Perfect For Winter: The Fartlek Workout

Every year, around January, I find myself in pretty good shape and I think to myself, “But I'm not training THAT hard.”

Seriously, it's kinda weird. My legs aren't sore or tight, I don't feel beat up, yet I feel strong - like I could run within a few seconds of my best times.

Contrast with mid-season when I'd be straddling the fine line of too much mileage and intensity, hoping just to get past that one final big workout without breaking. All for what, a few seconds? Yeah, well… I guess that's part of the fun ;-)

But back to the present. Each year I've run it has become increasingly clear to me how little intensity we really need to see great results. Really, we just need to touch on a few different speeds each week and be consistent. Sure, every once in a while you can hit a home run of a workout, but generally, for most of the year, we should strive to get on base.

Stop trying to hit home runs each week, or every workout. It's just a recipe for disaster. Instead, run easy (<--- wait, do you know what that actually means?) for at least 80% of your mileage and throw in one or two fartlek style workouts for a greater training stimulus.

Fartlek, as many of you know by now, is a Swedish term for 'speed play'. I remember Coach Gallagher teaching us this concept in high school and thinking, “Play? Not sure that actually sounds fun...”

But, in fact, it is WAY more tolerable than seeing “6x 800m at puke pace w/ 1 minute recovery, GO”.

Actually these workouts fall nicely into my belief system of coaxing the body to fitness rather than bludgeoning the body to fitness. They provide enough stress to cause the body to adapt, but not so much that you get hurt after 3 weeks. And you know what, they can be really fun – especially if you run with others.

Here Are 3 Structured Fartlek Workouts

(yes, I know traditionally these are unstructured)

Simple Fartlek:

During an easy 5-8 mile run include 8-10 pickups of 30 seconds at about 2 mile race pace (not a sprint, but fast and relaxed). Recover as much as you wish between pickups.

Great way to introduce speed training. Also, if you've done a more challenging run earlier this week, this is perfect for refreshing the legs and spending just a bit of time at a fast pace. Ya won't run fast if you don't practice it!


Instead of a boring, hard-to-get-motivated-for-it tempo run:

Easy 10-30 minutes,

Then 20 minutes of:

30 seconds on / 30 seconds off

Then Easy 5+ minutes

“On” means 10K working down to 3K pace. “Off” means easy (NOT jogging, though)

The key with this one is to start conservatively and finish strong. Do not run too fast in the first half of this workout!


Does a long run always have to be slow and easy?  NO.

Easy 15 minutes,

Then 3-5 times:

3 minutes Moderate effort (marathon pace)

1 minute Easy

2 minutes Moderate-Hard effort (half marathon pace)

2 minute Easy

1 minute Hard effort (5k pace)

3 minutes Easy

I love this sort of workout because you get some duration if you want it, you're not bored, and, most importantly, you must tune into your effort/pace. Many of us have a lousy sense of pace because we don't practice it. This run provides a fantastic aerobic stimulus which is what ALL runners need as a base and an opportunity to differentiate between subtle paces. True, a HR + GPS watch could help, but what fun is that?

Give one or all of these a try and let me know how you feel!