Run faster: the complete guide to fartlek training

Keen to run faster, but don't know where to start? Our comprehensive guide to fartlek training will get you up to speed.

Run faster: the complete guide to fartlek training

As a runner, you may have heard the word fartlek bandied around, but what does it actually mean?

Expert coaches at RunningWithUs explain what fartlek is and how to use it to increase your speed and up your pace.

What is fartlek?

Fartlek is the Swedish word for 'speed play'. It refers to a training technique used to increase speed and improve pace by adding small bursts of faster running into your routine at varied paces. For example, running faster from a certain bench to a lamppost, or running faster for a two-minute block, then running easily, followed by a 30-second burst at an even faster pace, and so on. 

For tips and tricks check out this video on fartlek training.

How does it work?

If you consider yourself to be ‘one-paced’, then fartlek training is ideal for helping you understand the various paces you are capable of.

You can either try a speed-play session or, as traditionally intended, you can keep the pace and duration of each interval random and spontaneous, which is ideal for the runner who gets intimidated or overwhelmed by the idea of a pre-structured interval session.
Fartlek is a really great way of training on your own and making that same old weekly route interesting!

To incorporate fartlek into your running, try these simple steps:

'3 min, 2 min, 1 min'

If you want to prove to yourself that you do have more than one speed, give this mixed-pace session a go.

Warm up by running for 10-15 minutes at an easy pace, Then run the three-minute block at your half marathon race effort, run the two-minute block faster at your 10K race effort, then the one minute faster still at your 5K race effort. In between each block, jog easily for one minute to recover. Repeat two, three or four times, depending upon experience.

You will quickly discover the different paces you are capable of while working on speed!

Keep the blocks random

Your aim is to run a 45-minute run, including between 6 and 10 spontaneous ‘pick-ups’ depending upon experience. Keep these blocks varied in pace and judge them by time or landmark.

Ensure you don’t get into simply doing fast 10-second bursts. Two-minute or three-minute blocks are essential for working on speed endurance as a runner, so some of these random pick-ups must be longer.

Vary the terrain

Complete your fartlek session on a hilly, undulating and off-road route, in order to maximise strength, improve your conditioning and reduce the impact of running on tarmac or treadmill. 

Cross training

You can complete very successful ‘speed play’ sessions on a static gym bike or x-trainer by varying the level, effort and resistance. This builds fitness without the impact of running and makes that weekly cross-training session more interesting!

Things to remember

Fartlek really doesn’t need to be complicated and can be successfully achieved if you stick to these golden fartlek rules:

  • Keep the recovery runs at an easy jogging pace rather than walking.
  • Ensure you vary your pace to challenge different energy systems.
  • Don’t keep each block the same length - variety of duration is key.

Avoid using a GPS and run to effort. Fartlek is meant to teach you how varying efforts feel.

Combine fartlek with tempo or threshold training for best results.

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