Why You NEED Fartlek Running

Fartlek_PosterLast weeks main topic on The RunCast episode #3 was my incorporation of fartlek running in my current ultra training.  I claim that fartlek running is by far the best bang-for-your-buck single workout you can do to improve your fitness.  Farlek running includes many short (or long) intervals followed by active rest (jogging or running slow) before you go into your next “hard” interval.  For those of us that don’t have hours and hours to train everyday, hold a job & family, and can’t tinker around with time-consuming logistics of running the perfect workout with the perfect warmup / cool down on the perfect track / trail and hit the perfect splits that the perfect running calculator told us to hit fartlek running is something that everybody wanting to improve their strength, V02 max, and speed should be accustom to.  Here’s why:


Let’s say you want to run 5x1000m on the track … a classic V02 type of workout perfect for 5k / 10k training.  3mile warmup (20-25min) … 15min to change shoes, stretch, do strides, and start your intervals … ~30-35min of intervals (including equal rest) … 5min to change shoes, walk around, and get going on your cool down of maybe 2 miles (15min?).  This whole track workout took 95 minutes in which you got 5 miles of easy running (warmup / cool down) and 3.1mi (5000m) of intervals in.

Change this to a 12mi run with 6x (3min on, 3min off) in the middle to get more easy and quality miles in less time or an 8mi run with 5x (3min on, 3min off) and you’ll be back easily 30+ minutes earlier.  There is a trade off of course – maybe not getting your stretching / strides in before the intervals, but this is minimized as fartlek running allows you to warm up longer to get your body ready for hard running and I tend to do strides on shorter easy days when I have more time.

Mental Pressure

The #1 reason I LOVE fartlek running is because I don’t have to mentally fret about hitting splits or a certain time.  I am the kind of personality and runner that can push myself very hard running alone and when I’m told to run hard, I run hard … I always know I’m getting exactly what my body needs for that workout by running on feel rather than worrying about hitting a specific split-time.  Some people get really down on themselves when they run workouts or intervals slower than prescribed, but there are so many factors that can leave you feeling extra fresh or extra fatigued going into the workout (sleep, workload, phase/volume of training, etc) … when you’re supposed to run 5k or half marathon EFFORT, you can always be spot on by listening to your body.

Work All Systems

You can tailor different length farlek runs and intervals to work completely different systems in your training.  When approaching a marathon-specific phase, I’ll go out and run something like 6-10x (3min on, 1min off, 1min on, 1min off, 30sec on, 30sec off).  This gives me good turnover but also gets me running quick tempo paces on tired legs with limited rest.  World class marathoner Keith Dowling used to go out for 10-20x (30sec on, 30sec off) during marathon training … do you know how fast this workout goes by?  do you know how quickly you’re sucking wind?  Essentially, fartlek running gets your body used to “changing gears” which is essential in racing any distance – it really is.  Don’t believe me all you 100 mile trail running gurus?  Ever run hill repeats?  Same thing.  How do your legs / lungs feel when climbing the trail and cresting the top plodding 10min pace … better or worse than coasting 6min/mi going down hill?  Different gears, different systems … lactic acid needs to be cleared so teach your body how to clear it easily and more efficiently.  Running hard on effort while tired is essential in building quality mechanics – something that will directly effect your pace no matter what gear you’re in.

I didn’t say fartlek running is the ONLY way to train and should always replace any intervals or hard effort – far from it, but it truly does give an excellent ratio of quality running vs time running and in my book is a lot more fun than grinding on the track.

Quick shameless plug regarding my favorite tried and true GPS watch that DOES have an interval function (perfect for fartleks!) – check out the Garmin Forerunner 210 and this post I wrote about when (and when not) to run with a GPS.

Garmin 210 – Amazon Link


2 thoughts on “Why You NEED Fartlek Running”

  1. I like fartleks better than interval workouts, but sometimes I don’t know that I push as hard since there isn’t a set distance. I will have to check out your podcast. I am always looking for another podcast to listen to while running or driving to work.

    1. Thanks for following Christy! The podcast is fun … a bit more personal but I love sharing anything & everything I’m learning or thinking about my training…

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