The Magic of the Around The Clock (ATC) Fartlek for Runners

During the height of Covid, I bought an archery setup for my yard and began practicing the sport regularly. Although the hobby didn’t last, the many hours I spent shooting left me with some valuable insights I’ve taken with me to running. Archery and distance running are polar opposites in terms of physicality, but the sports share many similarities: 

  • Both archery and running rely on a singular movement pattern that rewards efficiency 
  • Both sports require good posture under stress
  • The training for both archery and running is optimized through variety 

The most interesting archery drill I came across was called “Around the Clock”, which involves trying to shoot a circular target at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock markers. The idea behind Around the Clock is to challenge an archer’s habit of shooting exclusively at the same circular target. Like good runners, archers have figured out that varied training is one of the most effective ways to break through to the next level.

One of the most common mistakes runners make is repeating the same types of workouts too often. While sticking to your bread-and-butter favorites will yield results, it’s important to regularly give your body new stimuli so you don’t plateau. Much like varying your running surfaces will help you break through to the next level, so will mixing up your workouts. 

The ATC Fartlek

Drawing direct inspiration from the Around the Clock archery drill, the ATC Fartlek is designed to challenge your usual pacing while simultaneously touching upon multiple energy systems. The workout is simple: your goal is to hit “Clock” numbers in your pacing throughout the course of a run. For example, in a 7 o’clock ATC Fartlek, your goal would be to hit as close to a 7:00 mile, a 7:15 mile, a 7:30 mile, and a 7:45 mile as possible throughout the course of a longer run. The order of these splits can vary, and each structure will give you a different stimulus. On a 10-mile run, the full splits may look like something like this:

running fartlek workout

There are endless ways you tweak this workout to fit your training goals. To up the difficulty, you can aim to hit 10-second markers within your time frame. A 6 o’clock ATC Fartlek, for example, would aim to split miles at 6:00, 6:10, 6:20, 6:30, 6:40, and 6:50 pace throughout the run. 

You can also hone in more specifically on paces. When I was in peak marathon shape, I would run a 5:20 ATC Fartlek with goal splits of 5:20, 5:30, 5:40, 5:50, 6:00, and 6:10 throughout the run. As you can see below, I was close to my goal splits, but a few were off:

  • Goal – 5:20. Actual – 5:13
  • Goal – 5:30. Actual – 5:28
  • Goal – 5:40. Actual – 5:37
  • Goal – 5:50. Actual – 5:46
  • Goal – 6:00. Actual – 6:01
  • Goal – 6:10. Actual – 6:05

Why it Works

The ATC fartlek can be used for a number of purposes, including improving lactate and aerobic threshold speeds, working in marathon-paced bursts to longer runs, and learning how to change gears mid run. The workout serves as a great pacing tool, and it’s a fantastic teacher for getting your body in tune with different speeds. 

What I like most about ATC Fartleks is that they keep you mentally engaged from start to finish. If you’re using the workout for a moderate effort, it’s a great way to work in some variety for normally mundane runs and keep you from getting overzealous on pacing. (I like to see how close I can get to the exact 10-second marks on each split). If you’re using the workout for a hard effort, you’ll hit a variety of energy systems which can cut down on the mental fatigue of trying to hit the same paces over and over again. 

Additionally, working in varied paces to your runs teaches your body to get creative in how it fuels different efforts. During my own ATC fartleks, a 5:20 mile would be right around my lactate threshold, so when I slowed down to hit my 6:00 mile (a bit slower than my marathon pace), my body would learn to recover at a respectable speed, utilizing lactate in the process.

Runners who train with See You At The Finish are given ATC Fartleks with targeted goal paces as part of larger training blocks. If you’re interested in learning more about our training programs, visit our Coaching Page or email me at Danny@SeeYouAtTheFinish.com. And for more free tips, check out our blog section.


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