Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fart What? Oh! Fartlek!

Have you ever picked up a copy of Runners World magazine and wondered what the heck all that running jargon means? It usually reads something like half marathon pace for 800 meters, or 10K pace for 400 meter repeats, or 5K pace for 400 meters divide by four and subtract 10 seconds. Huh? If your head is spinning because you can't calculate math in your head, (or particularly well with a calculator either, like me,) or you don't have a track nearby, then Fartlek might be the interval training plan for you.

Fart Whats? Oh, there we go again with the running jargon. Fartlek is a word hardly ever never breathed outside the running community, how do you work that into a casual conversation at the water cooler?

"Fartlek, which means "speed play" in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training" is the definition from Wikipedia, the website where I acquire all my street smarts.

Ollie, my dog, said it best.

"I run faster when I chase a squirrel and slow down when I want to sniff a tree. I think you running humans call that Fartlek, I call it life." - Ollie

It is my favorite form of interval running training, because the treadmill, while effective at controlling pace and time, can be mind-numbingly boring. Fartlek gives you the freedom to run according to how you feel, out on the street, with no GPS watch, timers, or pedometers (although a heart-rate monitor is very helpful to determine your effort.) The key to success with Fartlek is that you have to be willing to push yourself outside of your running pace comfort zone for short periods of time.

An example of a Fartlek workout I do may look something like this:

Warm up for 5-10 minutes by running at an easy comfortable pace.
I choose a landmark ahead and sprint at a faster-than-comfortable-I-can't-hold-a-conversation pace until I reach, say the next stop sign, or that white van parked on the corner, or the top of a steep hill.
Once I reach my destination, my heart is pumping and I am out of breath, I'll walk or slow jog until my breathing is mostly recovered.
Then I'll pick up the pace a bit and gradually run faster until I hit my I'm-working-for-it pace and sprint towards the next landmark I chose ahead.
Repeat for a few miles with sprints and recovery.
Cool down by jogging slow or walking at the end.

The great thing about Fartlek is that some days I can run shorter distances and push myself harder on the run intervals, and other days I run longer distances but go a bit slower and further during the speed intervals. By combining both styles, I build both speed and endurance. As I get stronger, my speed intervals will get faster and my recovery intervals will get shorter. Then as a side effect to all this hard work, my overall comfortable running pace will improve, I will naturally run faster without really trying!

Do you Fartlek? Do you talk about it in public? What is your favorite interval workout? 

I am not a running coach or expert. I am simply sharing my experiences with Fartlek workouts. Please do your own research and/or talk to your Dr. or fitness professional before trying a new program.

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Keep Running,


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photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via photopin cc


  1. OMG! I love this! Ollie's pic and explanation rocks.
    I love fartleks - they are so much fun and a great burst of energy. I always feel like I kicked some ass after a farlek workout!

  2. Ollie is such a smarty pants. Also, watch out for that white van. Next time maybe run past it :)

  3. I fartlek when having races upcoming....and sometimes I fartlek at home but blame it on the dog ;)

  4. Great explanation of fartleking. I really need to do this more. I always think I'll look a little silly running outside in this fashion, but do I really care???

    1. One time during a fartlek, a guy walking a long the street who saw me huffing and puffing said... Girl, you need to pace yourself. lol. I am too tired to explain it to him.

  5. Yes- fartleks are such a great way to get in speed work and keep it fun! Great post!

  6. I am looking forward to doing some fartlek runs as I am trying to improve my 5k and 10k times this season!

  7. Great post, i need to incorporate these into my workouts more often. :)


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