To Fartlek or Not to Fartlek

Posted: February 25, 2015 in Training
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Processed with MoldivOnce or twice a week, I go running with a couple of my coworkers at lunchtime. We usually run along the Seawall in Coal Harbour – somewhere between 4 and 6km. On Monday, Lana and I were chatting about our plan for the following day (she had put it in the calendar!) and I said, “Wanna do a fartlek workout?”

I said this because I had been browsing through my Twitter feed, and one of the running magazines had a ‘Fartlek‘ headline. I hadn’t even read the article. So it kind of just came out of my mouth. I wanted to sound cool and #hardcore. Lana just kind of looked at me funny and said something to the effect of ‘Sure, whatever Bradley’.

“Great!” said I. “I’ll plan something for tomorrow!”

OK. Now I have to figure out what a fartlek actually is!

As I’ve alluded to before, I’m not consistent with my I hardly ever do speed work. Now, I’ve certainly heard of fartlek workouts before, and I knew they had something to do with speed training, but I couldn’t quite remember.

As usual, Google came in handy:

Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training…Fartlek training “is simply defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running.”  — Wikipedia

So what do I do with that? Evidently, there are lots of variation, including the “mailbox version”, the “dog park version” and the “Mona Fartlek”. But I should have read more.

What Actually Happened

I planned our run and set up a workout on my Garmin. In the end, we did a warmup, followed by 10 x 1 minute intervals of hard running, followed by 1 minute slow jogs (i.e. walking by the 6th iteration).

This is what it looked like:

Snap 2015-02-25 at 18.37.51
Snap 2015-02-25 at 18.38.08

One of the little glitches in the plan – around the 4th repeat – was a lady walking three dogs shouting, “Hey, you two, can you help me!” One of the dogs had slipped his harness, and she just couldn’t get it back on. So I held the other two while she and Lana figured out the harness/leash situation. Then we started up again.

Not to Fartlek, Apparently

Any of you runners out there who know what they’re talking about (= NOT ME), may take this opportunity to point out that what we did was definitely NOT a fartlek workout. It was very simple interval training. Equal time on/time off repeats. Effective, to be sure (if done consistently) – and boy, did I feel it the next day.

But, if I had actually done good research and read this Runner’s World article:

What’s the Difference Between Fartlek, Tempo, and Interval Runs?

I would have learned that I am not a child anymore, and evidently have no sense of ‘play’. The fast bits are supposed to be ‘unstructured’.

It should have been like this:

ME: “Let’s run fast to that tree!”

*Runs fast to the tree. Then jogs a bit.*

Lana: “Oooh, let’s sprint until we pass that lady with the three dogs!”

*Runs fast past the lady…* Well, you get the idea.

I ended up being ‘tethered to my watch’, which is a fartlek no-no.

Speed Work 2.0

I’m proud of us for doing the speed work, ever if it was completely mislabeled. I know it’s something I should be doing to make myself a faster runner. And I give credit to Lana for letting me tell her what to do, and trusting me to lead her in the right direction! Next time, we’ll allow ourselves a little bit more freedom with our fartleks!!

Snap 2015-02-25 at 18.36.04


Do you fartlek? Or do any speed work, for that matter? How about hill training? Seriously – I want to know what you do!

  1. Emily Gercke says:

    Ha. Fartleks. Carey’s “fartleks” are the structured type, as well. I think the only runners that do fartleks for “play” might be the original swedes that coined the term.

  2. Fartleks can be structured or unstructured. Speed intervals tend to have a recovery jog or rest in between as oppose to fartleks being speed/surges worked into your normal run. I would say you accomplished a good fartlek run! At the very least it was a good workout, mission accomplished.

    • bjcjapan says:

      So really – an interval run is just a structured fartlek? In any case, we did what we intended to do and I feel better for it! Thank you!

  3. One day I want to run the “Seawall at Coal Harbour.” I remembered the U. Sounds like it would be amazing. And beautiful. And I would rather call it speed play than Fartlek. I am a third grade boy and I giggle every time!

    • bjcjapan says:

      Oh Smitha, you would love it! On just an average Tuesday, so fortunate to be able to run here! And I kind of giggle about fartlek, too, which is why I like to keep saying it. Fartlek.

  4. I love doing hill training. It definitely helps to make me faster and stronger for races, even those that are flatter courses.

    • bjcjapan says:

      Because I do a lot of my midweek training at lunch (with longer runs on the weekend), I’m bound by the limitations of the downtown geography. Which is flat. Coastline flat. I really should focus on getting some hill runs in, stat!

  5. Tricia Johnson says:

    I’m so glad that I’m not the only one completely baffled by all the different running terms that can be used to describe things. When I was training for my first and only half so far, I was completely overwhelmed by everything included in the training plan and started to stress out. I think when I try another one, I’m going to join a training group so I can get a better concept of how to train and what everything means!

  6. […] running buddy Lana bailed on me today (claiming ‘tired legs’ from our authentic Fartlek workout on Tuesday). I debated going to the gym instead, but since the rain held off today, I […]