Incorporate Fartlek (“Speed Play”) Runs in Your Training Plan to Achieve Your Running Goals for 2019

April 7 2019 Lupines near Lake Tekapo small version“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  ― Roy T. Bennett

Today I ran ~8 miles in an area with hills, and included a progression (more on this in a future post), in which I increased the pace for the last mile.

Immediately after my run I did the following exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Front lunges (5 repetitions on each side)
  • Front V-lunges (5 repetitions on each side)
  • Side-to-side lunges (5 repetitions for each side)
  • Back V-lunges (5 repetitions for each side)
  • Back lunges (5 repetitions for each side)

After these exercises I performed foam and ball rolling for ~15 minutes.

As I near the end of the fitness training portion of my marathon training and transition into marathon-specific training, I’m reminded of some of the important workouts to incorporate during training, especially early during half- or full-marathon training. One type of run, which is beneficial, is the Fartlek run. Fartlek means “speed play”, and basically means running at different paces during your run. Fartlek runs are useful to incorporate early in half- or full-marathon specific training because they can help you get used to running at different speeds while you are still building aerobic fitness. Therefore, the speed bouts during Fartlek runs should be at a pace which is still primarily aerobic (~70-90% effort). For half- and full-marathon training this pace may be anywhere from approximately 5k pace to marathon pace. The primary benefits of Fartlek runs are:

  • Trains the cardiorespiratory system and neuromuscular systems to efficiently absorb, deliver, and utilize oxygen while removing carbon dioxide and lactic acid
  • Improves endurance with low muscle stress
  • Promotes running more efficiently
  • Trains runner to manage low grade physical discomfort
  • Increases strength, improves form, and less chance of injury due to less strain on ligaments and tendons

However, when, and if, you should begin incorporating Fartlek runs depends on your fitness level and runnign history. For example, beginners may include Fartlek runs later during their training, or may not include Fartlek runs at all.

For those who use Fartlek runs, the length of time that you are running at increased speed is from 30 seconds to about 4-5 minutes. These increased speed bouts can be run on flat or hilly terrain and the length of time of each bout may be the same or different. In fact, the time bouts may be structuted (running specific amount of time) or not (running to a landmark, such as the “next telephone pole”, running at different speeds). You can also vary the recovery time between bouts to make the workout more or less challenging.

Early on, I recommend keeping these bout short (30-60 seconds) and then increase them over time. As you increase the speed bout time you may want to decrease the pace. So, early on in your training a Fartlek run might look like this:

  • Dynamic warmup
  • Run 10-15 minutes at an easy pace
  • Perform 6 30-second bouts at ~5k pace, or a pace that feels comfortably hard
  • Recover in between each bout with an easy jog for 2 minutes
  • Finish your run at an easy pace

As your training progresses and the time length of your speed bouts increases, you may beginning incorporating ladder-type speed bouts in which you increase and/or decrease the time of each speed bout and run these at different paces and vary the recovery time. This can be a great transition into threshold or tempo runs, or half- or full-marathon pace runs.

So, consider incorporating Fartlek runs into your training, after you have completed a fitness training program, to help you improve your running speed and achieve your running goals for 2019. You may consider working with a coach, so that you can appropriately incorporate Fartlek runs in your training plan and get the most benefit.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,


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