Fartleks for Beginners


Jen has written 11 posts on Salty Running.

Wife. Mother. Runner. Educator. I spend my days leading teachers, my evenings and weekends chasing a toddler, and cram in running wherever I can!

Bored with your current running routine? Try adding a fartlek workout 1-2 times per week to spice things up!

Beginning runners – have you stagnated at a specific mile pace? Are you bored with your easy runs, the routes or the routine? Perhaps you are just looking for something new to spice up your running?

Well, look no further than the fartlek. Maybe you’ve heard this word bandied about and wondered why any runner might to do anything that’s pronounced fart lick. Despite what the syllables mean in English, the word “Fartlek” is actually Swedish for “speed play.” Speed is pretty much always welcome and the play thing makes it sound fun, right?

In fact, fartleks can both increase your speed and be quite fun, if you set yourself up for them properly.

First, if you’re a newer runner who doesn’t already do regular speed work, it’s important to establish a good base of miles to ensure your strong enough to handle the higher intensity of a fartlek. Once you’re comfortable running a certain distance at an easy pace (say, for instance, you run half an hour at a time four to five days a week), you can begin incorporating some “speed play” into your workouts.  As you do, you’ll notice your base pace increase as a result of your increased fitness.

The possibilities for creating the perfect fartlek are pretty endless.  Even if your weekly mileage isn’t very high or if your usual workouts aren’t very intense you can still start incorporating a fartlek into a run or two per week.

I know what you’re thinking…but Thyme, how do I start!?

Here’s a great beginner’s option:  5 minute easy jog, then work in 30 second “pick ups” with 90 seconds recovery. Do this for 5-10 reps, depending on your distance (3-4 miles). 5 minute easy jog cool down. What that looks like broken down:

0-5 min – easy jog – get loose, get comfy – your normal easy effort.
5:00-5:30 – pickup #1 – Run fast! Push yourself!
5:30-7:00 – easy jog – back to that easy pace.
Repeat until you’re about 5 minutes away from home / your car, then 5 min cool-down easy jog back.

As you build endurance and confidence, you can increase the length of the pick-ups. The stronger you get, the quicker they’ll be, too. Other “speed play” ideas:

  • 1 min “on” (pickup), 2 min “off” (easy jog)
  • 1 min “on,” 1 min “off”
  • Alternating 30 seconds”on,” 30 seconds “off,” 1 min “on,” 1 min “off,” 2 min “on,” 2 min “off,” repeat. This is similar to running intervals and a great option if getting on a track is difficult for you.
  • 1 song “on,” 2 song “off” (instead of using time, go by songs on your iPod! Although with this method, you run the risk of the 7 minute version of “Funkytown” playing while you’re running fast. That may be license to cheat. I won’t tell if you don’t.)
  • You could also use landmarks: try something like run easy for 2 telephone poles and hard for 1.
  • Make up your own using any measure you wish!


  • Have fun with it. It’s play!
  • Warm-up with at least a few minutes easy before adding any pick-ups.
  • Cool-down at least a few minutes easy after your last pick-up.


  • Walk. Fartleks should be a continuous run. The easy or “off” intervals should be at least jogged.
  • Feel stupid using the term. It’s totally cool to say fartlek and other runners won’t laugh at you!  Well, they might…but only in good fun!

Are you a newer runner looking to get faster? Do fartleks appeal to you? If you’re a vet, what do you like most about farleks? Any advice for the newbies among us?

4 Responses to “Fartleks for Beginners”

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  1. Judy says:

    Thanks for this. I was looking at an article that was defining fartlek training and telling me that if I’m a slow-twitch muscle runner, I should do blah blah blah and my eyes glazed over. This is understandable for me, the runner chick who doesn’t know all the technicalities of running jargon, LOL! I’m heading out for my first fartlek tonight in years, and I’ll be taking this advice, for sure!

  2. WOW! Great simple advice. Just did a 5k with a new PR this morning!

  3. Good information. Lucky me I came across your website by chance (stumbleupon).
    I’ve bookmarked it for later!

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