TRAINING: 3, 2, 1–no 30-20-10 (Fartlek!)

I prefer to write about a workout while I can still feel it’s effects soaring through my body. Tonight’s fartlek began with a game of “lions and gazelles”, with Jason and I playing the role of “lions” chasing up a group of “gazelles” and then leaving them to hang on to the pace. It’s an old cross-country game that teaches the art of chasing and responding to being passed. But tonight I want to talk about the main session: 30-20-10.


This session is not really “old school” but rather came in vogue after it was published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology” in 2012. I don’t get too excited about the “magic powers” of any single workout rather I just grab formats I like to feed new ideas to Fartleks. We have used this once before – as a warm-up, so this time I wanted to do the workout full-on.

As I jotted this down, I realised I had misread how to do the workout but I think my “accidental format” makes for at least as effective and fun a workout as the “original”, so let’s have a quick look at both.

My workout

  • Run 5 minutes rotating:
    • 30 seconds hard
    • 20 seconds easy
    • 10 seconds sprint
  • Recover 2 minutes and repeat

Original workout by Gunnarsson and Bangsbo

  • Run 5 minutes rotating
    • 30 seconds low intensity
    • 20 seconds moderate intensity
    • 10 seconds high intensity
  • Recover 2 minutes and repeat

It is suggested to start with 2-3 repeats of this cycle. We began with four which means four x 5 minutes + 2 minutes or 28 minutes total.

“That was tough, but that was 20 ten second sprints,” commented Jason. This is the sort of ability that really serves a “racer” well. Just as Lydiard commented on his windsprints where Snell would run up to 3 miles of 100m sprint/100m steady (24 sprints) – “if anyone could sprint more than, we thought they can have it.”

As usual we had “enforced cheating” with faster runners on the outside rim of the cricket pitch and slower runners taking a smaller circle to stay in contact. Personally I was surprised that I felt fresh as a fiddle after the session with little muscle tiredness. I felt like I could have put in another 40-60 minutes of easy running without a problem and most of us could have thrown in a 5th repeat if needed. That said, sprint power was beginning to decrease especially in the 4th repeat.

An advantage of the order I employed was that you have to transition from a sprint into “hard” rather than from high intensity into low intensity. In a race the ability to surge and then hold onto a strong pace is more relevant than sprinting and then stopping almost flat.

Personal post-script

With the technical training under my belt I obviously prefer to run these fartleks barefoot, in the old cross-country tradition, and think I have run every fartlek since March that way now. It’s getting easier and easier so the my concerted effort on ironing out technical issues in the last two weeks seems to be beginning to really pay off. Much more to report here soon I hope…