What Even Is A Fartlek?

by | Mar 8, 2022 | Running

The first time I heard this term, I was in high school at track practice. I thought my coach made it up. I remember my teammates and me making fun of the name until we had to run the actual fartlek. After that, it was more like torture. So let’s review some standard running jargon to get you ready for your next training session.

Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play.” It’s continuous running. 

See torture. 

We would sprint until our coach blew the whistle and then jog at a leisurely pace. This workout was time-based but unstructured. It felt like we sprinted until we were about to puke, and then we got to jog for a short period. 

You can structure a fartlek workout however you like, but here are some examples. Warm-up first for 5-7 minutes. Then sprint for 30 secs and jog for 30 secs. Continue this for 5-15 minutes. Then cool down. As you build up some endurance, you can increase the sprint time to 60 seconds and jog for 90 seconds. 

During this workout, you are not building up for a certain distance but time. For example, if you want to run a 5K, try running 15-20 mins. 

Try up to 60 – 75 minutes (an hour and 15 mins) if you are training for a half or full marathon or a seasoned runner. 

If you think a fartlek and an interval run are similar, you would be correct!. In interval running, you can be sprinting or jog and then walk or rest for a short period. 

Interval training gives you various options to alternate between where a fartlek is sprinting to jogging. Interval running is a great way for beginners to start. 

As a beginner, you would begin by jogging a certain distance and then walk or rest. For this workout, you can focus on distance. For example, jog a quarter of a mile and then walk a quarter of a mile or until you are slightly recovered. Or you can run for 30 secs and walk for 30 secs. 

I remember my first tempo run. It was around 80 degrees (not a good idea), but I had to get it done (at least that’s what I told myself). I had to run 6 miles, and 4 miles was at tempo. Running at tempo means running close to your 10k pace. If you are unsure what your paces are, you can either look them up by looking for your goal race time or complete a mock 5k and find out your estimated pace. 

I used the Nike Run Club training plan when I was training, and a pace chart was included.  

 For example, if your best mile is 10 minutes, your 5k pace might be around 10:40 minutes per/mile, and your 10k would be 11:05 minutes per/mile. 

Your tempo run workout might look like this 5-7 minute warm-up followed by 4 miles at tempo that 11:05 pace followed by 5-7 minute cool down. Tempo runs help you adjust to running faster for a mid-range distance. 

Hills are my favorite type of run. It’s a challenging workout, but I consider them fun. You could use a pace to run up the hills, but I use effort. Run at a 6-8 effort depending on the length and duration of your hills. For example, if your hill takes 60 seconds to climb to the top of the hill, then 45 seconds should be around 6-7, and the last 15 seconds would be at an 8. Then, use the downhill as your recovery. If you can’t find a hill to run, you can simulate hills on the treadmill. The significant part is that you can choose your incline. 

Sprints are typically made on the track. Most workouts consist of repeat 200s or 400s, but you can have anything ranging from 100 meters to a mile. A track is broken into 4 100 meter sections. 2 100 meters straightaways and 2 100 meter curves. One curve and a straight is a 200m. One lap around is 400 meters. When you arrive at the track, you will find the main start and finish. The track’s main straightaway usually has a patch of the empty track behind it. If you look on the ground, the track is marked with a 110-meter start and a 100-meter start: 400-meter start and the main finish line. 

If you have a 600 meter, you will start at the 200-meter start, diagonal from the 400-meter starting line. If you are running with a group of friends, you don’t stagger, meaning finding the start line in your lane to run one lap around, then cut down to the inside lane as quickly as possible. You are running more distance outside the lanes around the curves. 

Most track workouts ask for a 5k pace. As a former sprinter, I would run faster, not because I was some hotshot. But because this was my comfort zone. My goal was to have my last repeats still in the pace range of the workout. This let me know I wasn’t over-exerting myself. 

Fartlek, Intervals, tempo runs, hill workouts, and track sprints are all considered speed work.  

Then you have a long run and recovery run. This run should be done as a progressive run. You are starting slower than your goal pace and building your speed throughout the run. Your long and recovery runs should be done 1-2 minutes slower than your goal race pace. 

I was suspicious of this technique. In my mind, I felt like I had to run faster for my longer miles to meet my goal time. But if you follow your speed training plan, it will work. Long runs are usually done on Saturday or Sunday. My training plan had them on Saturday, but I swapped them to Sunday because I wanted my body in a routine on race day. I also eliminated 50% of my recovery runs. On the days I removed them, I strength trained instead. 

I also ran fewer days than my training plan called for. Instead, I completed two-speed workouts, a long run, and an alternating Recovery run. My week looked like this: Monday – Recover or Strength, Tuesday – Speed, Wednesday – Strength, Thursday – Speed, Friday – Strength, Saturday – Rest Day or Yoga, Swim & Sunday Long Run. I didn’t want to run two days back to back because of shin splints that I developed during my first half marathon training. For clarity, I also swam two to three times a week, but I contributed my PR to strength training, and we will talk about cross-training in more detail in a future episode. Next week we are going to talk about fuel! But first, lets recap:

  1. Fartlek is an accurate word and is running non-stop, switching between sprinting and jogging. 
  1. Intervals are switching between jogging or sprinting then walking or stopping.
  1. Tempo runs at your 10k pace for a certain distance, usually 1-10 miles. It is about building confidence about being uncomfortable. 
  1. Hills – is building strength in a challenging workout. Have fun 
  1. Track workouts are shorter distances usually repeat 200 or 400 meters. 

These are all sprint workouts. 

  1. A Long-run is running a more considerable amount of mileage.
  1. A recovery run is a time to let your body recover but build strength under strength. 

Both of these runs should be about 1-2 minutes slower than your overall goal pace. Therefore, it should be done as a progressive run, starting slower than your recovery pace and picking up speed slowly. Remember, your overall pace should be 1-2 minutes slower than your goal pace. This is important. 

Written by Aaliyah

Aaliyah Earvin is a certified personal trainer, life & health coach, and 200 hour RYT yoga instructor, whose passion is helping others become more confident in their wellness journey! Aaliyah has her masters in Sports Management from American Public University and her bachelor's degree in Exercise Science from Youngstown State University where she ran collegiate track & field. When Aaliyah is not working with her clients, she loves running, swimming, cycling, lifting weights, and being active outside in nature with her kids.

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