Run Less, Run Faster Review

If, during any part of the last few years, you were the coffee junkie that I’m now trying hard to no longer be, then surely you’ve seen the quote on a Starbucks cup:

“The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating…”

There were lots of other quotes like it, but this one seemed to impact people a little more than the rest.  There’s even a blog named for the quote.

I first read this quote-on-a-cup at the same time as I was discovering its message for myself, through—what else—marathon training.  I don’t know that I agree entirely with it: To me, “liberating” isn’t quite the word to describe commitment.  I would replace it with “not that sucky, and potentially really awesome.”

Fully Committed

It has been over five months since I’ve trained seriously.  I can’t say I feel much guilt about that—after all, this Saturday I’ll be running my second 50K in a span of three months.  It tells me I’ve come a long way as a runner when a race schedule like that is considered “time off.”  But really, it has been relaxing.  And after focusing so hard on qualifying for Boston in October, I absolutely needed the break.

But as I’ve alluded to recently, I have missed that feeling of commitment to a goal.  It’s time to get back out there, to diligently pound out those track workouts, tempo runs, and long runs, one of each per week.  I don’t even feel that I need a goal.  I just need that structure, that feeling that every week I can run just a little bit faster or farther than I could the week before.

Run Less, Run Faster

run less run faster cover 197x300I’ve decided to do the workouts from the book Run Less, Run Faster (Amazon affiliate link) again to get back into racing shape.  This was the training program that finally pushed me past the 3:10 marathon barrier (with one modification, which I’ll explain).

I’d recommend this program not to first-time runners but to anyone who has run a distance before and wants to get faster at that distance.  Here’s the premise.

You do three running workouts per week: one speed workout, one tempo run, and one long run.  On two of the days between them, you cross train with swimming, cycling, or some other low-impact activity.  All the paces are specified based on your current ability level, and to some extent, your goal.

Now, here’s the modification I made, and it’s a big one, given the title of the book:  Don’t run less. Do easy runs in place of the cross-training.

I realize this is going against the whole premise of the book.  I tried running less in early 2009, and I got hurt.  I have no idea if that was the reason, but I did note that I missed running easy, as there’s none of that in this program.

But on the way to getting hurt, I fell in love with the workouts in this book.  So I kept them, and threw out the “Run Less” part.  I ran easy on two or three off days per week, and kept everything else the same.

The striking feature of this program, and what I credit with most of the 10 minutes I knocked off of my previous marathon time, is that you do long runs near your race pace.  This is in stark contrast to most other programs I’ve done, where I’m always made to feel guilty for running any faster than 1-2 minutes slower than race pace on my long run days.  In Run Less, Run Faster, I built up to a 20-mile run at 7:30 pace—a mere 15 seconds per mile slower than my Boston-qualifying pace.

A final feature I enjoyed: While you can customize the training programs to whatever your ability or goal, the training programs for the 16 different Boston-qualifying paces are pre-made, so there’s no need to figure anything out.

Along with going vegetarian and a lot of hard work, I credit this training program with my qualifying for Boston.  The information you need is there; it’s just a matter of making it happen.

Please note: I earn commissions on purchases from Amazon through the links in this post.

This post is part of 10-part series on qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  Check out the rest!

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Comments

  1. I own the book (and not a library card, but whatev) and am really considering using it for my next race (TBD). But, I’m kinda looking forward to running only 3 or 4 days a week – especially coming of an injury.
    I think I may do their hard 3 days and then one easy day because I enjoy easy runs. But my injury also opened my world to spinning and kickboxing which are new loves :)
    .-= Runeatrepeat´s last blog ..Running with a Smile =-.

    • Monica, I think that’s a really good idea. If you like the cross-training, by all means do it. The book is based on a lot of science that demonstrated that people got great results by replacing easy runs with cross training. (I hope I didn’t come off as saying it’s a bad idea; it just wasn’t for me.) I’m glad to hear you’ll keep one easy run day; I really like them too.

      • Hi!

        I think the book sounds great and has a lot of application for runners. I wish you would have mentioned something about running relative to paces that are competitive and already under qualifying times.

        I, and my runner pals, can run 22 miles at 6:15-30 pace hungover on 4 hours of sleep having done 10 miles at 5:50 pace the day before somewhat easily. That’s 2:44-2:50 marathon pace but not impressive if you compare it to running in the 2:20’s for a marathon.

        How does the book respond to/address runners who actually NEED to run more miles to make the jump from say, a 2:37 marathon to a 2:29 race? I assume that its authors would say the added mileage (40-50 bumped to 70+ miles a week)is necessary to get the body accustomed to running fast.

        Otherwise, marathon training for experienced runners trying to qualify for Boston shouldn’t exceed 50 miles a week. Tempos and long runs are all you need anyway, slow miles are to get your legs accustomed to recovery after exertion. They’re junk if your doing tempos and long runs closer to your pace anyway.

        I think the book is revealing what most real runners already know.

        I’m not criticizing you, I believe running programs for novices are important but forget to highlight key aspects of competitive training that can apply to racing fast (it’s basically what ex-college runners do to their training when they get busy in life (40 miles is all you need to run 2:45!) I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

        Holden

        • Holden, I think at your level, you’re not going to get much out of books that are designed to sell to the masses. It seems to me that a coach would be more appropriate.

          I think the whole “run less” idea is something that applies to novices far more than runners like yourself, for the simple reason that there are big gains to be had for novices by avoiding injury and getting in three good workouts a week. At a higher level of performance though, I’d imagine injury is less an issue and gains are harder to come by, and generally come as the result of more mileage. Correct me if I’m wrong there; that’s really just a guess.

          • Thanks for the comments guys! I was hoping it was a big breakthrough and I might be able to enjoy some extra mornings of sleeping in or a relaxed lunch break instead of sneaking in a workout once in a while.

            Best to you.

            My advice for all you runners: as a guy who ran mostly 400m-3000m in high school and college, is doing fast miles. Threshold or tempo pace. Be patient and realize that, yes, it really hurts doing these runs. Start small and make sure you are doing them right. Faster, tougher pace…Less track, more tempo runs. Don’t let yourself off with doing more miles at a slower pace either. You’ll get strong and soon you’ll start noticing your pace on regular training runs will be faster and more comfortable. You’ll actually start to feel MORE comfortable running fast (and become mentally very strong)

  2. That’s an interesting though: Commitment is liberating. I’d never heard it before or would have thought it to be true but there’s definitely something to be said there.
    I love that your not running less for a book called Run Less, haha. Then again, I couldn’t imagine cutting back; I run for the enjoyment first and foremost and if I can’t enjoy it to the fullest extent, why bother?
    .-= Evan Thomas´s last blog ..Balance And Contradiction =-.

    • Evan, the quote is actually longer than that; click the link to the blog named after it and you can read the whole thing there in the tagline.

      Excellent point about running for enjoyment. Really, that’s more important than anything else, because you’ll only keep doing it if you enjoy it. If you can run every day, or almost every day, without injury, I still think it’s the way to go.

  3. Sounds like an interesting book. Does it mention anything about weight training, as that is what I like to do on my non-running days? It’s smart to have a plan for your running sessions. I usually base my runs on 1) how much time I have and 2) how I’m feeling that day. A training regime, however, would be a more effective way to really improve. Need to get on that…

    Good post Matt.
    .-= Billy Broas´s last blog ..Take Beer Tasting Notes [Beer Newbie Mission #2] =-.

    • Billy, they do mention weight training, and say NOT to do it! Or at least, it’s not one of their recommended forms of cross training because it’s weight-bearing. But just because they say that, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. I think hardcore weight training has a place in an endurance program, but I’m still trying to figure out how often and how hardcore.

      I’m glad to see Beer Newbie Mission #2 is posted — I’m going there right now to get the briefing!

      • Darn. I was hoping that “low-impact” meant no football, oh well. I agree with you that weight training has its place in an endurance program but it is tough to find that right balance. Also, as I am shooting for overall fitness vs. strictly running, a runner-focused regime will understandably not fit well.

        Thanks for the kind words about the Beer Missions. We’re changing things!
        .-= Billy Broas´s last blog ..Take Beer Tasting Notes [Beer Newbie Mission #2] =-.

  4. Hi Matt! Thanks for the link :) I just love the idea of really committing to something. So often we find ourselves going through life and just without goals or without passion. That is how I felt when I found triathlon and I truly felt liberated to have such a tangible goal that impacted my everyday life.
    .-= Krista@CommitmentisLiberating´s last blog ..Reunited And It Feels So Good! =-.

  5. Matt

    I’ve been reading your blog regularly for the last 3-4 months. I’m a vegetarian runner who is trying to shave 41 minutes of my last marathon time to qualify for Boston :-). I had never done speed training until 2 months ago and already I’m seeing results. Since I hate cross-training (I believe it led to my IT Band problems during my first marathon) I’m also following a modified FIRST marathon program … filling in the x-train days with easy runs.

    Also I’ve started running in the Vibram Five Fingers for either the easy runs or the intervals. I had the good fortune to run and chat with Scott Jurek 10 days ago in Central Park and while he doesn’t buy the entire Chris McDougall spiel of barefoot running he feels that some short distance barefoot running in moderation is a great training component.

    Good luck on your target of the 3:00 marathon!

    G

    • Hey Gaurav, thanks for your comment. I emailed you about it. Very interesting that Scott isn’t in total agreement about the barefoot thing. I was wondering about that.

      41 minutes is a lot of time, but certainly not impossible at all. FIRST is a good program and a lot of people take big chunks of time off their PR’s with it. Good luck!

  6. Very cool. I may consider doing this when/if ;) I pulled back on my teaching schedule. I have actually been doing mini speed workouts before the days I teach my weights class. As a result, I ran 6 miles at an average pace under 8 minutes yesterday! I am very excited. Hope you’re doing well and enjoy the refreshed workout plan
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Wholesome Foods Bakery Gluten-Free Giveaway =-.

    • Congrats, Erica, that’s a really fast run! I’m such a fan of speedwork. It’s amazing that it can help you with longer distance running, but somehow it does.

  7. That book is my bible. I used it last summer to shave 31 minutes off my PR and qualify for Boston, and it’s what I’m using now to train for Boston. I bought a used stationary bike for the cross training. Someone asked about weight training… I work out with a trainer 2 days a week on my non-running days, so you can fit it in. If you can get some stretching and yoga in as well, I find it helps with injury prevention.

  8. I’ve just requested it from the library. ;)

  9. I have to respectfully disagree as well, only because the easy runs don’t work for me. I follow the FIRST program, with key days of speed, tempo, long run, and cross-training on three other days. I enjoy weight lifting among other things, but at the most basic level I find the days I’m not running only fuel my desire for the key run. There are days that I would much rather do an easy run, but also strongly believe it’s better for my long term wellness to utilize other muscles/ligaments/tendons.

    Have you read anything by Dean Karnazes (50/50 or Ultramarathon Man)? If not you absolutely have to with your ultra races… he’ll run 70 miles up to the start of a marathon and then still post a 3:30 time or better. What I’ve learned from the tens of thousands of miles he’s logged is just do what works for you. I’m at a point of enjoyment right now with my running that I’m eager to attack the key runs, and daily miles would push me to burn out faster I believe.

  10. My must read pile is growing with leaps and bounds. Maybe I need a way to run and read at the same time that is not spelled treadmill.
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..The Tulips =-.

  11. I am 37 years old and I used the BQ training program in the book to train for my first marathon.
    I started the book’s training program 5 weeks to train for the race. Before I started training, I was running 10 miles two times a week at no particular set pace. I was casual runner, by no means a long distance runner. I think my longest run then was 14.5 miles, just to see if I could do it.
    I was able to complete my first marathon in 3:33. My time would have been much better if the course had not been filled with hills and the rain. I also made a couple rookie mistakes, like starting in the back of the start line queue and drinking too much during the race which forced me to stop for a pee break. At mile 23 I stopped to try to stretch my legs (the hills had them pretty wound-up), that did more harm than good. I won’t make that mistake again.
    Instead of swimming or biking on the off days, I opted to do upper body weightlifting.
    My weight training involves a lot of reps with very heavy weight.
    So does the book work? I would say so. In a few weeks I improved my pace from 7:43 min mile to just a hair over 7:26 min mile.
    If you are going to do this you need to be prepared for some pain, the interval work-outs can really stress your body. You will do a couple sets and think there is no way you are going to be able to finish the work out. This is when you need to step-up because this is where you make your gains.

  12. Okay so I know this post is old, but I am hoping that you will still get this comment. I am hoping to BQ at the Detroit marathon this October 2012. I am thinking of following the FIRST plan. I spent a long time looking at the book at the store and ordered one from Amazon. My one question is that did you use a track, trails, sidewalks, or treadmill? I feel like using a treadmill is the one way to ensure I hit my goal paces, as if I was on the track or road, I’d keep having to stare at my watch to see if I was on pace or not. But I also feel that treadmill runs are like “cheating” b/c they tend to be easier. Does this make sense? Anyways just wondering what you did for your runs. Hopefully you get this and can e-mail me back! :)Thanks for being so informative on your blog, I love reading it!

    • I know I’m not Matt but I wanted to respond. I’ve used Furman for my last 5 races and PR’d in all of them, BQ’ing each time. What they say is to train on the terrain similar to what your race will be. So if it’s a road race, train on the road. Trail marathon, train on trails, etc.

      Treadmill training isn’t ideal for the reason you mentioned. However, I do ALL my speed work on the treadmill (at 1-2% incline to make up for the “easiness” of being on the tm) and the occ tempo run on there. Otherwise, road runs.

      Furman is brutal but it WORKS. Good luck at Detroit!

      • Billy M. says:

        I also highly recommend this book…helped me go from just over 4 hrs to BQ for 2013 at 3:14:04 (42 yrs old).

        I never did over 40 miles/wk and also did my interval training on a treadmill (at 1-2% incline like Dena mentioned). Once you set that goal pace, you either keep up or fall off! :-) My other runs were done outside to replicate real running conditions as much as possible.

        The only modification I made was to increase my LRs to 24 miles…that’s just what worked for me. My body (or perhaps my mind too) got used to “winding down” my LRs at the 18-19 mile mark when only doing 20 milers, so increasing that distance really helped me get “over the hump” of that dreaded last 6.2 miles.

        Best of luck and run well!!!

  13. …just bought the book today and hope to BQ in 2013! first goal is to run a 1/2M @ 1:30 or better in spring, then a full M @ 3:15 or better in fall. praying this will work due to the fact i enjoy cross training – biking, swimming, bikram yoga and run better with recovery days. also, it’s not just the training, it’s also the diet which is the foundation of any successful athelete, and Vegan/Vegetarian is the way to go!

  14. Michelle says:

    How many miles did you do for your easy runs in place of the cross-training?

  15. I just ordered the ‘Run Less Run Faster’ book. I hope it works for me. I have run 2 marathons (just finished the Toronto Marathon this past Sunday – May 5th) It wasn’t great as I have a hip/knee injury and struggled the last 10K. That being said I still managed to PB from my last marathon, a year ago, although only by a mere one minute. I’ve found the 5 day a week training plan too much for me and I’m looking forward to trying something different. I’ve started Bikram yoga (which REALLY has helped with my breathing form while running) and will incorporate spinning too as my cross training. I will keep you posted to see if this new program will work for me. Cheers. Thanks and I enjoy your blog.

  16. I did this program for my second marathon and used it to prepare to a few smaller races in between. I totally agree with the author of this website that the run less part is NOT the best idea. I found that I was more tired for the key workouts and it took a lot to ramp up into them. Also, the paces are a little hard to maintain on the track and the road. For example, finding a 3,4,5,6, and 10 miles stretch where I could hold some of the average paces was hard. I found I was going out and back down some shorter roads to ensure I wouldn’t run into some crazy hill that would knock me off pace. This fall I’m doing a marathon locally and have moved all but the long run to the treadmill. I add a 1-1.5% incline and can set my pace and go. So far I am having good success and more importantly no injury. The premise of the book is good in that it makes half and full marathons realistic goals for busy people, but it’s still a chunk of time when you consider the stretching, nutriton (pre and post), cool downs, etc. Plus, the key workouts are hard and filled with pressure to perform at a certain level. I found 4-5 days a week of just mileage easier, but the three key workouts are tough. You need to have recovered, slept well, eaten well, weather can factor in – a lot has to be in place to succeed at the 3 key workouts. Fortunately, the long run – the most time consuming IS indeed the easier of the three. I find the paces to be a little high on these (maybe 10-15 seconds too fast), but they’re not impossible. The trick is to give up the idea of mimicking the race course in elevation. If you go out and try and mimic a hilly course during a 20 miler while trying to average an 8 minute pace it’s going to be hard. I think it better to find an easier course and push harder, that way in the race, although the course is harder, you will have tapered and may arrive with a little bit of extra push for the elevation, but will not have killed yourself in the training. Overall, the book is a solid foundation for a great marathon program, but I personally have added an easy run and a hill workout done at a steady, but not all out pace and am seeing much better results than ONLY doing the 3 key workouts and cross training.

  17. Rajesh Babu says:

    Can anyone plzz share the meal plan for marathon training ??

  18. Hi Matt,

    I’m a little to the game on your post but I’m interested in the book. I just did my first marathon a few months ago with the intention of qualifying for Boston (thus the name of my blog!). Long story short, that didn’t happen. I missed my BQ by exactly 60 minutes. OUCH!

    It goes without saying that I’m not a fast runner but I’d really like to be. I’m trying to modify my diet and I want to run better so I’m going to try this book, app, etc.

    Thanks!
    Tanya

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