Speedwork – Fartlek

I went for a nice long slow distance run this past Saturday going up Cerro San Cristobal. It pretty much felt like climbing a mountain sandwiched between two 5km runs. Of course, this isn’t your typical long slow distance run, but the general pacing is about the same. It was slow.

Lately, I’ve found that there’s an element of truth to the saying that “long slow distance runs make long slow runners.” So I’ve been doing something a little different to increase the quality of my longer training runs… I throw in bursts of speed: start slow and progressively speed up, or throw in sprints in the middle of the run, or maybe just try for a strong finish.

And this is what most of my charts in February have started to look like:

It’s called a fartlek – a training technique that involves random bursts of intense effort held over short periods of time during any given run. It’s also known as “speed play.” Think of it as intervals with less structure. Go fast when you want and slow down whenever you feel like it. I usually throw in a 30 second sprint whenever my “easy” run days get too boring – it pushes your aerobic capacity and endurance over a shorter workout period.

  • Try picking up your pace at every other street block.
  • Spot an object in the distance (like a bench at the end of the street) and sprint towards it.
  • Throw in a few strides in the middle of your run.

If you’re new to intervals – there’s a few thing to keep in mind to help you get started. First, there are different variables you can adjust when it comes to this type of high-intensity training: duration of intervals vs. rest periods, # of reps, and intensity of each interval. It’s a good idea to extend only one variable at any given session, or balance it out – e.g. higher intensity with longer rest periods or fewer reps. Second, warming up is important. You can also start slow and just progressively pick up your pace. You should recover based on time (not distance) – e.g. run 30 seconds, recover for 3 minutes vs. run hard for 400 meters and recover for 1200 meters. And third, stick to flat, even surfaces. It ensures even effort and helps maintain good form.


  1. Jeffrey Lee
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to have the ability to graphically compare two or more runs to find trends (hopefully improvement) as time passes. Any plans for this sort of functionality?

  2. Jim Ulle
    Posted May 8, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I just started using an app for my runs called “Zombies! Run!” and if you use it with Chase Mode on the announcer periodically interrupts your song to let you know that Zombies have started chasing you and you need to put on a burst of speed (break into a sprint) to outrun them. I can already feel myself reaping the benefits of these little challenges during my runs… and the story/game that goes along with the app is pretty intriguing too.

    I highly recommend it

  3. Posted May 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Very cool! We’ve actually been in touch with the developers of “Zombies! Run!” but they’re a bit busy at the moment and aren’t able to work with us in order to integrate. Although, we’re hoping that it’s something that’ll happen down the line :)