5 Great Fartlek Run Ideas

Audio Recording – “5 Great Fartlek Run Ideas”

Audio Recording of “5 Great Fartlek Run Ideas”
  • Timed Fartlek Run
  • Heart Rate Fartlek Run
  • Catch the Leader Fartlek Run
  • Tree-to-Tree Fartlek Run
  • Song-to-Song Fartlek Run

What is a “fartlek”?  It is a Swedish term  that means speedplay. Amongst running circles, for the past 40 years or so, this term has been loosly used to mean interval training. Though this is true, fartlek run training is meant to allow for more freedom in a given workout.

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Fartlek Training Advantages and Disadvantages

Fartlek Definition

Whether it’s swimming, cycling or running that you are incorporating speed workouts into, fartleks are a great way of allowing for a more natural progression of interval training. I like to think of it as a way of being creative with our speed or tempo workouts.

For triathletes, fartlek training is a breath of fresh air. Our triathlete workout schedules can become quite monotonous. There are many variations of fartlek workouts that we can incorporate throughout all three disciplines of running, swimming and cycling.  But, fartlek run training is far easier to do.  

Why is Fartlek Run Training Beneficial?

Fartlek run training is important because a race is not a tempo run.  On a tempo run you keep the same speed over a given distance with very few obsticals.  When messengers of ancient Mesopotamia and Greece would run 20 to 40 miles per day, they had hills and rugged terrane to traverse.  African and English Isle hunters would run down their prey over great distances.  While hunting, they would “speed up” and slow down as needed.  They didn’t have watches to see if they were keeping the proper tempo.  

The same can be true of racing.  Our muscles have to be tuned so as to be able to handle a given burst of speed by our pack when we are racing.  During a race, you may have unexpected impediments like fallen participants or an equipment malfunction.  After slowing down for these types of things, you have to use your fast-twitch muscles to catch up to the pace you have determined you wish to have.  Fartlek run training allows for your body to get use to higher speeds within an endurance race.  

In this article, I list 5 options that allow for individual creativity to designing a fartlek run workout of your own.  These are not super scientific, and they are definitely not meant to be empirically the best fartlek run workouts ever. These five options are a general guide to get you started.

Timed Fartlek Run

Fartlek Run - Timed Fartlek
Fartlek Run – Timed

A timed fartlek run is pretty much what you might think it is. Timed fartlek runs are timed interval training sessions without stopping.  Traditional timed interval training is based on a specific distance.  You could do something like 4 x 800m, 8 x 400m, or 10 x 200m with a 30 second break between efforts.  And you could try to do each effort within a given time period.  This is a great way to do speed training.  But, it is boring.  It is not easy to do by oneself.  And it is quite difficult to do without a track.

This is where timed fartlek  training can be advantageous.  Here is an example: 

  • 1 minute hard 
  • 20 second slow 
  • 2 minutes hard 
  • 1 minute slow 
  • Repeat 5 times.

You don’t need a track.  You determine what “hard” and “slow” mean for you.  Doing this by the ocean, a lake, in the mountains, in a park or suburban streets is very easy.  This type of fartlek run can be done as a group or individually.  The great thing about this type of training is that you can make up whatever type of pattern you wish.

Heart Rate Fartlek Run

Fartlek Run - Heart Rate Training
Fartlek Run – Heart Rate Training

I love using a heart rate monitor to do fartlek run training.  I use a TomTom multi-sport watch and a Bryton heart monitor strap on my chest.  The TomTom watch has installed programs that provide a heart rate fartlek run workout.  It also has an option for fartlek bike training.  To be honest, I use the bike training one more often.

If you don’t have a specific interval or fartlek program on your watch, you can easily just use a heart rate monitor to create your own program.  Here is an example:

  • 3 minutes at 90-110 bpm
  • 2 minutes at 110-128 bpm
  • 5 minutes at 128-150 bpm
  • 1 minute at 150-180 bpm
  • Repeat 3 times

There are lots of reasons to use your heart rate during fartlek training.  If you’re training without a partner, heart rate training allows you to train specifically for what your body can tolerate at that moment.  When your body is still recovering from a workout the day before, limiting your efforts within a heart rate range will help stay within what your body is capable of tolerating at that time.

Peace of Mind

Since your performance during heart rate fartlek training is based on your body’s tolerance, you don’t have to worry about how far or how fast you are running.  Within specific heart rate ranges you will run the distance and speed your body can handle.  This is one step in preventing injury or over training.

Being an amateur triathlete, I have been enjoying this type of fartlek training on my run sessions as well as my bike sessions for the past year.  It has been super helpful.  After looking at my stats, I can see that given the same efforts on the same workout will produce different paces and distances.  And I have been increasing my overall speed from month to month.

Catch the Leader Fartlek Run

Fartlek Run - Catch the Leader

When you are on a group training session, a fun and lively way to mix things up is to have a “Catch the Leader” fartlek session. Remember to do this when running or cycling with 3 or more folks.

Form a long line as you begin to run. To start, maintain a moderate to easy pace.  As the session continues you can pick up the pace. Then, assign a leader for a duration that will last anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 minutes.  After the agreed upon time frame has expired, the person at the back of the line will sprint up to the front of the line and become the leader.  The longer the line and the shorter duration of leadership will increase the amount of speed training that will happen.

  • 3 to 20 people
  • Set a moderate to easy pace
  • Choose a leaders duration of 10 sec. to 2 minutes
  • Continue anywhere from 10 – 30 minutes
  • Repeat

Tree to Tree Fartlek Run

Fartlek Run - Tree to Tree

Tree to tree fartlek runs are quite simply what they sound like.  You run quickly from one tree to another at a certain pace.  Then, you slow down to a moderate pace.  When you have reached your next tree, take off again.  On the other hand, if there are too many trees, you can pick random trees as you go along.  If there are no trees, you can use any object.  You can use cars, street lamps, stop signs, flowers, and literally anything else you run across.

The basic idea is to not have the fartlek run distances well calculated.  You want the distances and durations to be as varied as possible.  At all levels of racing there is so much variation during a race.  That is why practicing race-like variations during training sessions is so important.

Song to Song Fartlek Run

Fartlek Run - Song to Song

Song to song fartlek run training is exactly as it sounds as well.  I recommend choosing a safe area away from cars to perform this type of fartlek run.  Safety first!  Perform this individually. Do this in a group. It is more fun with other people joining in. 

Press play your playlist and get going.  Most songs range between 3 to 5 minutes. Therefore, do this for more steady tempo runs that last 3 to 5 minutes.  Start by setting an easy tempo for the first song.  Then, when the second song comes on, run at race pace.  Finally, repeat for however much time you wish.  This could go from 30 minutes to 2 hours.  Keep in mind, its about the variation and non-exact times that is important.

I hope you enjoyed these ideas.  There are hundreds of variations out there. Create your own or borrow these.  Then, get going.

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