fartlek training

Preparing For Your First Marathon With Fartlek Training

Preparing for your first marathon can be very exciting! To embark in such a journey puts you in a league of only a handful of individuals who’ve actually been able to accomplish such a task.

Be that as it may, making such a decision provokes many different questions, such as “What do I go from here?”, “How do I train for a marathon?”, “Can I really do this?”, and so on and so on. It can definitely be overwhelming at first. So, the best thing to do is to try to address all of your questions first to help give you a clearer head and more confidence.

In this article I’ll discuss one of the best ways to train for your first marathon, as well as provide you with a beginner workout that can help get you marathon-ready! I’ll try to take most of the guess work out of the equation and give you an easy to follow blueprint that can help give you the upper hand over your competitors!

Okay, so what’s the best way to train for your first marathon? High intensity interval training (HIIT) has been proven to greatly improve cardiovascular fitness, increase endurance, improve lactate threshold levels, the number and size of mitochondria, and much more!

Fartlek training, which is another word for cardiovascular interval training, is a fantastic tool for the marathon newbie to utilize as they begin their new training regimen.

fartlek training

Why is fartlek training so great for marathon training?

High intensity fartlek training is an excellent way to train for your first marathon because it forces you to utilize certain metabolic pathways found in the mitochondria that you’ll actually use during a marathon.

These metabolic pathways are what produces ATP and other energy substrates that aid in overall stamina enhancement. Fartlek training allows you to greatly enhance long distance performance due to how it affects your body at the cellular level.

So, how exactly can fartlek training enhance marathon performance? Well, for one, performing a high intensity fartlek training session actually forces your body to generate more mitochondria and can increase the size of your current mitochondria.

This is crucially important due to the fact that this is where ATP is made. The larger and greater number of mitochondria means that you’ll have more ATP, which will provide you with more energy. You know, that energy you’ll need for those 26.2 miles.

Not only this, but utilizing high intensity fartlek training can also greatly improve your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold is the point at which blood lactate levels skyrocket due to your body producing more lactate than it can get rid of.

This is the point where you experience high levels of fatigue. Every athlete has a different lactate threshold. In theory, the higher your lactate threshold is, the greater your performance will be; and fartlek training is just the technique to help you achieve this.

fartlek training

Of course, there are many other factors that aid in an efficient marathon prep, such as efficient carbohydrate loading prior to your race, ensuring that you’re adequately hydrated, and mentally focused. Nevertheless, having the “tools” to get the job done (i.e. larger mitochondria, increased slow twitch muscle fibers, etc.) puts your body in a state where it can much more successfully accomplish running an entire 26.2 miles.

Fartlek training session for your first marathon

  • 3 minute brisk walk (warm up)
  • 5 minute moderate jog
  • 1 minute heavy run
  • 5 minute light jog
  • 1 minute heavy run
  • 5 minute moderate jog
  • 1 minute heavy run
  • 5 minute light jog

This 26 minute fartlek training session can be repeated 2-3 times if necessary. Your individual repetition of this session will obviously depend on your current fitness level. Nevertheless, this should be a very good place for you to start as you prepare for your first marathon and improve your body’s inner workings and mechanisms to help you perform at your peak.

Importance of a cool down after your fartlek training session

After you perform cardiovascular interval training, especially like the forgoing fartlek routine, you should definitely engage in a “cool down”. This is not only important to help you recover faster and have you feeling better in the short term, but it can also help you to get your body out of a catabolic state more quickly. Thus, allowing you to better recover for your next workout.

See, if you simply stop running all together after an intense cardio workout, the lactate in your blood tends to “pool” in the areas of your working muscles and not in other areas of your body where it can be converted into pyruvate.

Another reason why lactate levels remain relatively high if you don’t have a cool down phase is due to your heart rate decreasing exponentially. This sounds like a good thing, right? Well, not if you want to rid your body of lactate as quickly as you can. If you were to have a cool down phase that consisted of about 5 minutes of walking, your heart rate wouldn’t dip nearly as much.

This allows your glycolytic pathways in the mitochondria to continue working at high levels. When these pathways are being used more you can help convert more lactate into pyruvate. This conversion of lactate to pyruvate results in lower blood lactate levels and overall less fatigue. Thus, allowing you to recover faster.

fartlek training

Also, continuing in a cool down phase allows you to expire more CO2 than if you simply stopped working out immediately after a fartlek training session. Expiring more CO2 results in greater lactate reduction. These are just a handful of reasons as to why its so important to cool down after your workouts. Remember, it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.


Deciding to embark in your first marathon is a beautiful experience. And utilizing an exercise protocol like fartlek training can greatly aid you in your preparation. Getting your body physically fit to not only endure 26.2 miles, but to do so successfully requires a realistic amount of time allotted for yourself to get in the best shape of your life.

Besides this, you’re more than likely to learn an awful lot about yourself in the process, as well as how certain foods and life stressors affect your mood/performance during training.

Fartlek training is absolutely fantastic for someone preparing for their first marathon. After consistent implementation and proper nutrition, you can expect a higher VO2 max, higher lactate threshold, lower cholesterol, increased slow twitch muscle fibers, increased muscle glycogen stores, and more! A marathon is no joke. So, you should prepare accordingly.

Doing so and by using fartlek training you can expect to be ready when race-day comes around!

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