Training With “Fartlek”

I was in the middle of my regular Tuesday ride at the Veloway today when it occurred to me that I had written about this ride early in the life of the Bike Noob blog. Tuesday is my “fartlek” ride. And since most current Bike Noob readers probably haven’t seen that three-year old post, I’m going to resurrect an edited version of it.

Back when I was a runner — okay, I was never anything more than a jogger — interval training was considered the way to go to train for a race. I entered my share of t-shirt runs, and sometimes I even got serious about training for them. But intervals put me off. They seemed too regimented — too serious.

Then I read about an alternative method of training. It’s called fartlek — from the Swedish for “speed play.” A fartlek trainer runs at a certain pace, or tempo, for awhile, and then turns on the gas and runs hard for awhile. The bursts of speed are not over set distances, and recovery times are always different. That’s the kind of training I enjoyed doing.

I thought about that on today’s ride. I had fully intended to do intervals. I even had the fast sections mapped out in my head. I knew approximately how long my recovery times would last. But when I started my first interval, I just couldn’t get enthusiastic about it.

Then it occurred to me — do fartlek. I started pulling on the pedals through a twisty inclined stretch, a little less than a mile. At the high point, I backed off. I rode through a relatively flat area without pushing hard.  On another twisty incline I stomped on it again, and held the fast pace for almost another mile.  On an ess curve that features a right-angle left followed by an acute-angle right, I laid the bike as far over as it would go without falling (great fun).  Then I coasted back to the start.

I did five laps, and did fartlek for four of them.  Each time, my fast and slow sections were different.  I got the training benefit without the regimentation that takes the fun out of biking.  Tonight, I can feel it.  I fell asleep in front of the TV.  I’m going to bed earlier than usual.  This might partly be because I slept poorly last night, but it’s also because I had a tough workout.  I like the feeling.  I plan to do it some more.


  1. amazer says

    Thanks for setting me straight about what fartlek really means… I had always thought it meant the strategic release of methane from one’s posterior to boost acceleration away from the peloton!

  2. says

    I love “unstructured” training. I started bike commuting to work some days, approximately 25 miles each way. I try to work in some training as I go. It’s long enough that I don’t think I need to really define when and where I will do things. If I want to spend a few miles just riding for the sake of riding-I’m free to do that. If I want to sprint to the stop light, go for it! Take a hill in the saddle, or out of the saddle-whatever I decide at that moment. But the moment I start defining everything, and setting up structure-I forget that I started biking because I really just like to bike!

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