Fartlek (speedplay)

Fartlek is a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic running without any set structure for when you decide to put in hard efforts. Likewise you can vary the exact intensity and length of faster running any way you want.


  1. Warm-up 10 – 15 minutes
  2. Run the whole gamut of paces over an undulating area such as a park. Mix in some fast stride-outs, sustained runs for a minute or 2, short hill sprints, downhill strides etc, making sure that you have easy recovery jogs in between.
  3. Cool-down 10 – 15 minutes

Important points: 

  • Since you make it up as you go there is no pressure to perform and you can make it as hard or as easy as you like.
  • The suggested pace given on the programme is the average pace. You should speed up and slow down according to how you feel, not by any set pace; but because of the recovery runs, overall pace should come out slightly slower than normal aerobic run.
  • Like strides, this is a great way to stretch out during base training without resorting to traditional stretching. (and remember in our coaching model we advise that you NEVER do static stretches. They are damaging and should be avoided).

Rate of Perceived Effort: 


Experienced competitors/elites: 

While “play” may seem inappropriate to some serious competitors, Fartlek may be one of the most important workouts to maintain at all levels of competition to never lose the ability to simply improvise and running by feel. Elite athletes will use longer fartleks and perhaps harder terrain for their fartlek workouts but the principle remains the same.


  • Endurance
  • Leg Speed
  • Fun
  • Running by feel
  • Changing paces
  • Not relying on the clock

 Biggest mistakes:

  • Trying to quantify the run and making this speedwork rather than speedplay.
  • Repeatedly sustaining your fast portions too long and entering into an anaerobic state that you cannot quickly recover from.


Mixed and varied terrain (grass, trail, dirt-path) over an undulating course is ideal for this workout as it naturally helps you move out of your set rhythm. You can use the uphills and downhills for your hard efforts (working hard into the hills, striding fast down the descents and so on).


Mountain Fartlek:  Mountain runners and other athletes focused on off-road running events, can include Fartleks that specifically mimic the conditions of their race and learn to run economically on surfaces with poor traction, obstacles and extreme gradients.
  • This run differs from the standard run in that climbs are much longer (perhaps up to a few kilometres at a time) and your route will feature 200-600m of ascent
  • Technical terrain such as loose rocks, dirt-path and heather can be part of your route depending on the terrain on your target race.
Structured fartleks: This workouts has immense potential to derail the original purpose of a fartlek workout and make it work rather than play, nevertheless several interesting “games” exist. Adopt these if you want to get out of your comfort zone but feel confused about what to do during a fartlek.

Parts of the workout descriptions are adapted from BreakThrough Running with permission.


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Director and coach at Borg Coaching Services
Rene Borg is the head coach of Glendalough AC and a passionate runner competing over all distances and terrains.

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7 Responses to Fartlek (speedplay)

  1. […] For runners who are in good health and have been improving and training consistently for a while, we use a more traditional Lydiard week – in this case only easy runs, recovery runs, long runs and medium long runs are done at MAF HR or below and we instead allow 2-3 ‘steady state’ runs usually in the shape of ‘Out & Backs‘, ‘Circuit Runs‘ and endurance-focused Fartlek. […]

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