To Fartlek or Not to Fartlek


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. 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.

    • 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!

  2. Tricia Johnson

    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!

  3. Pingback: Run to the Hills | Bradley on the Run

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