The Fartlek: why do we run fartleks?

By: Rejean Chiasson, Head Coach and Co-founder of Pace and Mind

Even as the word leaves your mouth it may leave you feeling embarrassed.

Fartlek is Sweedish for “speed play” and was coined by Coach Gösta Holmér in 1937. It is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training in an unstructured format.

I’ve done my fair share of fartleks. Leading-up to both my 2:17 and Canadian National win, I ran fartlek sessions once a week, and even more so in Ethiopia since they like using them at the end of a few easy runs every week to work on their leg turnover. Now it is part of  most of the Pace & Mind runner training programs at some point regardless of their goal race distance or pace.

Why do we run fartleks?

Fartlek sessions can be used in as many ways as your imagination lets you. You can train any component of the runners physiology  you want. For me, I like it because runners tend to be ‘over-obsessed’ with paces as was made famous by the audacious quip:

“If you see me collapse, please hit ‘Pause’ on my Garmin.”

I like the idea of running by feel, rather then just pace. Fartleks ensure the runner is not thinking about pace, but moving there legs and getting ‘in touch’ with their body. I like that I can mold my fartlek sessions to stress any aspect of any runner’s system that they need at any point of the year. I can include hills or no hills depending on the runner’s progress in the season.  It can include a track or track and hill combo depending on the week.  For my lower volume runners it might be their second workout of the week, usually shorter and faster than the main workout of the week. For my high volume runners it will be their third session of the week, but it will be very short to work on their leg turn over without putting much stress on their body since the total volume will be so low.

“It’s the seasoning on your training plan”

Fartleks are easy to build into your routine, you can pick it up at every street light, or phone pole but always remembering the intent/goal of this session. So, you Garmin lovers out there, stop looking at your wrist and just enjoy the run.  Also, fartleks are a great run for runners on vacation, if getting back into training, or if running in extreme conditions where hitting your typical pace might be impossible.

Fartlek Friday

Fartleks don’t have to be run on a Friday and it will always depend on your plan, but I like it as a great lead-in to the weekend.  It’s short and sweet, which makes it ‘fun’ for runners (which is also why I like to end mine with a cold brew).  It’s a good time to plan team socials and create that sense of camaraderie.

Run for your life.

– Rejean

About Pace & Mind

Pace & Mind is an advanced coaching service for runners. We offer advanced and highly customized 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon coaching for runners to improve their performance both on and off the road. Our coaching is based on the principles founded by Head Coach and Co-founder Rejean Chiasson, a Canadian marathon champion, 4x half-marathon medalist and Brooks Elite Ambassador. He is supported by our Online Run Coach, Kate Van Buskirk, an internationally accomplished track and field athlete, bronze medalist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Brooks Elite Ambassador. Unlike traditional ‘cookie-cutter’ or ‘clinic’ approaches to coaching, our Coaches first assesses, then customizes each runner’s training program based on:


Coaching programs are powered by TrainingPeaks software to ensure data accuracy. No runner’s program is the same and it constantly changes season by season, cycle by cycle. Our Coaches review your plan in detail each week, then adjust based on your progression and listens to you in terms of changes in nutrition, mental state and cross training efforts. Each runner also receives a cross-training plan and a racing singlet as part of the program.

You have one life to live. Run for your life.


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