What's a Fartlek? Your Half Marathon Training Questions Answered

So you've decided to run a half marathon and are on the lookout for a training plan. While the internet offers a plethora of plans for you to follow, the makeup of these training plans might be confusing for new runners. Don't get deterred; half marathon training is really quite simple.

We walk you through a few basic questions you might have about training for a half marathon so you can stop wondering and start working!

Do I need a training plan?


Training plans hold you accountable and keep you on track for meeting your half-marathon goals, even if all you want to do is cross the finish line. While following a plan might seem intimidating or too hardcore for a novice runner, it really is the best way to prepare. It's harder to skip runs and workouts when they are scheduled for you.

Which training plan is best?


You might be surprised at the number of different half-marathon training plans available. It's important to find a plan that aligns with your timeline; many plans range from 10-20 weeks. You also need to find a plan suitable for your level of fitness and running experience. Plans found online are often labeled for beginner, intermediate or advanced runners.

Apart from finding the right level and timeline, the type of plan you choose is up to you. You can always make adjustments to your plan along the way. Getting started with something is an important first step.

Is it OK to take walking breaks?


When you start running, you might be tempted to stop and walk. This is completely fine! In fact, run-walking is a common method used to train for long distance races. People new to running or working to build a general fitness base are often encouraged to use the run-walk technique, which includes planning to walk for a certain portion of a run.

how to choose a half marathon training plan

When using this method, the running portion should resemble a slow jog and the walking should be at a fast pace. You shouldn't feel a huge aerobic relief from walking, but mixing walking with running can lessen the impact on your body.

What is an easy run?


Half-marathon training plans often include days that call for a long, easy run. Easy run might sound like an oxymoron to you, and you aren't alone. Running will never feel like a leisurely stroll, but an easy run should be a slow jog rather than a run paced for speed. You should be able to hold a conversation during an easy run. The goal of this workout should be to run the assigned distance while conserving energy. A run-walk method would work well during this type of workout.

What is a tempo run?


While easy runs are meant to build a cardio base, tempo runs are a type of run designed to improve your muscles' ability to run faster and for longer. A tempo run should feel difficult but doable. You should not be able to hold a conversation during a tempo run, but the run should be slower than race pace. Finding the correct intensity level for tempo runs might take some trial and error.

How do I find my pace?


To properly follow a half marathon training plan, it's important to understand pacing. Easy runs, tempo runs and speed workouts intend for you to use different speeds or intensity levels. If you are new to distance running, determining your pace might require you to run a time trial.
  1. Time yourself running a 5K at a speed you would run during a race.
  2. Track each of your mile times to determine your race pace. Make note of your heart rate, as well.
  3. Make adjustments to training runs based on your race pace.

running find pace

Once you understand your race pace (even if it is for a shorter race) you can better guess what mile pace you will run during your half marathon and use this to determine training intensity. Tempo runs should be close to race pace, while easy runs should be much slower.

Pacing takes practice, so be patient with yourself. It's best to track your pace with a sports watch to start, but you will get a feel for pacing the more you run.

What is a fartlek?


A fartlek is a type of speed workout used in a variety of half-marathon training plans. The name "fartlek" is actually Swedish for "speed play," which describes the workout perfectly.

The idea is to mix speed into your run by choosing either a short period of time (3-4 minutes at most) or a short distance to run at a fast-but-steady pace. These bursts of speed are sprinkled into an easy run to make for a fun workout. Fartleks are meant to be unstructured and can be as easy or as difficult as you make them.

Fartleks are usually sandwiched between a mile warm up and cool down jog, which is important for muscles during any type of speed workout.

What is cross training?


All running, all the time can take a toll on your body (and your mental state). This is why most plans include cross training, or any aerobic activity that isn't running. Swimming and cycling are popular ways to cross train due to their low-impact nature. Walking or hiking, climbing and quick paced yoga (such as power flow) are also fun ways to cross train. Can't decide? Mix it up to keep things interesting!

Is it OK to deviate from my training plan?


Sometimes things come up that cause you to miss runs, and that's alright. It's best to do each assigned workout at some point during the week, even if you mix up the days completely. Since half-marathon training plans are meant to progress your efforts leading up to race day, keep in mind that if you miss an entire week you might not be able to jump in where you left off. And it's worth noting that the last few weeks are usually easy so your muscles are rested and ready for race day. Don't try to cram difficult workouts into the last weeks leading up to your race!

Now that you're better prepared to follow your half-marathon training plan, it's time to get after it! If you still have questions, consider joining a local running club. It's nice to have a support system and the guidance of more experienced runners. Good luck!
posted by
Lauren Seidl
Blogger at Sierra Trading Post
Lauren enjoys hiking, camping, climbing and exploring the outdoors. She's always up for trying something new, especially if it involves getting outside. When Lauren isn't out finding adventures in her home state of Colorado, she can be found writing as Sierra Trading Post's blogger.
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