate) followed by 1 minute of easy running.

There are so many ways you can tweak and adjust these forms of workouts. In addition, these workouts get you away from having to think about hitting specific splits on the track. It is a great way to break up the monotony of our training, spice things up a bit.

I would recommend first running easy, aerobic mileage for at least 4 weeks prior to starting a training plan though. The main reason is you want to minimize getting injured. Also, strengthening the muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments prior to starting faster, anaerobic training.

A fartlek run is unique in that there are no rules. You can run as fast as you would like or change up the paces as much as you permit yourself to do so.

You can set your Garmin to beep or vibrate every 2, 3, 5 or however many minutes you wish and have less then, equal to or more rest if need be.

You can set distance or time as your overall fartlek run goal.

I have attached a few of my favorite fartlek workouts that I would like to share and that have assisted me in the past.

Fartlek Run Examples

10×2 minutes hard followed by 1 minute easy.

I would highly recommend aiming to run 10-20 seconds below your goal race pace for the hard segments.

The ‘easy’ segments can be very relaxed as you are gaining fitness. Your paces will naturally increase even during the easy segments the better shape you get into.

Remember there are no rest periods in a race. So, it is vital to improve the body’s lactate tolerance. Easy running is still vital to ensure you recover from your hard workouts. That being said, we want to teach the body to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. The only way to do this is by running at higher intensiities.

Why is it Called Fartlek Training?

The word, fartlek, is a Swedish word that means speed play. So, although sounding humorous, it simply means we are changing up the intensities of our efforts. Your fartlek run may be based around time or by way of finding physical objects to run to.

For example, telephone poles. You can run fast to one, and run easy to the next while repeating the effort for a number of minutes.

This will come with time so don’t rush the process.

Always take value in the process.

Thinking of the event (the goal race) weeks and months in advance is normal, just don’t over think it.

Let your fitness come to you. What you are doing now, the process, is what counts.

5x2k with 1K Easy

The majority of my fartlek run workouts are done on the road. In addition, you can just as easily do them on the track.

Running on softer surfaces is best if you have that luxury. Here in the states we have far too much concrete or pavement.

This is a very tough workout in that it is 20 kilometers in length or just over 12 miles.

This is what I call my ‘dangerous’ workout.

I know I am ready when I am running around 4.50 pace for the hard segments and about 6 minute mile pace for the ‘easy’ recovery segments.

It is perfect if you are gearing up for the 5K to marathon distance.

It can make you incredibly strong for shorter distances and fully prepared for distances up to the marathon.

There is not a lot of recovery in this workout. The easy 1K segments are about 30 seconds slower than goal pace. Furthermore, the fast segments I try to hit about 10-20 seconds per mile faster than goal race pace.

Again, don’t jump into these distances right from the start of your training. We had to learn to crawl before we could walk, not the other way around.

 30×1 Minute Hard followed by 1 Minute Easy

Overall, we are talking about an hour of very hard running.

This is a great workout to teach you to be fully aware of any pace changes your competition throws at you.

This was my first fartlek workout I did as a collegiate athlete. I trained with 2.10 Kenyan marathoner, Gilbert Rutto, while I was attending Malone University in Canton, Ohio. Gilbert was an extremely dedicated and focused athlete who raced competitively into his 50s.

In closing, a fartlek run is a great tool you can add to your training regimen, Additionally, it teaches the body to deal with demand of ever increasing amounts of lactic acid within the blood stream.

Which is Better Fartlek or Interval?

I think they are both equal. You need to train at your vo2 max at least once per week. We run between 95 to 100 percent of our max heart rate running at vo2 max. The benefits of doing fartlek and intervals is it helps to make your goal race pace to feel easier. Of course, we do fartlek and interval workouts considerably faster than we are going to hold in a race.

It is not uncommon to do intervals and portions of fartlek workouts at sprint paces. So, you recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers running at these paces. The more of these we can recruit the more efficient we will race at. I also highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor. I use the Garmin 245 and it helps me to sustain the correct heart rate zones.

Also, it takes the pressure off of worrying what paces I am running at. So, I focus on the heart rate instead. Paces will increase the fitter you get. It is fun to see the changes in fitness and the decrease in pace per mile or kilometer the fitter we get. So, consider investing in one of these to help ensure you are not over training.

How Long Should Fartlek Last?

Remember, faster running is the only way to built up lactic tolerance. It doesn’t happen by running easy for long periods of time. Of course, running easy will build endurance and burn fat. That being said, it won’t help you when it comes to running all-out race efforts. It does have a part in it but speed work and longer tempo runs will help you to sustain race pace longer.

Lastly, if you have a specific goal in mind for your race faster fartlek run workouts such as these will get the job done.

The Kenyans make it look easy not because they are genetically talented.

They have trained their body’s physiology capability. There are a few of the physiological benefits of fartlek run workouts.

  • Fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment
  • Increased capillary bed development
  • Increased mitochondria production.

Closing Thoughts

I hope that this post has been helpful to you. Make sure to also start incorporating mental training into your routine. Mental training is commonly bypassed by most runners. Physical preparation is only 50% of the work. The world’s top runners combine them both. So, start spending 10 minutes daily visualizing yourself crossing the finish line with your goal time on the clock.

Remember, we have to train the mind just as we train the body. Also, pay attention to hydration. You want to drink, not sip, in your races. Of course, you may be able to get away with not drinking in a 5k. That being said, races like the 10k up to the marathon demand better fueling.

So, it is your turn now to take action and get a return on your investment with fartlek run workouts.

Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new videos each week to help runners such as yourself get to the next level.

There are also running courses and monthly, online coaching available here at RunDreamAchieve. You can view these options by looking at the navigation menu at the top of this website. I hope this post on fartlek run success has been helpful to you.

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