Fun with Fartleks


The last few weeks The Girl and I have been enjoying the unstructured yet structured offseason running.  What do I mean by that?  Well, we’ve got a slew of runs to do weekly, a healthy mix with a long run, a tempo run, a couple of shorter runs (that we can swap out with cycling or swimming), and then finally…the fartlek run.

The fartlek run is the pinnacle of unstructured fun, running or otherwise.  Fartlek means ‘speed play’ in Swedish, and the goal is to have an interval-like session, but without the structure of intervals.  Meaning that intervals typically have a set work (run hard) and rest (recovery) period.  Usually defined by time or distance, and usually repeating itself over and over again at that defined interval for a very specific number of repeats.

But fartleks by definition are designed to be opportunistic, so you mix and match speed and distance as you see fit. As Wikipedia puts best, Fartleks “differ from traditional interval training in that it is unstructured; intensity and/or speed can be varied whenever the athlete wishes.”

So how are we implementing this?

Well, our coach has put together an initial warm-up of about 15 minutes, after which we build into a higher heart rate for a few more minutes. Then, we’ve got a prescribed set of time – tonight was 20 minutes – that we get to ‘play’.  Do as we please with very little instruction.

In most cases the goal is to have the ‘work’ (running some variation of hard) be between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, but we get to decide when, how far, and how hard.

What’s cool about this is that we both get to mostly run together.  We end and start in the same place, and since the paces aren’t too different when we’re talking shorter distance – so even if she ends up being 10-20 seconds back, it doesn’t matter to the overall goal of the workout.

In order to keep it interesting, we’ve been alternating selecting how far, where, and how fast.  I’ll go first and choose the next point to run to, and then she’ll return the favor on the next one a few minutes later.  And we repeat ourselves over and over again.  You never really know what the other person is thinking in terms of the pain they wish to apply for the next segment.

Usually the run to point is a tree, pole, car, or building down the road, or around the corner.  For example, tonight included one that was a loop around a few neighborhood buildings.  Sorta like an urban track, except without knowing really how far it would be.


We also included the ‘wildcard’ one – which means that neither of us have the slightest clue how far we’ll have to run.  How do we do that?  The easiest way is by counting cars.  In our case we decided we would run hard until we saw three red vehicles parked on the left side of the road.  The right side didn’t count, nor did purple cars.

At first tonight we (or maybe just me) were pretty concerned, as the first 200m or so there wasn’t a single red car.  Crap I thought, we could be running a long time.  But then one appeared on a side street – which, technically was the left side of the road (I wasn’t about to ask for a judges ruling here, I took it!).  About 30 seconds later we got the second one, and then about 15 seconds after that the third and final one.

Note about selecting car colors, if you choose silver or gray, you’ll want to have a really high quantity – something like 15 or 20 cars.  If you choose yellow, I’d suggest a lower number.  Same goes for aqua…really low number.  You can also play car companies/brands, types, and so on.  Or fire hydrants, sewer grates, no parking signs, etc… Just look around and look for semi-common objects to count off.

At any rate, the overall run tonight was just shy of 50 minutes, and I never based my running effort on HR or pace.  I simply just ran what felt fun.  Sometimes that was faster – had one quarter mile section at about a 5:05/mile pace, and sometimes that was slower (though, not a lot slower).  When you’re running shorter distances you can have a bit more fun with it.


Both The Girl and I commented that the time goes by really fast (no pun intended), and in fact, we went a few minutes longer than planned.  But since it becomes more of a game, you don’t even notice it.  I think we both could have easily been out there really around the neighborhood in circles for quite a bit longer and had fun with it.

Tomorrow we’ll have a longer 60m tempo run…which will be just as much fun – I enjoy a nice long building tempo run.  Good times!

Ok, back to eating holiday cookies I go…hope your week is going well!  Oh, and P.S. – it’s The Girl’s birthday Thursday (today), so leave her a note over there. :)

Thanks for reading!


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  1. i think, perhaps, you mean “fartlek”, but “farklet” is a nice notion.

  2. Dah! I had typo’d it into spell check wrong and subsequently swapped all of them, doh! All fixed, thanks for the heads up!

  3. Kim

    ray, do you typically rest for the same amount of time you fartlek?

  4. for the iphone how many apps available for GOOGLE MAP ?

  5. Did something happen to your HR monitor?

    In the last two speed sessions (also your fastest) your HR dropped like a bomb – Avg 146?

  6. ann

    sounds like fun. thanks for the post. going to con my boyfriend into doing this one with me!!!

  7. Ray, you’re my kind of guy. Taking The Girl on a tempo run for her birthday. Happy B-Day to The Girl!

  8. I am such a structured person that I hate fartlek runs. I can’t bear the randomness of it all! If someone else commanded my fartleking (like telling me to run to the corner), I am okay, but I think I am inherently too lazy to fartlek on my own :-)

  9. I tend to accidentally do Fartleks while on a long run, random speed ups and what not. I have to watch out for that.

    Good idea to run with another person though and have the person picking alternate, keeps you on your toes!

  10. If anyone knows the answer to this, I bet it’s you! The ant usb stick for my forunner 405 broke, so I’m trying to find a way to manually upload my workouts. Is there a way?

    So far I’ve had no luck :-(.

    Thanks so much!

  11. This sounds fun! Thanks for the suggestion!

  12. fatih ökten

    i bought the watch after i read this review,but a little disappointed.
    it really hardly finds the satellites.speed function does not work properly.and for me it is a very big deficiency.when i run,like many people i must know my time or my speed exactly,in order to achieve my workout goal.(for example 400m intervals in particular time or 4*10min with 14 km, 2*5min with 15km etc…). the distance is accurate,but the speed measurement is terrible.lastly, i am not sure if one touch gps button is useful.sometimes,when i have look at the time,i see that it is searching satellites.the running and the chrono modes are second and the third mistake or wrist/hand touch,it starts searching satellites again.i still use the watch,but when the time comes,it will buy a more serious gps watch such as a GARMIN!