fartleck: a love/hate relationship made in track heaven

For someone who started her running passion with track & field, you would think that track time is my favorite training... ummm, no.  You would be wrong.  Aside from a track meet, running in circles is akin to running on the treadmill.  Yet it is a necessary evil in many ways.  There are many track workouts as there are techniques, and if I had to pick a "favorite" I have one word: FARTLEK. 

Yes, it has a funny name that its even more fun to say.  But this workout, if done right, is a buttkicker of a workout that leaves you feeling accomplished... and tired.  Fartlek is a Swedish word that means "speed play.”  You can expect a good fatlek to last about 45 minutes.  This workout truly can be done anywhere, not necessarily the track, but the track allows me to focus on the running and not worried about traffic or other distractions. 

Technically this is considered an interval training, with the main difference being that interval training is a time routine of recurring high-intensity rounds followed by cool down periods. In contrast, a fartlek routine puts the cycles of high and low intensity work at your discretion. You can vary the intensity and speed at which you run, plus how often. However, you will need to achieve 60%-80% of your optimal pulse, which you can ascertain by simply subtracting your age - 220. (Competitor).

Warm Up

Warm up is a MUST.  Do not jump into a fartlek run without warming because you risk the chance of injury since your muscle tissue is not ready for the intensity of the sprinting.  A 5-10 min. warm up works well, allowing your body to be ready and prepared for the sprinting ahead.  I personally like grass drills before a fartlek.  It allows me to warm and stretch while doing it.  Two of the main warm ups I do are: heels to glutes and leg swings, perfect to get the blood flowing.

How To Do It

There are basically two main techniques to fartlek: one by perceived exertion and the other by goal.   If you are new to this type of interval workout you could determine what intensity you want to at.  For example these are two favorites of mine:
  •  at the track you sprint on the straights and jog (or walk) on the curves. 
  • a great beginner workout is to run for thirty seconds to 1 minute, jog for five minutes-- repeating until you get to 10 sprints. 
  • If you are running on the street, you may pick a point to sprint to like a stop sign and another to jog to. 

Why I ♥ It

Simple: it is an awesome routine to incorporate into your running training plan.  While I am not at the pace I want, since January I have improved my time by 2:00 minutes and I attribute the fartlek runs to that progress.  Yes, it kind of sucks while you are doing it because you are making your body switch intensity constantly BUT it improves your stamina and speed.  If you want to get more technical, and biologically speaking, your blood cell's will offer oxygen more quickly into your muscle tissues plus your ability to tolerate lactic acid buildup will improve. (Competitor)  If you ask me, sounds like a win-win situation.  Happy fartlek! :D

Is fartlek part of your running routine?  Do you like it?


  1. This is really a great post! I have to say I actually love speed work. I haven't tried it on a local track but I really should. Usually I do speed intervals on the treadmill which gets pretty boring. At least on a track you're outdoors!!

  2. John used to love a good fartleck when he was training in college–the funny word and the good workout make it pretty irresistible!

  3. I've never done it before... but I know I need to do it ... I need to work on speed & I know this is key.
    Plus, I just want to tell everyone I worked on fartleks just to see their reactions :)

    1. Teehee! I like saying too! Gosh, aren't we mature! Haha!

  • Great post! I love speed work but sometimes have trouble fitting it in. Definitely need to get on the track more! Thanks for joining the #wowlinkup :)

  • I like Fartlek training over interval training any day, it makes it more fun because you can choose to increase your speed and the duration of the speed when you are ready. I do Fartlek training when I bike. Thanks for the article and visiting from the #wowlinkup

    1. Excellent! I am the same way about fartlek because intervals is so strict about timing and distance. The perceived exertion works better for me. And you are right, fartlek can be done in the bike. I also like doing it on the rowing machine. Hard workout.