Fartlek Workouts - Speed Play for Beginners (and the Advanced!)

A good introduction to running speed workouts is fartlek run training.

Have you fartlekked recently?

I am not trying to be rude here... It's Swedish for speed play.

The principle of fartlek run training is basically the following:

  • First do a proper warm up.

  • Then start running faster for a while, then slower for a while.

  • And repeat that as many times as you wish.

  • Then finish up with an easy paced cooling down.

  • So, it mixes faster running and slower running. But it purposely lacks structure.

    Depending on your personality type you will think that is quite alright, or not good at all!

    I used to hate it.

    I never did it.

    I wanted structure in my runs.

    I didn't like just going out there and go by the feel of the moment to see how fast I would go and for how long.

    running quote

    Because, basically, every fartlek workout can be different.

    So, there is no way to compare two sessions.

    And I really needed that.


    I guess I am a very structured individual.

    So, I would like to see how one session may compare with the same session three months ago.

    However, in the last few years I have mellowed a lot and I have lost a little bit of that competitive personality. Sure, I am still wanting to run quickly. But I am less "number-bound".

    And I have learned that sometimes an unstructured session is just what I need!

    Why Speed Play for Beginners?

    fartlek labs running
    Don't worry: the fartlek
    has been lab tested
    The goal of the fartlek workout is to run at different fairly high speed paces.

    The playful nature of fartlek workouts makes it fun and makes you connect with your body.

    And that makes fartlek workouts a good introduction to speed workouts for beginners: You can decide, based on how you feel, how much you'll push yourself.

    If you start doing structured speed workouts from a running program you picked up somewhere and you are actually not really ready for it, you run the chance of getting yourself injured.

    With fartleks the risk is smaller.

    So, next time you go for a run, leave your watch at home, enjoy the scenery and go by feel.

    I am sure you'll enjoy it!

    By the way, that doesn't mean a fartlek workout isn't a great running workout for more advanced runners. It's great for anyone wanting to become a faster runner!

    Starting off with Fartleks

    Once you have started building a base, you'll get to a point you will want to do a bit of faster running.

    But you don't feel quite ready yet for a taxing interval session.

    Then a fartlek can be that happy medium. It will get you started with some faster running, without the pressure of running fast for a set number of intervals, set time or distance.

    So, when you start out, simply do a good warm-up, then pick a landmark and run there at a higher speed. Float for a while (run at a somewhat lower pace, closer to easy running), then pick another landmark and run there.

    It's fun to make up your fartlek runas you go along.

    Fartlek Workouts - The Key Principles

    Keep a few key principles in mind:

    fartlek infographic

  • Do a good warm-up.
    This is a quality session, so you want your legs to be ready for when you go faster. Start with a dynamic warm-up, then start your run with an easy 10-20 minutes to warm up your legs. Check out the Running Stretches page for more detail about dynamic warm-ups.

  • Speed up when you want, for as long as you want.
    I often pick landmarks. E.g. street lights, shops, anything. Try to make an effort to play with distance and speed. You can bring a little bit of structure into it by going in a rhytm of three here: moderately fast, bit faster, almost full-out, then again, moderately fast, bit faster, almost full-out, etc.

  • Float, do not slow down too much.
    You want to keep the heart rate up for the entire session. Go back to an easier pace, but try to avoid the slow jog or walk. Easier said than done! This may take some time to get used to, so don't be too hard on yourself when you find out you do need to do a short walk or slow jog at some point during your session.

  • Cool down afterwards.
  • It is always good to finish with a cool down consisting of at least some easy running right after you have done faster running. This will help recovery.

  • Enjoy yourself!

  • So, you can see, it is in principle an unstructured workout. Fartlek workouts are a great way to start experimenting with speed.

    OK, Some Structure For Those Who Need It...

    Steve Moneghetti is a famous Australian marathon runner. He has won several big marathons (e.g. Berlin in 1990) and has picked up a Bronze in 1986, Silver in 1990 and Gold in 1994 in the Commonwealth Games marathons and won Bronze in the 1997 World Championships Marathon in Athens.

    In other words, one of the true greats of our sport.

    Mona (in Australia anyone with a name longer than one syllable gets a nickname!), had that same problem I was talking about before: he needed structure. His workout is called the Mona fartlek. It is as follows:

    mona fartlek

    Mona Fartlek:
  • 2 x 90-seconds fast + 90-second float

  • 4 x 60-seconds fast + 60-second float

  • 4 x 30-seconds fast + 30-second float

  • 4 x 15-seconds fast + 15-second float

  • This is a pretty tough one. Trying to float between intervals is a skill. I quite often, still, after having done this workout many times, find myself slowing down in the floats.

    However, that's ok. The good thing about this workout is that you can measure your total distance covered for the full 20 minutes (across intervals and floats) and check whether you are making progress. First time you do this workout you may get to 4 kilometres. Next time 4.2 kilometres. And so on. Progress in this workout is not just about the fast parts, but also about the floats.

    This one is named after Julian "Moose" Spence, Australian marathon runner. His go-to fartlek workout is:

    5 sets x 3min at about 10k/HM Effort, 1min jog, 1min at about 5k effort, 1min jog.

    So, that's 30 minutes of quality right there!

    This fartlek workout is a bit more complex in its setup. And also in the execution. It's 36 minutes of quality and likely to be a little too hard as a fartlek for beginners. You could make it easier for yourself and start this one off with longer floats and shorter fast parts and work up to the "official" format.

    The Portsea Fartlek is definitely a good one for a more advanced workout and suitable for marathon, half marathon and 10k preparation.

  • 3 x 5 min fast, 1 min float

  • 3 x 3 min fast, 1 min float

  • 4 x 1 min fast, 30 sec float

  • training for a half marathon ad

    The Fartlek Workout in One Picture

    For your convenience, and as a summary at the end of this article, I have tried to capture the main principles of fartlek running training in the picture below.

    Hope it helps!

    fartlek workout infographic

    Some Other Pages With Quality Workouts

    interval running
    tempo running
    Home > Running Training > Fartlek Workouts

    Like this page:

    Share this page:

    Like this site:

    [?] Subscribe To This Site

    follow us in feedly
    Add to My Yahoo!


    • Beginner Running Tips

      Are you a beginning runner? Then this is your best starting point. Many tips and running programs on offer, dedicated to you.

    • Running for Weight Loss

      Aiming to lose a few pounds? Get into the Running for Weight Loss section for tips and advice.

    • Running Training

      The Running Training section of the site has got the most articles. It is constantly getting updated with new tips and information. A must-visit if you are serious about improving your running performance.

    • 5k Running Tips

      The 5k is a great distance to run and train for. The great thing is that you can do it quite often and see big improvements.

    • 10k Running Tips

      The 10k is a real challenge. You need to run fast for an uncomfortably long time! Check out this section if you are strong of mind and legs!

    • Marathon Running Tips

      The marathon is a massive challenge. Proper training is so important! Make sure to check out this section if you have got your mind set on the marathon!

    What's New?

    1. Heart Rate Monitor Training - The Zoladz Method

      Every running pace has its own heart rate zone. The heart rate monitor training zones according to Zoladz are explained in this section.

      Read more

    2. Yasso 800 :: The Marathon Pace Workout with a Twist

      The Yasso 800 is supposed to be a predictor of marathon performance. It is a marathon pace workout with a twist. Learn more about the Yasso 800 on this page.

      Read more

    3. Running for Weight Loss - Injured...

      I started a run-walk program 3 weeks ago to help me lose 80 lbs. I was up to running 3 min / walk 3 min 3 days a week on my treadmill. Last week after

      Read more

    4. What Can I Do To Improve My Half Marathon Time?

      I am a 53 yo male 5'11, 165lbs. I have been running for about 8 years. I have run 7 marathons and have never broken the 4hr mark even though all my

      Read more

    5. Daniels Running Formula Book Review - The Running Training Book You Have Got to Have

      If I had to recommend you to get one running book only, then it would have to be Daniels Running Formula by running coach Jack Daniels.

      Read more