Fartleks can be a fun, stress-free way to get really fit — and they require nothing more than a stopwatch. Whether you’re an ultra-runner, road racer, or track athlete, fartleks offer an effective training tool that you can do over any terrain.
By design, fartleks aren’t prescribed with specific running paces. They’re meant to be run completely by feel. This lack of a strict designated pace allows you to really pay attention to how you feel, something I find a lot of runners lose when they get caught up in GPS splits and data.
More often than not, when my own athletes stop obsessing over splits and start listening to their body’s cues, they end up running faster than they thought.
One fartlek I really like to scatter throughout any runner’s training cycle is the one-minute cutdown progression. It works well for runners training for any distance from 5K to ultra, and it can be done on the roads or trails. The workout is structured so that each fartlek interval is one minute shorter than the previous, and also performed slightly faster.
One-Minute Cutdown Progression Fartlek
Depending on your ability level, the first fartlek interval should be between 5 and 8 minutes and completed at your 75- to 60-minute race pace. This will equate to roughly a half-marathon pace (for advanced runners), a 15K pace (for intermediate runners), and a 10K pace (for beginner runners). You can also think of this as a rate of perceived effort (RPE) of 5 out of 10 (where 10 is an all-out sprint).
Each subsequent interval should be one minute shorter and run slightly faster until you reach the one-minute interval. Following each interval, the recovery is a slow 90-second jog. In terms of pacing, increase your pace 5 to 10 seconds, or roughly half an RPE, each interval.
A Way to Make It More Interesting
Here’s where I like to make this one a bit more interesting and where the real value lies. After settling into your first interval and finding the proper pace, look at your watch at the end of each interval — but before you look, try and guess what your pace was. Run the remainder completely based on feel, but aim to increase your pace by 5-10 seconds per rep.
After the workout is done, check your watch to see how close you came to your goal pace and decreasing your pace by 5-10 seconds per rep. If you nailed it, congrats! Your pacing and energy management are spot-on. If you faded a bit or struggled to increase the pace on the later reps, odds are you started off a tad too fast.
Repeat this workout every 2 to 5 weeks, but aim to start off a little slower. The more you repeat this, the better you’ll become at pacing, and ultimately managing, your energy in both workouts and racing. Proper pacing is a skill — and like all skills, it must be practiced.
One-Minute Cutdown Fartlek Progression Workout
- Warm up 1-2 miles starting at an easy pace, and then gradually pick it up to a moderately hard pace.
- Run 8 minutes at roughly a half-marathon pace (for advanced runners), a 15K pace (for intermediate runners), and a 10K pace (for beginner runners) or an RPE of 5. Use this calculator to find your half-marathon pace based on different race distances.
- Run a slow 90-second jog.
- Repeat the above, except make each interval one minute shorter and 5 to 10 seconds or half an RPE faster until you reach the one-minute interval. Keep the recovery at 90 seconds. For example, 8 minutes (90 seconds), 7 minutes (90 seconds), 6 minutes (90 seconds), 5 minutes (90 seconds), 4 minutes (90 seconds), 3 minutes (90 seconds), 2 minutes (90 seconds), one minute.
- Cooldown 1-2 miles at an easy pace.
Repeat the above workout every 2 to 5 weeks, but add one minute to the first interval each time. So, for the above example, you’d move to 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 and then 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.
What Is a Fartlek?
Fartlek is a Swedish term that means “speed play.” A fartlek is a continuous run where there are “periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running.” Fartleks are designed to be run based on feel versus assigned paces. One classic example of a fartlek run is the Billat 30-30 workout.
What’s the Difference Between a Fartlek and an Interval Workout?
The main difference between the two is that interval workouts are prescribed with an assigned target pace. However, fartleks are run by feel using an RPE or race distance pace such as a 5K pace.
Some interval workouts may include a standing or walking recovery period. Fartleks are meant to be continuous running.
How Do I Do a Fartlek?
Fartleks are perhaps the easiest form of speed work one can do. They can be done anywhere and do not require a GPS watch.
Simply pick up the pace for a predetermined or undetermined amount of time, and then run slower. Repeat, and you just did a fartlek.