Why coaches love fartleks…

The word may make non-runners giggle, but the best distance runners in the world do fartlek workouts regularly, and so should you. Here’s why…

The word fartlek is Swedish for speedplay, and that’s what it is – literally playing around with speed. It is an unstructured (or semi-structured) continuous run where periods of different speeds are mixed in. You can make it as simple, or as complex as you wish, and therein lies some of the fun. It’s a relaxed, fun and varied way of bringing speed training into your running.


There are lots of ways of doing fartleks (see the list below for some ideas to try out) and each brings benefits. The purpose may be to build speed, or endurance, or getting your legs turning over faster pre race, or making neuromuscular connections – the benefits are numerous and will depend on what speed and distance you do your faster paces at. Fartlek leaves a lot of control to the runner – you can choose paces and distances for your efforts, without necessarily having a detailed structure. Unlike speed training on a track, it can be more representative of racing as you cover a variety of terrains, at a variety of training and unlike intervals, you don’t rest or recover fully between.


They are a great way to introduce faster running into your schedule without having specific pace targets to meet which can reduce pressure, especially for less experienced runners. Fartleks put the runner in control – feel good? Run the hard bit harder. Tired? Try running at 70-80% effort for the harder sections rather than 90%. Unlike so many of our runs nowadays, you can also ignore your watch and just run by feel, or by visual cue.



So how do you run Fartleks?
Whilst some of your run may be at easy effort, this is a workout, so warm up well (usually 1km-1mi easy effort) and then introduce some speedplay. Below are some workouts for you to try. Make sure you cool down and stretch after.



Fartleks by time.
If you’re running the faster segments by time, you can ignore pace and go by effort, rather than by numbers. Ignore the terrain, part of the beauty of fartlek runs is that they work on road, off road, on the flat or over hills.

Try one of these workouts:

  • One min fairly hard (70-80% effort) each half mile or km or mile, the rest of the distance easy. You can do this with 2 mins as well. If you’re feeling good, up the effort to 90%.


  • Alternating hard / easy effort over the course of your run e.g.
    1 min hard effort / 2 min easy effort
    2 min hard / 4 min easy.
    Or mix in some steady work such as 3 mins easy / 2 mins steady / 1 min hard.


  • “Mona” fartleks – a session used by distance runner Steve Moneghetti. Start with 10 min warm up then
    90s hard / 90s easy x 2
    60s hard / 60s easy x 4
    30s hard / 60s easy x 4
    15s hard / 15s easy x 4.
    Cool down.
    Vary your hard / easy paces depending on your target race. If you are going for short distances, take your easy very easy, and run the hard as hard as possible. If you are focused on longer distances, run steady rather than easy on the easy segments.


  • 6/5/4/3/2/1-min efforts, getting faster as you go through, with 90 secs easy or steady running between; or four sets of 3/2/1 mins, with 60-90 secs ‘off’ between the efforts and sets.



Fartleks by distance or other cue.
If you don’t want to worry about time, or want to run without looking at your watch, doing Fartleks by visual cue or distance is a great way to go. If you’re doing this, don’t worry about time, or pace. Go on effort, and enjoy!

Try some of these to get you started: 

  • Run easy for half a mile, steady for half a mile, hard for half a mile, drop back down to easy.


  • Use visual cues to run hard then easy e.g.
    Lamppost Fartleks – run hard to one lamppost, jog to the next. If you don’t live in a built up area, try running hard to a gate, easy to the next, or any other visual cue.
    Junction Fartleks – run hard to one road junction, easy to the next and repeat (don’t run hard across the road without looking!)


  • Hill fartleks – great hill training without the repeats, run a reasonably undulating route and every time you hit an uphill, run hard. Then take the downhills and flats at an easy effort.


  • Group Fartleks – run in a group. The first person decides on a time or visual cue to run hard to, then the next group member determines the length of the easy segment. Switch between all people in the group determining the pace and length of the next segment.


  • Audio cues – there are some great podcasts out there that provide audio cues for Fartleks. For example, the cross run podcast has beginner, intermediate and advanced fartlek podcasts you can listen to when running and give audio cues of when to change pace and what to.



Above all, Fartleks are there to be enjoyed. They should bring flexibility and freedom to your running whilst allowing you to experiment and practice at different paces. Get out there and enjoy!

Do you have a favourite fartlek run? Please let us know below.


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Martin Hulbert

Running Coach & Personal Trainer Leicestershire

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