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Fartlek Training: Blend Continuous Training with Interval Training

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My friend laughed out loud and cracked a joke or two when I mentioned Fartlek training while discussing techniques on how to speed up our daily running pace. Yes, the name does illicit some (immature) sneers but blame the Swedes for the punny name. But on a second thought, you should also applaud them for structuring one of the best running workouts that have more to it than just the absurd name.

FARTLEK- the term may sound funny to the common folk but to the runners, it is a reversible topic. Born, in 1973, out of Swedish coach Gosta Holmer’s analytic approach to help the downtrodden Swedish cross-country running teams, Fartlek is a running method in which “faster-than-race pace” tactic is used.

Let’s find out more about Fartlek training and understand how to maximize the benefits of the Swedish running technique for your next race.

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What is Fartlek Training

Fartlek training is speed play
Fartlek Training focuses on speed workouts (source)

The name “Fartlek” is of Swedish origin which means “speed play” and incorporates continuous training with interval training. Instead of running continuously at a particular speed for a fixed distance, Fartlek training directs you to break your running course into periods of fast running interspersed with intervals of slower running- kind of like a mix of jogging and sprinting, with sections of walking as well.

The variable pace and intensity lay stress on both aerobic and anaerobic systems of the body, making it stronger and more immune. The best part of the Fartlek training is that it is unstructured or not predefined, meaning that the intensity or the pace speed varies according to the athlete’s wish.

For more details read on Fartlek training: History, Benefits, and Workouts

Why Base Training Comes Before Fartlek Workouts

Base training
Base Training is Essential Part of a Training Program (source)

Runners can build solid mileage base by including Fartlek workouts in their base training. A solid base training is critical for runners to complete Fartlek workout to enable them to run faster and longer.

Base training focuses on developing the necessary muscle fibers, increase cardiovascular capacity, and improve blood capillaries to give the body the ability to do intense workouts. As a runner, you should immerse yourself in base training for at least two months before kicking in with speed workouts like Fartlek.

Livingit Tip:
Skip your old workout shoes while performing the base training.

After you have developed a strong training base, move on to the speed workouts like Fartlek training to enhance performance for the races. Fartlek training is relatively intense, hence prepare your body’s strength and endurance level by running at least two months prior to Fartlek workouts.

Starting out with Fartlek training too soon could lead to over-training and cause long-term serious running injuries.

How to Do Fartlek Workouts

How to Do Fartlek Runs
A Simple Fartlek Workout (source)

Now, the concept of Fartlek training might appear simple, there are a few pointers to be noted to optimize this running workout:

Let’s check out!

  • For each 1 mile, warm up and cool down
  • Choose the convenient time or distance to run for your “on” and “off” phases. You can use a GPS watch to determine the distance or a simple digital watch to set the time.
  • Your “off” run pace should be 60-75% of your “on” run pace
  • Begin with four Fartlek repeats at 1 minute “on” and 2 minutes “off” before increasing the repeat counts, with at least 5 miles of Fartleks (7 miles with warm up and cool down)
  • After you have overcome the challenge of doing Fartleks for 1 minute on and 2 minutes off, bring down your “off” phase to 1 minute before moving up your “on” phase time. Reducing the rest time will offer a huge challenge to maintaining pace control but this will also increase mental grit and endurance level.
  • Take time while transitioning from “on” to “off” phase and vice-versa. Keep your stride pace stronger and faster than your 5K race pace
  • After you’ve mastered 1 minute “on” and 1 minute “off” phase at a speed faster than your 5K race pace, build up your “on” phase time. However, ensure that you have half the “on” phase as your “off” phase. For example, If your repetitive “on” phase time is 4 minutes, your “off” Fartlek repeat should be 2 minutes
  • At any stage, if you hit a running plateau, jazz up your Fartlek routine by increasing the pace or mixing it up with varying distances or time phases. For example, Fartlek repeats of 1 minutes, 4 minutes, 30 seconds, 30 seconds, 2 minutes, and 1 minute.

Livingit Tip:
An easier technique is to run for 2 minutes “on” with 2 minutes “off”

Next, we shall discuss how to use Fartlek training for long-distance races like a marathon, half marathon, 10k and 5k.

Fartlek Training - From 5k races to Marathons

Fartlek training for long-distance races
Fartlek Workouts is Quite Helpful in Endurance Events (source)

Better than the traditional speed workouts, Fartlek runs target speed and endurance more effectively. In long-distance races, runners often seem to get stuck in a slump. When that happens, you can effectively break the monotony with Fartlek workouts.

Are you planning to run long-distance races? If so, then here’s how you can utilize the Fartlek training to optimize your chances in the race.


The objective of 5K training is to make a runner habituated in dealing with discomfort for a short amount of time, hence design your workouts to serve that purpose. To run a strong 5K, a quick cadence and fast foot turnover are vital. So, include Fartlek training that emphasizes quick bursts of vigorous running to help you become a more efficient runner while preparing your body for the demands of 5K race specific speed work.

This 5K Fartlek is actually a versatile workout which a runner can utilize anytime, irrespective of a 5K or a marathon training. An ideal workout for the early stages of training, 5K Fartlek helps you during the transitioning phase- from base training to speed work.

The 5K Fartlek Workout

At an easy pace, warm up to 2 miles. Repeat 12 repetitions of hard running at 5K race effort (or slightly faster) for 1 minute and easy running for 1 minute. Cool down with 1 mile of easy running. Take short and quick steps during the hard-running portion.


If 5K runners look for speed enhancement, then10K runners want to achieve a striking balance between speed and endurance. To do a successful 10K run, you need to learn how to keep running at a fairly hard pace for a considerable amount of time. This means that runners must have a smart sense of pacing- not starting out too fast and pacing down over the last 2 miles.

For 10K runners, the ideal period for Fartlek runs is in the initial training week because in the final weeks (just before the race), you should practice running at your goal pace with measured distance workouts like 800 meter or mile repeats.

The 10K Fartlek Workout

After a 3-mile warm-up jog, run for 4 minutes with maximum effort followed by a segment of 2 minutes easy, 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy, 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, and 1 minute hard. Again, run effortlessly for 5 minutes and then repeat the Fartlek before cooling down with 2 miles of jogging. Your hard effort should match with your 10K to 5K race effort. Ensure that you are able to sustain an even effort for all the hard-running intervals without slowing down.


Many runners complain that they seem to bog down after running the first 8-10 miles of a half marathon, des of gliding along at a comfortably hard pace. No matter how hard you push, you just cannot go beyond or break loose from vicious pace and as you check your Garmin, you realize that you are actually slacking off.

If this has happened to you, then it’s time to take a page from the Fartlek training manual.

The purpose of the half marathon fartlek workout is to train your legs to pick up the pace after you’ve been pounding for several miles. Adding a few fartlek long runs into the half marathon training will reduce your struggle to crank up the speed during those last few miles of the race. Half-marathon Fartlek workouts will give you a leverage over other runners and help you finish your race strongly.

The Half-Marathon Fartlek Workout

Start with easy running for 8 miles at your normal long run pace. After completing 8 miles, switch between 2 minutes at tempo effort and 2 minutes at an easy effort for 4 miles, do it at half marathon effort (or just slightly faster). Your tempo effort should be comfortably hard with a breathing pattern of 2 counts inhale, 2 counts exhale. This workout will give you at least 12 miles and can easily replace an easy long run.

This Fartlek workout is also gives results if you are training for a 10-mile race!


The priority of marathon training is long runs, goal pace runs, and gradually increasing your weekly running mileage. And so, fartleks are an ideal speed workout plan for marathoners. However, remember that too much speed work during marathon training will give away to injuries before you can reap the benefits of regular speed work. Having said that, let’s understand how fartleks help to improve aerobic fitness in the marathoners.

Marathoners run at a harder effort, pushing their bodies to the limit covering long runs and high mileage. Try running according to your effort in order to avoid pushing yourself harder than your limit just to hit an arbitrary split time. Fartlek workouts usually allow you to cover less distance at a lesser intensity than the traditional speed work, and this makes it ideal for marathoners.

Now, long fartlek training are excellent forms workout for full marathoners but don’t underestimate the value of short bursts of hard running when you’re training for endurance demanding events. Keep your fartlek intervals between half marathon and 10K effort to get all of the benefits of speed work without any injury hazard.

The Marathon Fartlek Workout

Spread this fartlek workout across the earlier and middle weeks of your marathon training phase. Start the warm-up for 3 miles, then do 6-8 repeats of 3-minute running at a 10K effort pace followed by 2 minutes of easy running. Finish up by cooling down with 3 miles of running.

These Fartleks will help runners to cover just about half a mile, but comparatively, they’re easier on the mind and the body than those 600 meters or 800 metres repeats. Meanwhile, runners can cover as high as 11 miles in this workout, depending on the speed and repeat numbers. This means that this marathon Fartlek workout will also boost your endurance meter.

When to Avoid Fartlek Training

Avoid Fartlek workouts when injured
Avoid Fartleks After a Race or Intense Workout (source)

As funny as the name may sound, Fartlek training is a serious workout. It demands a certain degree of intensity that calls for caution before attempt and awareness while implementing this unique running workout in your training sessions.

Hence, follow the given steps while executing Fartlek workouts training:

  • Consult with a physiologist before attempting Fartleks training program
  • Build a strong base training and steadily move into Fartlek runs
  • Avoid static stretching before a workout as this can cause muscle pulls and other injuries. Perform dynamic stretches warm up your muscles
  • Avoid Fartleks in case of an injury or if you’re in the recovery phase
  • Skip Fartleks the next day of a race or intense workout
  • Do Fartleks only once a week and substitute it for a track workout. You can alternate between Fartlek workouts and track intervals every consecutive week.

And that’s how you can play Fartlek training in your favor while running special events. Fartlek workouts should be done on the tracks. This is because the repetitive motion of the track increases the risk of running injuries like IT brand syndrome due to the flat surface. Smooth trails and concrete roads are the best courses for doing Fartleks. In addition, runners will also learn how to pace as elevation rises and drops.

Therefore, take a break from the traditional speed workouts and refresh your training routine with Fartlek workouts.

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