What’s A Fartlek? And Other Running Terms You Should Know

A quick breakdown of all the workouts that might appear on your training plan. Plus, how each can benefit your performance.


If you’ve ever followed a training plan or even read through one, you’ve probably seen the names of a few types of runs. You might have come across terms like “interval run” or “tempo workout” or “fartlek.” (Don’t laugh, it’s a real training term!)

If you were then left scratching your head about what one run looks like compared to another, we created a brief breakdown of all the different types of runs below. Use this guide to help inform your training and get the most out of each of your workouts.

Long Runs
As the name implies, long runs are the longest runs on your weekly schedule, but the actual distance will vary depending on what race you have on your schedule. For example, if you’re training for a 5K, your longest run might be 4-5K to start, but if you’re training for a marathon, you could work all the way up to a 35K long run.

Your pace for your long run will also vary depending on your fitness level and goals. But generally speaking, you should conquer long runs at a conversational pace, meaning you could chat with your running buddy the entire time and breathe naturally.

»Benefits of Long Runs
These runs will help improve your aerobic fitness and endurance, helping you become a more efficient runner. You will strengthen your slow-twitch muscle fibres, which help stave off fatigue in the later kilometres of a run or race.

Recovery Runs
Recovery runs, also known as easy runs, should also involve your conversational pace. These runs serve as an important part of any training plan because they help your body recover from hard runs (hence the name!). The tricky part is finding your ideal pace, as many runners tend to clock these workouts a little too fast.

Essentially, a recovery run is short in duration and practised at a low intensity when compared to other workouts. This means you should be running at less than 65 per cent of your max heart rate.

»Benefits of Recovery RunsThese types of runs improve cardiovascular and muscular development, meaning they will help boost overall fitness levels and play a big factor in what allows runners to safely increase mileage week after week.

Hill Repeats
Hill repeats involve running uphill, rep after rep, so you’re going to really work your leg muscles during this type of run. If there aren’t any hills in your area, don’t worry, you can still practice these types of workouts on a treadmill.

These workouts are meant to challenge you, but that doesn’t mean you have to sprint them. Again, your goals and fitness level will determine the speed at which you tackle hills, but you want to learn to maintain your pace through the top of the hill, rather than dying out halfway through.

»Benefits of Hill Repeats
Hill repeats help runners build strength and power in the lower body and they improve running economy, which means you’ll be able to run more efficiently.

The secret to interval success is in recovery, as patience and discipline while you’re running easy allows you to run the next interval strong and finish the entire workout fatigued but not completely spent. Another key to conquering intervals: not starting the first one out so fast that you fade by the last repeat.

»Benefits of Interval Runs
You’ll gain improved running form and economy, endurance, mind-body coordination, motivation, and possibly fat-burning.

Tempo Runs
Tempos, also known as threshold runs, are like an Oreo cookie, with the warm-up and cool-down as the cookie, and a run at an effort that’s equal to — or slightly above — your anaerobic threshold (the marker in which your body shifts to using more glycogen for energy) as the filling. This is the effort level just outside your comfort zone — you can hear your breathing, but you’re not gasping for air.

If you can talk easily, you’re not in the tempo zone, and if you can’t talk at all, you’re above the zone. It should be at an effort somewhere in the middle, a “comfortably hard” effort that allows you to talk in broken words and hold that effort for at least 20 minutes.

Pace is not really an effective means for running a tempo workout, as there are many variables that can affect pace including heat, wind, fatigue, and terrain. So focus more on the effort you’re experiencing and try to hold it steady through the entire run.

»Benefits of Tempo Runs
Tempo runs increased lactate threshold so you can run faster at easier effort levels. They also improve focus, race simulation, and mental strength.

How Do Fartlek, Tempo and Interval Runs Differ?

Fartlek Runs
Fartleks are not only fun to say out loud, but they’re fun to run. Fartlek is the Swedish word for “speed play,” and that is exactly what this type of run is all about. Unlike tempo and interval work, fartlek is unstructured and alternates between moderate to hard efforts with easy efforts throughout.

After a warm-up, you play with speed by running at faster efforts for short periods of time (to that tree, to the sign) followed by easy-effort running to recover. It’s fun in a group setting as you can alternate the leader and mix up the pace and time. And in doing so, you reap the mental benefits of being pushed by your buddies through an unpredictable workout.

If you’re running solo, you can use it as a playful way to pass the time by targeting random markers as the finish line for the hard efforts. The goal is to keep it free-flowing so you’re untethered to the watch or a plan, and to run at harder efforts but not a specific pace.

»Benefits of Fartlek Runs
You get a stress-free workout that improves mind-body awareness, mental strength, and stamina.

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