Triathletes and Fartlek Run Training:

How To + 8 Fartlek Variations!

Have your runs become routine and maybe a little boring? 

Do you find yourself settling into the same pace for every run and zoning out as you cover the miles?

If so, maybe it’s time to add fartleks to your routine and consider experimenting with this type of run for a literal change of pace and to help keep you more engaged. 

What is fartlek training?

Fartlek is a type of training that consists of continuous running, alternating faster and slower segments. 

It is run according to feeling, and the pace varies from a completely easy run up to 80% of maximum speed. It is used by runners for improving speed and endurance.

The goal of fartlek training is to adapt the body to different running speeds. Changing the pace and continuity activates both the aerobic and anaerobic systems. 

Fartlek training is of middle intensity and does not greatly exhaust the body.

To progress in training, diversity is important. Over time, the body adapts to a certain type of exertion and you stop making progress, so your results stagnate. 

For this reason, it is important to combine different types of training and exert your body in different ways.

As it means in translation, fartlek allows you to bring a game-like element to your training and break up the monotony of your everyday running.  

Listen to your body, without the pressure of the running pace and a pulse meter, and just enjoy your run!

What Is The Difference Between Regular Interval Training And A Fartlek Run?

A regular interval training session also involves short periods of fast running, but is more structured than a fartlek run and often requires complete rest during the recovery portions of the workout. 

An interval workout, for example, may involve running 800 meters at a specific pace, for a predetermined number of repetitions, and with timed rest periods. 

This type of training is often done on a track, in fact, to aid in the precision of these workouts. 

Fartlek runs, on the other hand, are typically much less structured and can be done anywhere, preferably not on a track.

Although they also involve periods of faster running, the distance, frequency, and pace of these segments will vary depending on the route, terrain, and the runner’s preference. 

In other words, it’s running for fast bursts whenever you feel like it.

Runners, for example, may decide to pick up the pace when they pass a lamppost, then slow down when they reach the next lamppost, or they may sprint the hilly portions of a run and jog the downhill sections. 

The variations are endless.

4 Benefits Of Fartlek Runs


  • Improve speed and endurance

As fartlek runs are typically longer runs with fast portions incorporated throughout, they force runners to adapt to different speeds over several miles and thus help improve both speed and endurance. 


  • Good preparation for races 

Fartlek runs also help prepare runners for racing, as the randomness of the fast portions and the continuous nature of the overall run mimics race situations, where runners may need to pick up the pace intermittently to pass someone or meet a time goal.


  • More Enjoyable

While these runs are not necessarily easier than any other type of run, they may be less stressful and more enjoyable simply because the runner has more control of the intervals and pacing. 

And, as most runners know, if we perceive a run as less stressful and more enjoyable, we are more likely to do them, which is always a positive. 


  • More engaged

Fartlek runs also keep runners more engaged and present. 

Because these runs require frequent adjustments of pace based on elements and landmarks along the running route, they force the runner to stay focused and aware. 

While it is sometimes pleasant to “zone out” during a run, being mindful of pace and surroundings can be helpful when trying to progress as a runner.

How Often Should I Do A Fartlek Run?

Due to the flexible nature of a fartlek run, these workouts can be incorporated into a running schedule regularly. 

Depending on the length of the run and amount, distance, and pace of the faster portions, these runs can be a more casual replacement for a speed or tempo run, incorporated into a longer run for some variety, or simply added when the mood strikes. 

If you are in the middle of a structured training plan which requires strict adherence to specific distances and paces, of course, fartlek runs may be more difficult to incorporate.

But once the training cycle has been completed and the race has been run (and after an appropriate rest period), fartlek runs can be a low-stress way to resume running and maintain fitness.

How Do I Do A Fartlek Run?

Due to the unstructured nature of fartlek runs, there aren’t many rules you need to follow to do one. You simply need to alter your pace throughout a run. 

1. Choose Your Time Intervals

You can choose a timeframe for your faster portions if you want (deciding, for example, to alternate running faster for three minutes and then slower for five minutes), but by relying on time, you force yourself to focus on your watch rather than your surroundings and make the run less organic and spontaneous, thus losing some of the benefits of a more free-form fartlek run. 

Therefore, you may find it more enjoyable to try the more typical fartlek run, which involves speeding up or slowing down based on actual elements along your route, such as landmarks or changes in terrain.

2. Figure Out The Length Of Your Workout

You can select the overall length of the run and the amount, distance, and pace of the faster and slower segments based on your current training and mileage. 

If you are not running more than five or six miles at a time right now and are not doing any type of speed work, you may want to initially incorporate fartleks in small doses over just a few miles. 

If you are running higher mileage and already doing some speed work, however, you will likely be comfortable adding fartleks throughout a medium-distance run or in place of a speed workout or tempo run.

3. Find Your Playground: Identify Your Interval Markers

You can run fairly equal distances for the faster sections or you can vary the distance and pace for each segment. 

It may also be helpful to keep in mind that if you are training for a shorter race, you may want to lean toward keeping the faster segments shorter and speedier, whereas if you are training for a longer race, you are likely to reap better results with fast segments that are a bit longer and closer to race pace than a sprint. 

Additionally, while fartlek runs are traditionally continuous runs, with even the slower segments involving at least a slow jog, they can certainly be adapted for those runners who prefer a run/walk method, by simply running the faster segments and walking the slower segments.

How to warm up for fartlek training?

Warm-up before fartlek training includes an easy jog for 5 to 15 minutes and then, in continuity, without stopping, you move on to the main part of the training, alternating between faster and slower intervals.

Adjust the duration of your warm-up according to your current fitness level. It is important to prepare your body for the main part of training but be careful not to get too exhausted.

How to know what pace to run in fartlek training?

Fartlek training is run according to your feeling, without keeping track of pace. When you are running, it does not matter how fast you are going, but how you feel. Listen to your body, relax, and enjoy.

If you are running with a watch, try not to bother yourself with your pace. Set yourself an option on the watch to tell you when to speed up and when to slow down.

Most importantly, enjoy and play with speed!

How long does fartlek training last?

On average, fartlek training lasts for 45 minutes. However, the duration should be adjusted according to your current fitness level and training goal.

If your goal is to improve your endurance, then you should do a long fartlek. If you wish to improve your speed and wake up your legs, then you should do a short fartlek.

When should runners do fartlek training?

Fartlek training can be used throughout the year because you can adjust it to any and every training goal.

One of the main benefits of fartlek is running according to your feeling, without concerning yourself with pace. You will not stress your body too much and it is not mentally challenging, which is why you can use it in any phase of your training.

During the base phase, fartlek allows you to progress from slower to faster running and is a great introduction to interval training.

In later phases, fartlek is also great as a break between more demanding workouts because you don’t have to bother with the running pace but follow your own feeling.

How often should runners do fartlek training?

Fartlek training should be done at least once a week. Depending on your fitness level and goals, you can do it multiple times a week. 

This way you will break the monotony in your training and add speed without too much stress.

How does fartlek training improve speed?

Fartlek means “speed play”. As you listen to your body, you add faster segments to your continuous run. 

By alternating pace, you allow your body to adapt to different speeds and thus improve your running speed over longer distances.

8 Fun Ways To Do A Fartlek Run 

These options may also keep you more engaged and less likely to zone out during your runs.

1. Cars

If your running route involves cars passing by regularly, you can use those cars to guide your fartlek run. 

You may decide, for example, that you will run faster when a convertible passes you and slow down when a delivery van passes you.

Or you may base your faster and slower segments on a specific colour of the car or a specific make and model. 

2. Bikes

If you’re sharing the path with a lot of bicycles, you can speed up when a group of bikers with matching racing jerseys breezes by and slow down when someone walking their dog passes you. 

Or if bicycles are a bit more random along your route, you may decide to just speed up or slow down every time a bicycle of any sort goes past in either direction. 

3. People

If there are a lot of people along your route, you may decide to use them as your markers. 

You may decide to speed up when you pass someone drinking a coffee and slow down when you pass someone pushing a stroller. 

You could run faster when someone runs past you and then slow down when someone waves or says good morning to you as you go by.

4.  Podcasts or Radio 

If you are listening to a podcast or the radio while you’re out, you can speed up the sponsor information or commercials, and return to an easier pace during the show.

5.  Buildings

If you’re running through anything other than a trail or the countryside, you can use buildings as your interval triggers. 

While running through a residential area, you could decide to speed up when you pass a house with a blue door and slow down when you pass a house with a white fence. You could speed up when you pass a house with a “For Sale” sign and slow down when you pass a house with an open garage door. 

For more urban environments, you may, for example, decide to run faster segments after you pass a coffee shop and slow down when you pass a bus stop. 

6.  Dogs

If there are a lot of dogs on your running route, you can use them to create your intervals. 

Perhaps you speed up when you pass a greyhound and slow down when you see a bulldog. 

If you may speed up when you see someone running with a dog and slow down when you pass someone walking two dogs.

7.  Street signs

It seems almost too easy, but why not speed up when you pass a green light or speed limit sign and slow down when you see a red light, stop sign, or yield sign? 

8.  With a Friend 

Finally, if you have a running friend who is game to try fartleks, try running together and take turns picking out landmarks along your route. 

You may decide you’ll run fast to the next light, for example, and then you’ll run easier until your friend picks out the next element.


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