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

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Fartlek workouts, fartlek run training

A good introduction to running speed workouts for beginners 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 :

Just go out there, warm up, and then start running at varying speeds for varying periods of time and finish up with an easy paced cooling down.

So, anything goes.

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'd always try to structure my speed workouts a lot more like:
Run 5-4-3-2-1 minute sessions with 2 minutes of floating in between (floating = keeping up to moderate speed, so no recovery jog or walking).

However, in the last few years I have come to appreciate fartlek a lot more. Probably because I enjoy running a lot more. It's not so much about competition anymore, about having to run.

Running has become a lot more pure simple enjoyment for me. Don't get me wrong. I am still hoping to run PB's. But I don't have to.

fartlek labs running
Don't worry : the fartlek has been lab tested

So, it has become a lot easier for me to just go out there and enjoy myself.

Try it yourself.

Leave the watch at home.

After your warm-up, pick a landmark and run there at a high 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 run as 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 speed 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.

  • 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. So do not slow down to a slow jog or walk; go back to an easy, but brisk, pace between the speedier parts.

  • Cool down afterwards.
  • It is always good to finish with a bit of light running or walking and do a few running stretches. Check out that page, as some of these stretches are really helpful in preventing injuries.

  • 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... The Mona Fartlek

    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

  • Why Speed Play for Beginners?

    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!

    For More Speedy Workout Ideas Check Out These Pages

    interval running
    billat workouts
    tempo running workouts

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    More Structured Fartlek Workouts

    There are more structured fartlek workouts, the Mona Fartlek is not the only one. I'll provide you with a couple more.

    Moose Fartlek 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!

    Portsea Fartlek
    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. Although if you are looking to use this as 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. But 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

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    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

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