fartlek training examples

Fartlek Training Examples for Distance Runners

Fartlek training is valued by elite runners and beginners alike. It involves both speed and endurance and above all, it’s fun. 

“The Swedish term fartlek means speed play.”

Before introducing 4 fartlek training examples, I will briefly define fartlek and how it compares to structured runs such as VO2 max intervals and tempo runs.

The Benefits of Fartlek Training

Fartlek training is a concept developed by the Swedish coach Gösta Holmér, which roughly translates as “speed play.” Fartleks are predominantly aerobic and relatively unstructured, using different paces in the same workout. This is particularly useful in the first weeks of a training program and towards the end of it. Let me explain:

During the base phase, fartlek runs introduce some faster running to otherwise easy runs in the form of short surges. For example, you could start with surges at 1500m pace at the final 200m of each easy mile. That prepares you for the more rigid VO2 max sessions in the weeks ahead.

On training days that eventually become tempo runs, you could alternate a mile at an easy pace with a mile at marathon pace. Then, steadily increase the segment of marathon pace or increase the speed to HM pace – though not both simultaneously. 

During the final weeks of training, you could occasionally use a Fartlek that resembles the demands of race day. Here, you can use a variety of intensities faster and slower than race pace. Practice responding to a competitor’s sudden pace increase or surging uphill on a hilly race profile. This will prepare you physically and mentally for race day. 

Fartlek runs can also be useful when you feel under the weather. Rather than quitting a structured workout or making it solely an easy run, you can randomly perform a few surges at the assigned pace for that day. That way, you will preserve your fitness and still respect your body’s (or mind’s) need for recovery.

Fartlek vs. Interval and Tempo Training

First, fartlek runs are predominantly aerobic interspersed with surges, whereas interval and tempo training only use an easy pace for the warm-up, recovery, and cool-down. Think of fartleks as easy runs with frequent surges of different durations. As a rule of thumb, at least 50 percent of the fartlek should be run at an easy pace.

Second, fartlek runs are relatively unstructured. Whereas other workout formats are rigid in their format, the fartlek lets you decide by feel. But having no set structure to follow is certainly no valid excuse for taking it easy. Contemplate how your fartlek will fit into the overall structure of your training week.

Third, fartlek runs can use different paces in the same workout. Interval training and tempo runs typically have one pre-defined intensity for a set duration, such as 5x 800m at 5K pace or 4 miles at half-marathon pace. Fartleks are random in both intensity and duration of faster efforts. Ignore your running watch and speed up or slow down at will.  

In the following paragraphs, you’ll find 4 fartlek training examples.

The “Base-Phase” Fartlek

The base phase is training to prepare for real training. It involves plenty of aerobic running sprinkled with short but very fast efforts to build the aerobic engine and neuromuscular power. In other words, the base phase is highly polarized, with efforts at the extreme ends of the intensity spectrum. VO2 max intervals and tempo runs are typically left out or de-emphasized. 

Yet, distance runners don’t need to hit the track for dedicated speed sessions. Faster efforts are included in easy runs. That’s where base-phase fartleks come in. The two intensities I recommend are 100 – 200m at 1500m pace on flat terrain and 50m at a relaxed but near-maximal effort uphill. 

Note: There’s no point in running longer repetitions at that pace. The desired adaptation is not lactate tolerance; the goal is neuromuscular power to prepare for full-blown VO2 max intervals at 5K to 3K race pace later in the training cycle.

Thus, a base phase fartlek could be as simple as a 6-mile easy run with 100m at 1500m pace (or 50m uphill sprints) at the end of 4 middle miles. Ideally, you have 2 of these fartleks in your base phase training weeks at least 48 hours apart. 

The “Mona” Fartlek

The Mona Fartlek was created by the Australian distance runner Steve Moneghetti. It’s a great workout for getting used to pace changes. Unlike other formats, the Mona Fartlek is structured with time-based intervals. The idea is to touch upon various paces, running faster with each set. It’s a good training session to employ in the middle of your training cycle. 

Here’s the sequence: 2x 90 sec, 4x 60 sec, 4x 30 sec, 4x 15 sec. The recovery jogs are the same length as the efforts. 

For 5K and 10K training, start with 10K pace and finish at 1500m/mile pace. HM and marathon training start at a 10-mile/15K pace and finish at 3K pace. Sandwich this session with a solid warm-up and cool-down.

The “Surroundings” Fartlek

As the name implies, the “surroundings” fartlek takes advantage of your training course profile. 

If you live in flat terrain, speed up by picking landmarks in the distance, such as trees or buildings. After reaching the landmark, recover with easy running. Repeat. Since it’s not a predefined interval workout, you can randomly change the intensity and duration. If your area has hills, speed up on hilly sections and slow down on the descents.

But that doesn’t mean you should completely trash yourself in this workout. Bear in mind how the fartlek fits into your training week. It should be enough to stimulate a sufficient training response but not to the point where it jeopardizes upcoming training sessions.

The “Pyramid” Fartlek

A pyramid fartlek can be structured in many ways, but my favorite is the 1-2-3-2-1 pyramid. Each number represents minutes for the effort and the rest period. Shorter intervals are run at a faster pace than the longer interval(s). Since the workout is measured by time instead of distance, it’s designed to be run on the road.  

1 min at 5K pace, 2 min at 10K pace, 3 min at HM pace, 2 min at 10K pace, 1 min at 5K pace — all with a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio.

As you get fitter, you can run two or three sets of this workout, with 5-minute jogging recoveries between sets. Precede the pyramid fartlek with a substantial warm-up of 2 – 3 miles and a few accelerations toward mile pace. End it with a cool-down of 1 – 2 miles. 

I hope at least one of the fartlek training examples finds its way into your training routine.

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Sandro Sket, CSCS

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

Hi, I’m Sandro. A lifelong endurance athlete,
coach, and founder of RunningFront.
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