What is Fartlek training?

Running coach Dave Taylor explains how to use unstructured speed work in your training programme


by Dave Taylor |

You may have come across the word "Fartlek" in relation to run training and been put off, thinking that it sounds technical or complicated. Don’t worry - Fartlek training is very simple! Translated from Swedish as “speed play”, it is simply an unstructured form of interval training alternating bouts of fast then slow (or hard then easy) running. Whereas structured intervals involve running for set durations or distances, Fartlek training is much less regimented.

An example would be to choose a route with obvious features that you will pass and use these as markers to speed up and slow down. For example run fast to the bridge then jog to the woods then fast to the path junction then jog to the river, etc. You can even do Fartlek in an urban environment by alternating between fast and slow as you pass lamp posts or road junctions.

There is no set pace at which you should run - it depends on your goals and fitness level. You could choose shorter segments that you run at a fast pace or longer ones done at more of a threshold effort. The beauty of Fartlek training is that it doesn’t require a watch or a track and you can adapt the duration and intensity to suit you. Beginners can start with a Fartlek run that has just a few changes of pace and then add more as their fitness increases.

One of my favourites is the “hilly Fartlek”. Choose a route on rolling terrain with lots of ups and downs. After an easy 10-minute warm up, attack every uphill at 10k race-pace effort then recover on every downhill or flat section. Make the session last as long as your fitness allows!

About the author: Dave Taylor is a fell running guide and coach who teaches navigation skills.

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