Fartleks are a great way to introduce yourself to speedwork. That's right, the funny-sounding word that makes high school runners giggle on the first day of cross country practice can make training fun, while helping you get faster.
Fartlek, a Swedish term meaning speedplay, dates back to 1937, when it was developed by Swedish coach Gosta Holmer as part of Sweden's military training. Fartleks are continuous runs during which you pick up the pace at different times, when you reach specific landmarks, or simply based on how you feel. Distances, speeds, and recovery periods can vary within the same workout.
Fartleks can be used to learn different paces, work on race tactics, respond to other runners' surges, add variety and fun to your training, and as a transition into more formal speedwork. They're a good way to ease back into quality training from an injury and to step back from the psychological intensity of interval workouts on the track. Choose from this menu of fartleks. You can do them on trails, through parks or on the road.
The Classic Fartlek1 of 8
Depending on your ability and level of training, run 3 to 8 miles, changing the pace throughout the run based on how you feel. For this workout, there is no set paces or times; you shouldn't even wear a watch other than to keep track of the total time you're running.
The Classic Aerobic Fartlek2 of 8
A variation of the classic fartlek, run 3 to 8 miles, picking up the pace according to how you feel. All of the speeds used throughout the run should remain aerobic, with the acidosis (lactate) threshold being the fastest speed. Your acidosis threshold is your fastest sustainable aerobic pace, above which lactate accumulates and acidosis develops in your muscles. The pace corresponds to about 20 seconds per mile slower than 5K race pace and should feel comfortably hard.
The Classic Anaerobic Fartlek3 of 8
Another variation of the classic fartlek, run 3 to 8 miles, picking up the pace according to how you feel. All of the pick-ups used throughout the run should be anaerobic, all being faster than acidosis threshold pace, with only the recovery periods between pick-ups being aerobic.
The 3-2-1 Fartlek4 of 8
Run 3 to 6 miles, picking up the pace for 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute with equal time jog recovery. Repeat this 3-2-1 pattern throughout the run.
The Ladder Fartlek5 of 8
After an adequate warm-up, run 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes hard with equal time jog recovery. More advanced runners can do two sets.
Variation: For a sprint ladder fartlek, do 3 to 4 sets of a 30-second sprint, 1-minute sprint, 1:30 sprint, and 2-minute sprint with 2 minutes jog recovery.
The Pyramid Fartlek6 of 8
After an adequate warm-up, run 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute hard with equal time jog recovery.
Variation: Run 2 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes, 4 minutes, and 2 minutes hard with 3 minutes jog recovery.
Tee to Green7 of 8
On a golf course, starting at the first tee, run hard from the tee to the green, with a jog recovery from the green to the next tee. Run as many holes of the golf course as is reasonable for your ability and fitness level.
If you want to include speedwork in your training without the intimidation of the track, try these fartleks. Not only will you increase your range of running speeds and get faster, you may also begin to giggle every time you hear the word.