Looking to introduce some speed work into your running? Fartlek training could be just the thing you need to help you mix up your training.

Fartlek training is not a rigid structured training session but involves varying the speed element of the training session. It can form an invaluable element of a runner's training pattern, allowing for unpredictability and a range of running techniques.

What is Fartlek training?

Fartlek, which means 'speed play' in Swedish, is a popular form of training used by runners to provide a satisfying and effective alternative to rigid training sessions. Fartlek training does not involve having to run over a specifically measured route; it is more a case of altering running speeds over varying distances.

Examples of fartlek training sessions

A typical fartlek run could consist of the following: the runner jogs for 5 minutes to warm up, and then selects a landmark like a tree or street light and then runs at a pre-decided speed (such as 75 per cent of maximum speed) until reaching the landmark. On reaching this, the runner changes speed down to a jog to recover.

The runner then selects another landmark to run towards and runs at another pre-determined speed (for example 90 per cent of maximum speed) until reaching the target landmark. This practice of speed session interspersed with slow recoveries inbetween continues until the runner has finished the workout with the pre-determined speeds.

Fartlek training has grown in popularity in recent years. The benefit of fartlek training is that the runner is not racing against a clock or running a certain distance. Essentially the runner selects how hard or easy the run is depending on how they feel.

More examples of fartlek sessions:

  • You could set a time limit for you session such as 45 minutes during which you cover all the training pathways and energy systems utilised by endurance runners, i.e. fast, slow, sprinting and endurance.
  • To achieve this, you could run over undulating ground either in a park, wood, golf course on the roads or over the hills.
  • During your run you could sprint 50m (55 yards) up hills, run hard over a 1,000m (0.62 mile) repetition, stride down hills or do short sprints all interspersed with steady running, jogging or even walking.

Although the objective is to run fast in short bursts, fartlek is not an easy form of training. The intensity and effectiveness of the sessions is down to the athlete having the discipline to push themselves. The ability to work hard is crucial because in this unstructured training environment, it is easier to miss out a repetition or walk or jog. Only by pushing yourself will you get the maximum benefit out of your fartlek training sessions.