Fartlek Workouts

Fartlek workouts are great alternatives to traditional speed workouts. The goal is still to build one’s aerobic capacity, however the focus is shifted from a pace per distance to an effort for a certain time. For example, instead of running 5k pace for 400 meters, you may run 5k effort for 2:00. I really like doing these because you have to judge what that effort is. If you are too fast, you may struggle the first few times through. On the other hand, if you are too conservative then you may feel like you didn’t get what you needed out of the workout. It really forces you to dial in with your ability to pace. Over the long haul, if you are not the greatest at pacing, then this can really help you get in the groove.

We would do these a lot in college, especially in the winter when a track wasn’t accessible, and during cross country season. For marathoners, the workouts we list below are good for really any speed workout day. If you are training in cold, tough terrain, or hot and humid days, these workouts allow you to get the effort you need in, without focusing on the pace per mile. I think another great opportunity to use fartlek training is for those running trail race. This is a true example of effort over a length of time vs. trying to run a pace over rough terrain.

With these workouts, you have a lot of freedom to do what you want to do. My recommendations are to keep the time between 2-5 minutes for the interval and keep the rest at 2-3 minutes at most. Recovery jogs should be a percentage of what the time is. So a 4 minute interval would mean a 2-3 minute jog recovery. Early in the season go with longer recoveries. As your fitness comes around, cut the rest shorter. As for volume, keep the hard intervals at a total of 15-20 minutes. More advanced runners may approach 30 minutes, especially if their mileage is higher. The bottom line here is that the fartlek workout gives you a lot of freedom. These emphasize getting work in, not matter how it’s done!

In some literature, I have seen fartlek intervals for shorter durations, such as 25-30 seconds of fast sprinting. However, to me, that is more like HIIT and should be discussed in a different session.

Workout Description Comparable To Optimal Time Variations
10×2 10 by 2 minutes at5k to 10k effort with 1-2 minutes jog between Comparable to a400 to 600 meter interval workout. Early in your build-up. Any variation of times to total18-20 minutes.
1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 1 minute jogs between each hard interval. Comparable to a ladder type interval Once you have been doing workouts for a few weeks. A solid workout for any level of runner, although recovery jogcan be altered to fit training level
(1-2-3)x3 3 sets of 1 min, 2 min, 3 min. All with1:00 rest, 3 minutes between sets Many times we will see interval workouts done in sets on the track. This simply mimics Building up. Allows more recovery but forces you to run a longer hard interval. I see many variations, as long as the total time is there. I’d keep the hard intervals at a max of 3 mins here.
5×5 5×5 minutes with2:30 jog. Go further on each one A workout that forces you judge pace and really takes you your limit. A longer interval workout (1k-1 mile)depending on abilit We would do 2-3 time in college- beginning of xc season, middle, and right before stretch of important races Beginner and Intermediate type runners could modify number of reps to 3-4.