Could Your Long Runs Be Doing More Harm than Good?

Everyone knows that the cornerstone of any marathon training program, and especially any ultramarathon plan, is the long run.

Well, guess what?  It turns out everyone might be wrong.

Eliminating the sacred long run

Brian Mackenzie and the people at CrossFit Endurance are training their athletes to run 100-mile ultramarathons on less than 30 miles per week.  Even more incredible is that they do this without running more than a half marathon in training.


The idea, as detailed on the CrossFit Endurance FAQ page but explained in more depth in Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Body, is based on the distinction between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

For those who somehow avoided the lesson on the two systems in gym class, here’s the two-line version: 

  1. Your aerobic system is what’s working when you do low-intensity exercise, like the long, slow distance (LSD) that gets us all up early on weekend mornings when we’re training for a marathon or half.
  2. Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, involves shorter, higher-intensity workouts.  Weightlifting, speed training, etc.  You know, the stuff that hurts.

What Mackenzie and others are saying is that it’s easy to develop your aerobic system.  If you can run a strong 10K pretty comfortably, then you’re pretty much set for a marathon or 50K, at least as far as the aerobic system goes.  While you can improve it with long, slow distance, the additional gains to be had from adaptation to this type of exercise are minimal.

What they’ve found is that you can get these benefits to your aerobic system, along with a host of others, with far less volume of training if you focus on anaerobic exercise.  For them, this means speed sessions of only about a mile (say 4 x 400 meters or 2 x 800 meters) and tempo runs of 5 or 6 miles at high intensity.

The downsides of running long

In addition to the obvious time commitment, the CrossFit page cites as by-products of the increased cardiovascular function that comes with running long:

  • decreased muscle mass
  • decreased strength
  • decreased power
  • decreased speed
  • decreased anaerobic capacity
  • decreased testosterone levels

(There are no links to supporting references here, unfortunately.)

On the other hand, anaerobic training is credited with increasing muscle mass, decreasing body fat, and increasing speed, power, and strength, all in addition to the improved cardiovascular function you’d get if you just did aerobic training.  In short, running long is not only a waste of time, it’s mostly bad for you.

To many devout runners, this is blasphemy.  To me, it’s Christmas.

I’ve always viewed long runs as a necessary evil.  I’d much rather work hard for 30 minutes than have to take three hours out of my day to run 20 miles, even if it’s at a comfortable pace.  So the idea that you might still be able to run long races and set PR’s, without spending three or four hours out on the roads or trails at a time, is a very seductive one indeed.

But there’s a catch

So far, this looks like a shortcut to running marathons and ultras without really doing much.  It’s not.

The catch is that you’ve got to work really, really hard.  Those training 10Ks and half marathons aren’t your leisurely jog where you relax and chat with a buddy; they’re gut-busters.  And by the way, there’s also an intense resistance training workout to do four a five days a week.  CrossFit is no joke.

As Matt from Natural Digestive Healing said in a recent comment he left here, “You have to do it all the way though, or you’ll DNF.”  (That’s “Did Not Finish.”)

A compromise

This is cool, but it’s a bit much.  Honestly, I don’t know that I want to work as hard as those CrossFit guys and girls do every day, often twice a day.  Not to mention the risk of training for an ultra this way, only to find out when you bonk 13.1 miles in that it didn’t work as planned.

Thankfully, there’s an in-between.  Another commenter directed me to a less-extreme version of what you might call “minimalist” marathon training.  This one is by two guys called the Hanson brothers, who have been helping elite runners qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials.

Their marathon training plan is more traditional than the CrossFit approach, in that they still have you running a long run of 10 or more miles most weeks.  But that long run never exceeds 16 miles, a full 10 miles less than what you’ll have to run on race day.  The Hanson plan also includes speed and tempo (strength) workouts, much like CrossFit, but throws in several easy runs each week as well, a decidedly non-CrossFit addition.

Do you buy it?

I’m tempted.  I’m ever-intrigued by anything resembling a “hack” that will save time, or which has the potential for unprecedented results.  And twice in the (distant) past I’ve run marathons with 16 miles as my longest run, both the result of injury limiting my options.  Once it worked great; once it sucked bigtime.

But as I said above, this approach is appealing to me for more reasons than just looking for a shortcut.  I like the way I feel when I’m hitting the track hard — and I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon that I first learned about from Brendan Brazier, which is that even your upper body becomes more muscular as your running intensity increases.

Compare this to times when I’ve put in lots of miles but with little speedwork, like when I’ve trained for 50-milers, and I feel more like I’m withering away.

It feels good to work out hard, and it’s a big departure from what I’ve done for the past two years since I shifted to a more relaxed approach after qualifying for Boston.  For me right now, this new approach, with shorter but harder workouts, feels like exactly what I need.

I’ve been doing lots of speedwork for the past few weeks, ever since running the Boston Marathon motivated me to start training hard again.  That marathon was also my last run of anything more than 7 miles, and it very well may be my only long run in preparation for my next 50K, which is on June 11.

That 50K will be the first feedback I get about how this new approach is working for me.  If it goes well, I’ll be willing to dive into this less-mileage, higher-intensity plan to train for the Vermont 50-miler in the fall, followed by an attempt to requalify for Boston in Philadelphia several weeks later.

And if the 50K doesn’t go well?  Well, then I guess it’s back to good old LSD.

Ok, I’ve braced myself for an earful from the traditionalists out there… what do you think?



Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

The Nutrients You Need (With Nothing You Don't)

complementNo Meat Athlete has helped develop Complement™, the perfect nutrient formula for plant-based athletes. Complement brings together, in one place, the three essential nutrients that are missing from a reasonably diverse, whole food plant-based diet:
  • B12
  • D3
  • DHA/EPA Omega-3s
It's everything you need to complement your diet, and nothing you don't.

Click here to learn more.


  1. I don’t really buy it. I think there’s a certain amount of strength training needed with any training plan to make sure you don’t turn into a skeleton. But I don’t see how a long run could be hurting you in the long run(pun intended) if the runner all around has a good balance in exercise and eating. And I’m one of those crazy people who love running long; if I could bust out a 15 or 20 miler every sunny weekend I would. On the otherhand, I hate sprints and 5ks and don’t even do them when I’m supposed to.

    • I think you’re misunderstanding the point….Hansons method is not a shortcut.

      The “no runs longer than 16” is only what people want to latch on and….there’s a lot more.

      If you look at the classic Hansons plan, yes the LRs are no longer than 16, but they are flanked by @8 miles at marathon pace on Thursday, 6-8 miles on Friday, 8 miles Saturday, then the 16 miler, then up to 8 miles on Monday. The miles per week totals are not much different, and on many weeks higher than, the equivalent 18wk/55 mile max Pfitzinger plan.

      The big diff Hansons want to do is to have you run your longest runs on TIRED legs. That prepares you for the latter 16 miles of a marathon, not the first 16 miles. The Pfitzinger 18/55 plan will have you take Friday off or crosstrain, then run a recovery 6 miler on Saturday, then do your 20 on Sunday, then you get a day off on Monday. There went four days of the week just to rev up for the big run and the mile totals are still not more than Hansons plan.

      There are higher mileage “Hanson-esque” programs later developed by their runner and coauthor Luke Humphries, that do have 20 milers. But that’s because the total mileage per week for those programs are 80++++ miles per week, and sticking to the no more than 25-30% of total mileage in one single LR rule, that would mean you should be able to easily run 20 miles (and it is expected that if you are ready for those higher miles programs you should be running fast enough to cover 20 miles in less than 3 hours).

    • I don’t buy this. I had an incredible anaerobic capacity last year. I could do back to back insanity one hr workouts and then an hour on the bike. I cracked on all my 18 mile plus long runs in prep for a marathon. Come marathon time I cracked. Took over 5 hours. This year I am doing two long runs per week, one slightly shorter than the other. I’ve already completed a 19 mile run this year, on an empty stomach!

  2. I don’t buy it either. While your legs might be strong enough for a marathon or ultra after so many high intensity workouts, what about your mind and body? If I tried to run a 50k and had never run more than 13 miles my head wouldn’t know what to do, how to fuel, or how to tell myself to keep going after so much time running. The lessons I learn on a long run in prep for a distance race far outweigh the lesions I learn during speed training.

    Then again, like Evan, I just hate sprints and much prefer to lay down the miles. Maybe I’m just stuck in my ways. You crazy kids, you.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Doug. So much of distance running is, for me, a mental game. I don’t think you can get that without doing it.

      At the same time, I’m always bothered by these so-called scientific programs without references. That’s not to attack cross fit. There are plenty of running gurus whose plans are based on “research”. “Now where did I put that… ?” 😉

    • I have to agree with the prior commenter that the Crossfit plan may work (for some people) physically, but you can’t prep for a long distance mentally unless you actually put in the head time in practice. I know I usually struggle with ways to entertain my brain when fatigue sets in after mile 8 (I’m a half-mar girl.) for a bit of a lull. If I had only trained to 4 or 6 miles, I would have no clue how to keep myself motivated mentally or what kind of fuel I would need. And seriously, even if you can entertain your brain counting blue jerseys for miles on end, not knowing how to fuel can drop you like a rock long before the finish line.

    • Doug, I totally understand your skepticism but I can tell you it works from personal experience. I finished in the top 3rd of the UBERROC 50k doing only regular CrossFit Programming. The longest race I had ever completed was a half marathon 2 years prior and the longest uninterrupted run I did leading up to the race(6 months) was 800 meter sprint repeats.

      As for the mental side, CrossFit helps you develop an inner confidence in your abilities and we crave the “unknown and unknowable scenario” so its actually fun testing our limits. I suggest you give it a shot

      • On the mental side you may be right about pushing your limits and mental toughness but pacing tactics and strategies don’t magically come without practicing them. Fueling for a long run as far as knowing what your body can take and how often you need to fuel during a race is not something that you can magically figure out. I do think a lot of people do too many long runs but doing no runs over a half marathon might not working for people trying to figure out what their optimal pacing and fueling strategies are.

        • 8 months late on this discussion but I will chime in anyway. I followed a similar program when training for a 12 hour run earlier this year. My longest ‘long’ run was 12 miles and I did lots of 3 mile runs, 1 mile runs, 200m sprints, push-ups, sit-ups, burpees – like one would in CrossFit. However, I added long hikes with a weighted ruck of up to #65. I would do at least 12 miles a week (up to 20, once), with shorter hikes spread around. My pace with the pack was around 14min/miles.

          Before the 12 hour run, the longest I had run was a half marathon. I ended up covering 52.5 in 11:30hrs. The hikes with the ruck really prepared me for how I needed to hydrate and fuel (although the fueling part is not as big a deal in my opinion).

  3. This isn’t a sound way to train for distance events. Just look at how elite marathoners train – all of them do significant long runs. In an event that’s 99% aerobic, building the aerobic metabolism is your first priority. And the most efficient way to do that is not through weight-lifting and gut-busting intervals.

    I think you COULD finish an ultra on this type of program. But in the end, it’s not the ideal way to train. No pro ultrarunner is doing it…

    This whole debate is based on the Tabata protocol, which is based on a study of cyclists. Also, keep in mind that Ferriss never actually tested the program in his book. It’s to be determined.

    Nevertheless, it’s always good to question our long-held training beliefs and add something new to our programs. I keep the distance, but add in more sprints these days. Best of both worlds!

    • The fact that no elite runners do this was my objection too. But since I don’t really follow elite running closely, I figured it was possible I just didn’t know about them.

      The CrossFit people do concede that their training won’t necessarily make you into the best “specialist,” but rather a well-rounded athlete capable of competing in a lot of sports. This is probably the explanation for why no elites do it… even if there weren’t that much to gain from the extra hours of running long, that little bit would still be worth it for them.

      • Definitely agree on that. Most of the health benefits of running can be had within the first 30 minutes. Most runners who run more than that are trying to eek out extra fitness to specialize in racing.

    • Since every discussion needs a gadfly…
      Amateur athletes have rarely modeled their training to be like the elite’s. If so, we’d be doing lot’s more intensity work (at least).

      It’s not true that all elite runners do significant long runs. It is true that if you want to be an elite runner, then you should train like an elite runner, but who in this forum is going for the Olympics? Anyone? Not me. I do these for fun, because it keeps me healthy, active, alive, and i love it. I would guess that most people here do the same.

      It is true that the dominant paradigm for amateur athletes is to work to 80(ish) percent of your race day distance in your long runs, but your body doesn’t need that much. It needs: Consistency, variance, intensity, proper rest, and then volume.

      I wonder what the injury rate is for marathoners doing a traditional training regime? I wonder what the injury rate is for CFE folks? I’d love to compare the two…see what we get.

      I have a hard time believing that one can properly mix both large volume and high intensity and still get adequate rest, and I’ve been doing ultra events for 10 years. I have a friend who is a 2:30 marathoner, and even he couldn’t get enough rest when he tried both volume and intensity. He was wasted all the time.

      Food for thought.

  4. Great post, I do lots of medium length runs and my longest run before IM was 14 miles which is same for alot of other athletes from my coach. We still have high weekly volume but no crazy long runs. Most of his athletes are Kona regulars and such. It works just have to have the right blend of stimuli I feel

  5. While the high-intensity plan might work for advanced or experienced athletes, I think the mental training that comes from long runs is more important for amateurs (like me). I agree with Doug above that the most important outcomes of the long run are what you learn about how to run long, not necessarily the fitness that comes from the training. It’s all about learning how to deal with fueling, hydration, mental stamina, and blisters. The confidence I got from my long runs is what allowed me to finish my first marathon.

    I’m a proponent of a low-volume plan including speed, hill, and tempo work, but still incorporating the weekly long run- get rid of the junk miles.

  6. What I’ve found with the Crossfit Endurance case studies so far (like the article published in Triathlete magazine awhile back) is that they were all tried by people that had years and years of base fitness from doing LSD, with well developed fat burning capacity, but had come to a plateau. I haven’t seen data that supports non-endurance athletes coming into it fresh and seeing these results.

    • That’s a very interesting point. I was just thinking the same thing, after reading what Doug wrote. I was thinking “If I try this and it works, would I recommend it to someone who wants to run their first marathon?” And I just don’t see how you could. The first time you run 10 or 13 or 18 miles in your life is EXTREMELY taxing; I can’t imagine having to run 26 when you’ve never done more than a 10K in your life.

      But I’ve found that even after a long layoff from distance running, it’s not hard to build up distance again. It seems that once that aerobic system is developed, it sticks around for a long time.

    • Sara,
      You make an interesting point. I would parse out two ideas from your comment:
      1. Base fitness: When you are running marathon distance and beyond, base fitness is a matter of scale. Adequate cardiorespiratory fitness can be attained using 13 mi runs or less, even with a couch potato. However, beyond 13 miles begin other adaptations to the mileage that are helpful at those distances. Your tendons, ligaments, joints, and as you mentioned, your mind, begin to adapt to the mileage. This is the major advantage that experienced distance athletes have over beginners. That would be my only hesitation in taking a beginner from couch to 50k using the Crossfit Endurance model: injury during the event. I think you could go couch to half-marathon just fine, then from there to marathon and on up taking your time. No matter your training, too much too soon = injury. Indeed, that’s the CFE mantra: too many people get injured doing the high volume approach. Doing CFE, they stay healthy.

      2. Mental Toughness: This is a mixed bag…Long days teach you to be on your feet for long hours, and broadens your mental comfort zone. Breaking the 18-mile mark is a huge mental barrier that you don’t want lingering during your first race. On the other hand, CFE works you so bloody hard, that running your marathon pace seems easy as reading a book on your front porch. Mental barrier broken. When I trained with a local track club they did this for me–making me run so fast I puked, repeatedly. But when it came to race day, I smiled all the way to a PR. So which way do you want to break your mental barriers? LSD, or short, fast and hard? In my mind that’s the most salient question for this idea.

      Most people, if they are honest (thank you Matt), just plain don’t want to work at the CFE intensity levels. They think it sucks. It does–it hurts. But then, weirdly you begin to like it.

      As far as fat burning capacity goes, you can teach your body that without 4+ hour runs. Cut your daily carb intake to below 300 calories/day. Do some 45-90 min runs on an empty stomach. Fast.

      Most people eat too much on short runs, and eat too much sugar (or the wrong kind of sugar) on both short and long runs to ever reach their body’s capacity to burn fat for fuel.

      There are plenty of examples of beginners coming ‘off the couch’ to an event-ready state with CFE, you’ll just have to ask the CFE people for them.

      Best luck in your training,
      Matt R.

      • This seems to be the argument I hear frequently from Crossfit Endurance folks: 1. you didn’t push yourself hard enough 2. doing too much training will cause you injury.

        I would propose that most new athletes don’t know how to push themselves that hard. It takes years to learn how to go to the well for the high intensity work. Additionally, I know more than one Crossfit athlete that has seriously injured themselves (including breaking a vertebrae) not executing Crossfit correctly. I would think the standard periodized training approach would be a better first step for the majority of novice athletes.

        My reference to base fitness is with respect to the ability for your body to tap into your fat reserves during long course endurance events to prevent yourself from suffering glycogen depletion and bonking. The better your base, the harder you can push for longer without running yourself out of glycogen. Doing purposeful bonks has it’s place in long course endurance training (as you describe) but it’s not, IMHO, the best way to improve your fat burning capacity.

        For me, the jury is still out on Crossfit Endurance, particularly for beginner athletes, and until I see many more years of empirical data, not testimonials from Crossfit trainers, it won’t be something I recommend for my students.

        • Thanks Sara, for your perspective.

          You make a really good point about new athletes not knowing their limits, or not knowing how to push themselves there safely. I’ve been competitive since I was about 6 y/o, so I had never thought of that. Thank you.

          I agree that base does correlate with fuel burning efficiency. I wasn’t necessarily talking about bonking on purpose. I was alluding to a lifestyle change to help the athlete’s body learn to burn fat as it’s primary fuel day and night. Simply eating less sugar, for example. Do you agree that lowering carb intake in the diet writ large, can help encourage the body to ‘learn’ to better burn fat? I’m not talking about a dangerously low carb diet…

          I’ve also found help in recovery with periodic fasting (2-3x/month). Periodic fasting (16-18 hours) promotes autophagy and ketosis, both of which are beneficial and can help with repair.

          you said ‘students’. What do you teach?

          • Hey Matt,

            Proper nutrition with the right ratio of macronutrients that matches the type of training you are doing is very important. Being as carbohydrates are the primary full source, I don’t see purposely limiting them below what people need, but I do agree, especially for athletes with GI distress at long distance, that looking at how much they are consuming in their diets is a good first step.

            My husband and I are both USAT Certified Coaches at WannaTri Coaching LLC so my students are predominantly triathletes and long distance runners.

  7. Maybe that’s how the elites train because it’s what’s always been taught. While I can only speak for myself, and considering that a 1/2M is nothing like a full or ultra I had something similar happen to be before my 1/2. I ran a 10M race on April 3, and had 3 weeks till my 1/2. I did speed work and tempo work each week, and would go out for my LSD on the weekend. ALL of the LSD I had planned for over 10 only would up being 8. I was cross training on the spin bike and that actually hurt my knees, so I would get knee pain around mile 7 and have to stop. I never ran over 8 before my 1/2 and still ran a VERY hilly 1/2 in 2:26:27, which is the same pace I had always managed for my previous long runs. I don’t think I even pushed myself during the race. I think they might be onto something. I think the mental strength would come from the hard speed and tempo sessions. You have to have a strong mind if you are going to finish one of those.

    • Sara,
      I agree that nutrition is fundamental. However, I disagree with you on two points:

      1. I don’t agree that there is agreement on what is a ‘proper’ mix of macronutrients–even and especially among experts.

      2. I don’t agree that glucose is the primary fuel for skeletal muscles. I do agree that it is the primary fuel for high-intensity efforts (>75ish % of max), but the primary fuel for cell mitochondria is fat–short-chain fatty acids (ScFA) are what fuel cell mitochondria.

      If glucose were the primary fuel for low-intensity exercise, then we wouldn’t see performance increases over time and distance with increases in fat-burning efficiency. The body wouldn’t ‘switch’ to fat for the long haul if glucose were preferred. It would switch TO gluecose, and it would store it well.

      If glucose were the primary fuel for muscles, then we would also expect that the body would more effectively store glucose (~2,000 calories of stored glucose doesn’t get us very far).

      But it doesn’t, it stores fat. Why? Because that’s what the body prefers to burn. I’m not saying that athletes should consume beef tallow with peanut butter on long runs or rides, but the point is the same.

      Vegetarians can get plenty of short-chain fatty acids through plant fiber consumption. The fiber is broken down by intestinal bacteria into–primarily ScFAs.

      • 1. I was referring to periodized nutrition that states that your ratio of carbohydrates to other nutrients varies with periodized training (base, build, peak, race, recover). I didn’t make any statement on where those macronutrients come from, just am against protein heavy diets as a way of developing fat burning capacity.

        2. You’ve stated my original point from my original comment:
        * Fat burns in a carbohydrate fire. Once you’re out of glycogen, you’re done so conserving glycogen while doing long course is critical.
        * Marathons, ultras, half ironman, and full ironmans are long enough that you have to burn fat since they exceed your glycogen reserve plus your ability to intake carbohydrates while racing.
        * Your ability to burn fat while exercising depends on your effort level and your fat burning capacity.
        * Fat burning capacity is developed through LSD or base training.
        * Crossfit Endurance does nothing to develop fat burning capacity because it’s predominantly anerobic fast twitch muscles.
        * The anectodal stories I’ve seen of Crossfit Endurance success as all from athletes that had years of base training already
        * My name is spelled “Sarah” not “Sara” 😉

  8. I love my long runs and wouldn’t give them up even if there was conclusive evidence that they aren’t helping my performance. Being out in nature for hours and hours is more important to me than a finish time goal. 🙂

  9. I totally buy it.

    But this is only based on my own personal experinece trying both the traditional marathon training program and a more balanced training program.

    If you find yourself dealing with constant injuries (like I did), maybe ask yourself “Something isn’t working here, let me try it a different way.”

    Do what works for you.

  10. Matt,
    Thanks for the shout out. I hope your training goes well.
    One thing to remember is that the start-to-finish training period for most of these high-intensity, low-volume plans is 12 weeks, minimum. So, if things don’t go as well in June as you would like, don’t go back to LSD right away. It’s important, even for experienced, well-trained athletes to have the whole 12 weeks b/c the different plan will place new stresses on your body, and it will take time to adapt.

  11. Priscilla says:

    I think for someone who has completed several long runs, this could be an interesting approach to training. It seems to cover the necessary physical aspects. My question is, what about the mental training and focus required to run a long distance? I would think that’s a critical element for those longer runs, especially for newer runners like myself.

  12. interesting article and discussion!

    the FIRST programm has a similar approach: no LSD, but it does have long runs up to 20 miles (but the long run is supposed to be a little beyong the comfort zone). 3 runs a week: speed runs (interval training), tempo runs, long runs. Plus two cross training days. Sounds good to me and a little more balanced than CrossFit

    Here is what Amby Burfoot writes about it:,7120,s6-238-244–8257-4-1X2X3X4X5X6-6,00.html

  13. I would imagine that the cross fit plan would certainly leave you a better athlete (or more fit, overall), though perhaps with a slower ultra time. I suppose the question becomes, what is your goal in running the ultra? Are you doing it as a way to keep fit, or do want to meet certain time goals?

    • Jody hit the nail on the head. If your goal is to be a runner, and the best darn runner possible, then run–and only run.

      But if your goal is to be a well-rounded athlete who can do all sorts of events, including an ultra, then CrossFit or something similar will do that for you.

      Matt R.

  14. This is from the perspective of a 36 year old who never ran more than a 5k. I’m military so I have had to stay in decent shape but nothing that would prepare me for an marathon. I started with Crossfit endurance because I wanted to take time off my mandatory 1.5mi time. In just a few months it went from 12:30 to 10:18. I kept with there interval schedule and was able to finish a half in 1:49 with never running further than a 5k. I am working my way to a 50k but so far the program has worked great.

  15. Matt, recently switched to crossfit 1-2x per week and two to three short but intense training sessions (I run and Cycle–triathlons, Mountain bike races, etc).. Awesome results so far, although I have to be very careful not to overtrain at 41! It is very deceptive how much of a hole you can dig for your recovery with only a 20 min. strength training workout!

  16. Maureen says:

    I haven’t looked much into CrossFit, because it seems a bit too much, for me. I have, however, been seriously looking into the Hanson plan, trying to decide between that and the Less is More plan. I’m impressed with the Hanson-Brooks athletes, and had pegged Desi Davila as the one to watch in Boston, when all the hype was over Kara Goucher.

    My biggest challenge is my work schedule. I work 12-hour overnight shifts, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, most weeks, plus an hour and a half of commuting time, so it’s just not feasible for me to run on Saturdays and Sundays. I’m trying to figure out if I can make the Hanson plan work on a 5 day schedule.

    I’m looking at either Space Coast (November,) Jacksonville Bank (December,) or Ocala (January,) as my goal marathon, and then the Guana 50K in March, as my first ultra. So far, I’ve run two 4:44’s, and one 4:25 marathon, so I have a lot of room for improvement!

  17. Great article! I might give this a try too, Matt. I am training for my third and fourth marathons this year, one of which is in 3 weeks, and am trying an approach similar to this compared to training in the past.

    Previously, I would do the LSDs…and I would be dead tired the entire day, I would get injured, and I didn’t feel like it really helped mentally (well, not for the second marathon). I’ve been more mentally challenged recently when I run much harder for shorter distances (8-15 mi, instead of the LSDs). I do not get injured and I feel like I have more energy. It is more of a challenge for me to push it hard for 13 miles rather than barely strut along for 20. I have noticed HUGE differences too, I’ve run 3 halfs and a 25k recently and am killing my old times! I just keep getting faster and faster too. It could be that I switched to Vibrams, but I still think pushing it hard for shorter distances has been more beneficial for me, personally. We shall see in 3 weeks 🙂

    However, in my opinion I do not think this would be good for a first-timer because the LSDs are necessary to understand how to mentally handle yourself running that long on race day, but for someone who has ran a or two marathon already and continuously runs, they know what that feeling is like already. Though even for the seasoned marathoners, I would think it would still be good to at least sneak in 1-2 really long runs.

  18. Super interesting article. I totally think it could work. I was a sprinter in college, so totally different than marathon training, but I had my best year when we had a new assistant coach and he implemented a lower mileage and higher intensity training approach.

  19. I trained for my very first marathon with this type of training model – my trainer is a Cross Fit guy and recommended it. I was skeptical at first, but think it does have its merits. I did the training exactly as you have written out here (sprint drills and 5ks during the week, intense 10ks for my “long runs” during the weekend) mixed in with two days of heavy strength training. A month and a half before my marathon, I decreased the intensity of my strength sessions. I only did 2 long runs before my marathon – one half marathon distance and one at an 18 mile distance. I finished at 4:02:02, which wasn’t the Boston Qualifying time I was hoping for, but I thought pretty good considering it was my very first one.

    I will say, I did this already having done 2 half marathons in previously, and being a pretty active and fit person.

    As being someone who has trained in this way and finished a marathon in a pretty ok time, I think it would be worth trying out. I liked that it didn’t take up a ton of my time but was still effective in getting me across the finish line.

  20. I buy into this a bit. My best half marathon time came when I was doing P90X and running only two days a week. My longest run to prepare was only 9 miles. Not quite as extreme as doing only 16 miles before a marathon, but close! I certainly like the idea of reducing the long run, for no reason other than it is so time consuming!

  21. Rebecca says:

    This might be a little off-track, but doesn’t the Cross Fit program also recommend the Paleo diet (or at least the Zone) approach for fueling the body under such extreme intensity? Any vegan-crossfitters on here?

    • not off track. In a vegetarian blog, I would think it’s right down center.

      They do recommend Paleo or Zone, but that doesn’t preclude you from taking advantage of their training theories. I’ll poach good ideas from anywhere I can find them. 😉

    • I am vegetarian (mostly vegan) and do CrossFit. I have upped my fats and protein, kind of a paleo-ish vegan diet. Totally doable. There is a Facebook group for vegetarian and vegan CrossFitters too. I am thinking about using this CrossFit Endurance plan to get back into distance running as well.

      • Rebecca says:

        Thanks for the info! I’ll check it out. Have you always been veggie while doing CF? The reason I ask is because since becoming vegan, I have totally shied away from strength training, because my recovery stinks…so sore for so long, not like I had been before when I was still eating chicken and fish regularly…

  22. Rebecca says:

    Me too! My sister is super into CF, almost on their team or something…and she went from macrobiotic/vegan to paleo/zone girl. She said that it would be almost impossible to do the Cross Fit stuff without eating that way. I have noticed a slower recovery rate and more soreness when I do any type of strength training since I became vegan. That’s why I am wondering about this and asking.

  23. I started doing CrossFit 4 months ago, immediately after running my first marathon. I’d spent a year prior only running, no strength training, building my aerobic base. I thought I was “in shape,” but during my first MetCon (Metabolic Conditioning) workout, I thought I was going to die.

    Fast forward 3 months. Due to an extremely busy schedule, I didn’t have time to put in those long runs week after week. My training volume dropped from 30 miles per week to 15 or less, primarily intervals and tempo runs. I did CrossFit 4-6 times per week as well. In April, I ran my first 50K, not knowing what to expect, but I finished in a respectable time.

    What did I learn?
    1. If you have that aerobic base to go long, you can get by dropping your training volume simply by taxing your anaerobic system regularly. However, if you’re an elite ultrarunner or you want to be one, I wouldn’t recommend this approach.
    2. Running longer than you’ve ran before is 90% mental. Your body can go farther than you think. It’s a question of how far you’re willing to push it. Sure, having a few long runs similar to your race’s distance under your belt is a great confidence booster and will let you know that you can run a given distance. But unless you’re aiming for a marathon PR or want to qualify for Boston, I don’t see how running as far as you plan to run in your race is appealing. You don’t need to run 31 or 50 miles to enjoy nature. You can get all trail running has to offer (beauty, fresh air, hills) by covering a quarter of that distance. Showing up on race day not fully knowing what to expect is what makes a new distance intriguing. You have to have that minimum aerobic base, but like I said, it’s all willpower beyond that.
    3. Running is fun. If I had time to run for hours and hours every week, I would. Sadly, work and other obligations preclude this possibility. Yet, I don’t let a lack of long runs prevent me from racing as often or as long as I’d like. I find CrossFit Endurance’s approach can serve a time-crunched runner well, but if you love running and have time to kill, run longer. However, I would add that intervals and tempo runs are a great addition to any training plan, whether CFE or traditional.

  24. Fishback Boy says:

    I have my first 50K in 2 weeks. My longest run in training was 17 miles but I incorporated lots of 1 mile repeats at the track and plenty of hill work too. My largest weekly mileage was 60 miles. I feel stronger now than before my last marathon. Mentally I have confidence to cover the distance, my worry was the physical part when I began my training. So at this point I would have to say the “less is more” and not focusing on the looonng runs has been great for me. I’ll see in a couple of weeks if it pays off for me.

  25. Richard says:

    I don’t buy it either. My brother is a cross-fit trainer, and I’ve got a lot of friends who use cross-fit. CF has a lot of strengths – but endurance training for a marathon or ultra isn’t one IMO.

    I’m a certified running coach in my 40s and have run Boston the last couple of years. Running long – slow – miles is essentially to convert the type II A fast twitch muscle fibers to work aerobically. If you don’t do the slow running – and instead do fast intense runs instead – you’re converting those same muscle fibers to work anaerobically.

    In an endurance event like a marathon – you need all the aerobic help you can get.

    My first marathon I trained less miles, and the miles I ran – were fast.

    I bonked at mile 18.

    Since then I’ve started training slower, and more miles (70 / week), and I’ve noticed that the ‘wall’ is pushed further out, to a point where it’s not a factor. This is due to the aerobic adaptions.

    That won’t happen through shorter intense workouts. You’ll get faster at short runs where the new anaerobic fibers will help you deal with the excess lactate more easily – but won’t help for endurance events.

    One other piece of evidence. A group of cross fit runners trained for Boston a couple of years ago using cross fit principals. The video is available through cross fit Australia (my brother provided me with the link last year – with his username / password). I don’t have the link – but I’m sure some of you do. The runners all hit the wall and didn’t run as fast as they’d hoped.

    That said – if you’re just looking to ‘finish’ then I can’t see this hurting. Mentally if you believe you can do it, then you probably will. It likely just won’t be as fast as it could have been if you’d trained differently.

    As for injuries during running. If you add too many miles too quickly – then you’ll get injured. That’s the same with any sport. But once your body is used to it – the mileage is okay. Still – you only do 2 tough workouts a week – and the long weekend run is one of those. If you push too hard for too many runs – then you’re going to get injured. You need to listen to your body and be smart !

  26. Stephanie says:

    After my first marathon, I got injured and couldn’t run for about a year. I did Crossfit for about 6 months of that time. The workouts are awesome, and when I started running again I hadn’t lost one bit of cardio fitness. However, I started to gain muscle that I didn’t want or need, and the whole “Paleo” cult-like emphasis was overbearing. I miss it sometimes, but to run better, I am now focused on HIIT over LSD. Not sure if I’ll run a marathon again, but I am running faster and longer again, which is all I can hope for.

  27. It’s an interesting argument, but I love my long runs, and really dislike speedwork/track workouts (doing them anyway, but I don’t have to like it…).

    It may work for some, everyone is different. For right now, I need the mental part of doing the long runs, where a) I can prove to myself I can actually do the distance, and b) I have time inside my head to think about life in general.

  28. I think the 20 mile long run is put into many training programs for the confidence-building aspect, not because it’s necessary.

    Anyways, with that said, I’m a fairly serious runner who hangs out with runners who are a lot more serious and competitive than I am, and I don’t think the long-slow-mileage thing as seen as a traditionalist view. Among those who follow elite running, many now say the reason that US distance runners did poorly on the world stage in the 1990’s was because there was a new attitude of “less is more” with mileage; a product of a culture constantly looking for shortcuts even when they aren’t there. In fact, the US only qualified one guy in the marathon in 2000. Now that there’s been somewhat of a ‘resurgence’ in running success in the last few years, many runners (both from the US and outside) and coaches are crediting the “old-school” attitude of high mileage coming back. So if anything it’s more of an on-the-rise old-school attitude than a traditional one, if that makes sense. Professional / Olympic running is actually a lot of fun to follow; I wish it got more coverage outside of LetsRun and Flotrack.

    I do hope things go well for you in your training, whichever route you experiment. One good part about this slow, base mileage is that it tends to stick with your body much longer than the faster stuff. One coach always says the base mileage we run now will help us become better runners many years from now (and as a result, older, more experienced athletes tend to get by on less mileage and more speedwork). Indeed I do think most recreational, somewhat competitive runners would improve more if they did more speedwork, and if it makes it more fun, it will motivate them to work hard and thus produce results. I think a good way for people who want to take chunks off their marathon times would do well if they worked on simply taking a chunk off their 5k times and working their way back up in distance.

    Sorry, that comment got much longer than I expected :/ I have enjoyed discovering your blog and have been vaguely considering vegetarianism for a while now. Good luck again with your training.

  29. I think I’ll take the compromise.

    Very thought-provoking post. I’ve yet to run my first marathon, but I do believe less is sometimes more…

  30. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Hey matt, great post with some fantastic food for thought. I’ve been thinking I meed to mix it up a bit. I do enjoy my long runs for the meditative aspect. I’ve toyed with trying an ultra but have been discouraged by the thought of, at age 42, breaking down with super long runs greater than the 4 hours I already do in marathon training (ya, I’m a back of the packer but would love to be a middle to upper half of the packer). I can’t ask my wife to sherpa even longer than that. It is incredibly time consuming and would essentially eat up my whole weekend between the run and recovery.
    Danny Dreyer of Chirunning fame trains for his ultras at low mileage (I believe he claims about 40 miles/week) so I guess it can be done. I may need to explore the cross-fit as well, as I’ve been feeling stale at the gyme for over a year now.
    Thanks for the awesome post.

  31. A sage once told me that if something seems like magic, it probably is.

  32. Matt you are obviously not a runner, or have even competed at any recognizable level of any sort. I have been doing crossfit for 2 years now, done Crossfit in Iraq, Qatar, Great Britain and The US, it is a great compliment to my running, but it does not make me run faster, I have to hit the track for that. Tempo runs once or twice a week and a long run every 10 days is key. No real runner actually does “Long Slow Distance”, real runners do what is called a “Race Simulation” in preparation for the half or full marathon, look it up, Race simulation that is… The people that run LSD’s every week tend to be slower runners. If you want to run fast, you have to build your base, but ensure you incorporate strides and pickups, and then move into the strength phase and then the fine tuning phase. Matt you need to come out and train with me for a week and see what it takes to be a runner with a side dish of Crossfit. Real Runners Run, Crossfit Athlete Jog, I know I work out with Crossfit Athlete’s 4 days a week.

  33. Richard says:

    Cawood – I disagree with the ‘no runner actually does long slow distance’.

    I know over 100 folks who ran Boston this year with me. We did an informal poll of the training plans that we use.

    The majority – over 60% used Pete Pfitzinger’s ‘Advanced Marathon’ training. I’ve used that for my past 3 marathon cycles.

    On the 70 and 85+ miles per week plan, Pete advocates not just a long run at the weekend – but also 2 medium long runs during the week. Typically these are 13-15 miles each midweek run, and then anywhere from 18 – 22 miles at the weekend for the LR.

    A couple of the long weekend runs are marathon pace (‘MP’) for part of the distance, so those are obviously a bit faster, but the vast majority start at 20% over MP and finish at 10%MP. No faster.

    So for a 3 hour marathon, which is 6.50 min/mile pace – we’re talking 8.12 min/miles for the first half, building up to 7.31 min/mile pace by the end.

    I contacted ‘Pfitz’ one time to gripe about the mid-week medium runs (who doesn’t have time to run 15 miles before work – right ?!). He told me those runs added greatly to the aerobic adaption.

    We’ll also do tempo, lactic threshold, strides etc at other points in the cycle, although again – only 2 ‘hard’ workouts / week, and the long run counts as one of those – even though it’s not actually hard, just long.

    Maybe we’re disagreeing on our definition of ‘slow’, but if you’re saying that running a good chunk of your miles @ 120% of MP – is not what real runners do, then I respectfully beg to differ.

    • Sub-6 min can barely be considered race pace for a marathon or any other distance.

      A 3 hour marathon is considered to be a well below average. Pete Pfitzinger’s ‘Advanced Marathon’ training is designed for the masses; it is designed to get you through the marathon, not to race it.

      Do you know anything about running or are you just cutting and pasting sentences from Pete’s website?

      That is what I thought.

      You need to read “Running to the Limit” – a book about Paul Tergat’s life and training, you need to forget about American Training, over analyzing and complete misconception of distance running and what it takes to “race”.

      • Jon Weisblatt says:

        Hey Cawood,
        I respect your position but a little polite tact can go a long way in getting your message heard. Encouragement for us slow folks also goes a long way. Not all of us have the natural ability to run like you do. Maybe you compete professionally? That’s great if you and hopefully you are very successful. Many of us run and exercise for the pure enjoyment and mental/physical health benefits as well as the ability to compete with our own selves.
        Please remember if it wasn’t for us slower folks there would be less people for you to beat.

  34. Great article. I do buy it – at least after you’ve had some experience running at least one marathon, so you know what to expect – and plan to follow the Brooks-Hanson plan for my next marathon (TBD). I’ve been intrigued since reading the recent RW article about it.

    I’ve run 5 marathons (PR 3:17 in 2009) and followed the Pfitz 18/55 plan (from Advanced Marathoning) for most of them. All those long runs really give the body a beat-down. In my most recent marathon (Mohawk-Hudson 2010), I was on target for a sub-3:10 BQ, but the chest cold I had – maybe from over-training? – caught up with me and I hit the wall around 19). Two tune-up runs last year pointed to a solid 3:10 (a 1:29 half on a hilly course, and a 39:14 10k a few weeks before the marathon), but all those long runs took a toll on race day.

    A running club friend (age 38) ran Boston in 3:09 last year. At Boston this year, he took 15 minutes off that time, running a 2:54 – a huge improvement in a year. He followed the Brooks-Hanson plan… and missed the first 6 weeks of it.

  35. Richard says:

    lol. ‘A sub 3 hour marathon is considered to be well below average’.

    By who ? And who for ? I think you’ll find that a sub 3 hour marathon gets you easily in the top percentile of all runners.

    Sure – for an elite, or sub-elite – absolutely. It’s slow. But unless I’ve missed something – this discussion is more geared for the average / or even good club runners. Otherwise you’re talking a very small audience.

    I have several sub 2.30 friends too, and women in the 2.45 – 2.50 range. The thing in common – is they all do a lot of mileage – and a lot of it slow.

    The whole premise of the article is that you can do less long runs and get the same benefit from ‘far less volume of training if you focus on anaerobic exercise’.

    I disagree.

    I will look up the book you referenced as I’m always interested to learn more.

    And Cawood – I’m a qualified running coach. So yes – I do know a thing or two. I was also in Eldoret last summer to see first hand how the Kenyans train. You’ll find they do a lot of slow running too.

    • I totally agree with you. Last year I had the opportunity to run and chat with Scott Jurek. Somehow the talk turned to marathoning and he said he once did a long training run with elite Kenyan marathoners and the thing that surprised him was how slowly they were running!

  36. The crossfit folks see decreased muscle mass as a bad thing. However, distance athletes will frequently do better with decreased muscle mass, particularly in the upper body. So, I think this goes with the point made by many earlier that Crossfit seems to be allowing you to do a marathon but making you into a rounded athlete, while training strategies with more distance are actually training you to be a distance runner.

  37. Matt – While I disagree that a non-runner without a good LSD base could run only 10Miles and finish a marathon well, this idea of a middle ground isn’t that much different than the Furman Marathon Program (you and I discussed this over email last year). The same problem lies with the Furman program – you can’t do it unless you have a solid base and many years of running.

    After 4 marathons and 3 years of running one of the things I’ve learned is that there are different kinds of conditioning one develops from running.
    Cardiovascular Fitness – Higher VO2max etc.
    Muscular Strength – Speed
    Muscular Endurance – Ability to run long distance
    Neurological Endurance – Ability of your neurons to keep firing in sync for long periods of time.

    Most people (specially seasoned marathoners when advising beginner marathoners) fail to realize the importance of the last aspect of training. Though it is that aspect which makes it possible for a seasoned marathoner to run a marathon on a 15-16 mile long run in training but almost impossible for a beginner.

  38. I agre with some of the other commenters – it all really depends on what your goal is. I ran a half marathon last fall and there was a huge group of guys with Crossfit t-shirts that said “I just passed you because I trained with Crossfit” and the name of the gym. I’m not the fastest runner by any means and my finish times are really average, but I passed quite a few of them.
    I also trained with Hansons-Brooks for my last half marathon this spring and plan on using the program again for my upcoming Chicago training. My spring half times were consistent with my past times (I wasn’t quite religious with the plan), but my 5K times got a lot faster and more consistent. I plan on being more consistent with the plan for this upcoming cycle and I’m excited to see what the results are.

  39. I can’t comment on how this approach would work for 50 or 100 milers, but I’ve trained for marathons my past 3 years on just three days a week.

    Last year, I hit a PR (3:20) by 10 minutes at the Mount Desert Island Marathon, which is an extremely hilly course, on three days a week. My maximum mileage week was 29.4 miles, and I only did 2 runs of 20 miles.

    I’d followed this same basic philosophy for the previous two years. But the difference last year is that I ran three Halfs during the three months before the race, including a 1:28:40 just a month before the marathon. I also incorporated lots more hills into my long runs, and I always did a mid-distance tempo run at a fairly quick pace.

    I’d love to run four or five days a week, but it seems like the injuries creep up when I add in the extra days. At the same time, I feel that I need to get a few more long runs in to train my body to handle those last 6 miles.

    Instead of adding a fourth day, the idea of making my third day a ‘speed day’ at the track, instead of a throwaway 4 or 5 miler, seems pretty appealing.

    The 3 quality workouts a week has worked pretty well, as long as I’m running fairly fast.

    And I have to agree that track workouts suck, but they make you feel really good when you’re done with them.

  40. Crossfit seems to overlook an essential element to fitness: Recovery. If your goal is to squat a given amount of weight, you don’t do max reps every day. That kind of effort is not sustainable. Similarly, your legs can’t take running at max effort every day. It’s easy to get caught up in the attitude and hype, that simple, consistent application of force yields optimal results. But while working hard is necessary, so is working smart.

  41. Interesting post.

    I would miss my long runs. Yes I curse them, a lot of my Friday nights I dread them. Yet when I am half way in and finding my stride I find an inner peace that I have not found in any other activity. That is sometimes more appealing than the long run for the training.


  43. I think for some people, eliminating the long runs will work for them, but others need it. Maybe that’s why there’s no scientific evidence yet. Interesting stuff Matt.

  44. i’m really, really curious about how the risk of injury would increase on this type of plan. you don’t jump from running a half marathon as your longest run to a 50mi or 100mi without seriously upping the ante when it comes to getting hurt as a result of your race. even if you don’t get hurt as a result of the race, can you imagine how drawn out and painful your recovery would be? the long runs are the cornerstone of any training plan for a reason- they get you used to being on your feet for that long. aerobic fitness and blah blah blah aside, you need to train to be out there and able to cope (and push through) the kind of pain you’ll encounter on race day. going hard brings its own kind of pain, sure, but it’s not the same as going loooooooong!

  45. Love this! Great stuff to think about – sometimes I think it’s great to challenge ourselves to long distances, and other times I think it can be too much on our bodies…as in, were we meant to run 100 miles? Will that negatively impact our joints etc and tear us down? At the same time, I love a challenge. Ahhh humans are so complex!!!
    As long as we are active in general – I think it’s all good. 🙂

  46. as far as I know the bone density and structure adapts to running as well – the first adaption task like 3 months and the longer adaption like 3 years (though I don’t have a reliable source, as far as I remember it was a physician on the Huarache Runner Discussion group who mentioned something like this). Probably it’s similar for the tendons. So I guess for experienced runners who have completed several marathons and long runs over a couple of years, this kind of training can really cut down training times without increasing the risk of injury, but beginner’s should be wary of the too much too soon phenomenon.

  47. Marathoners run long in training to “push back the wall,” so to speak. Running long trains your body to store glycogen, which you need to access to run for two hours or more. It’s pretty simple, but I do think that you need to incorporate strength and tempo work into any training plan to get faster. One or two CF-type workouts per week would definitely be beneficial.

  48. When I did my fastest Ironman distance race my longest training days were a 160k bike ride followed by a 25km run. The rest of the week I did shorter more intense workouts. My third fastest Ironman distance race I did on a whim with very little training. I ran 10km a day for two weeks and did a couple 80km bike rides.

    The thing is it all depends on the athlete and their background. Really I wouldn’t have been able to do an Ironman race on a whim had I not spent six years training for that type of race. After not racing for three years I couldn’t do that now.

    I think the 16 miles for the long run is right for marathon training though. Going further breaks you down too much.

    Doing high intensity training seems to work in the short term but doing it for months and years on end is rough. It seems important when training hard to keep the sessions shorter, like under an hour and a half for sure.

    I spent years looking for short cuts. I found it works. The thing is training hard makes you able to go hard. I found I could do almost the same things training harder less as I could by training high volume easier.

    The thing is it was easier to train easy and more. When I was on my bike I could ride away from people with ease. When I trained hard less I could suffer and hang in with the fast guys.

  49. I agree with those who disagree. Peter Snell famously asked, of those American runners and coaches in the 1980s who adopted a “less is more” approach, “Where are the results?”

    “Intense and shorter” has been tried. It was the primary training method for decades until the 1960s when Arthur Lydiard came along – and Lydiard’s endurance-trained athlete absolutely blew the interval addicts away.

    I ran ultras for 10 years, mostly 50-milers, and at one point I did extremely hard intervals once a week. My times and endurance in the 50s changed not one iota.

    I’m 69 and have been running for 40 years. I absolutely believe that Lydiard discovered what works. Certainly, it’s worked for me. Lydiard observed that VO2Max can be improved to its maximum with just 4-6 weeks of speedwork, but that aerobic capacity, and the aerobic threshold, can be raised for many years.

    And, let no one say, fatuously, that Lydiard was all about long, slow distance – unless you imagine that 10 miles in under 60 minutes over very hill terrain once a week for his elites was “LSD.” Or that two 15-milers in the same week at just under 85% of MHR was LSD. Hardly. Lydiard believed in improving systems by “pushing up from below” – i.e., by never doing actual threshold runs (above the anaerobic threshold, i.e., at a HR above about 85% for most runners), but instead he recommended that weekly “sub-threshold” 10-miler during the aerobic base phase.

    And it certainly worked – the Kenyans and Ethiopians basically train as Lydiard taught – a tremendous base of high-aerobic running, with a cap of strength (on hills) and very hard speedwork.

    I’ll believe the “short and harder is better” school of thought when I can see the results.

  50. p.s. Matt – I’ve been a vegetarian since 1965. Only ever had problems when I tried to go vegan for periods of up to 2 1/2 years – my body just didn’t thrive. Even so, I find I can do pretty well on a darn close to vegan diet.

  51. Snowpea says:

    So, June 11 has come and gone.

    Did the training regimen affect your 50k?

    • Snowpea, I’ve got a post coming up on this (probably the next one, later this week). I finished the race, way slower than my normal 50K time, but the entire field was slow because the course was so tough. I think was 39th out of 93 finishers. Lots more on this and how I think the training impacted it when the post comes!

  52. Oh, i buy it. I am a runner, you know, 5ks and 10ks, once trained for an adventure half-marathon in Costa Rica, and now i am training for the women’s half-marathon in NYC on 4/15/12. I have been doing Crossfit for about 2 months (on and off) and i have to admit that my runs are more powered than before, my thighs feel stronger, my stride is longer, and in short i feel much better when running. Of course it could all be mental and i could be feeling more confident due to Crossfit, but the truth is that Crossfit fits me and my runs. I consider it a great ally in running.

  53. Crossfit Endurance is a joke; and Brian Mackenzie is a fraud. He and his underlings have no notable athletic accomplishments, making the size of his ego an affront to Kanye West himself.

  54. I was in US Army we went from scroney kids to add 12 lbs muscle and run 13 miles at 5 min splits. I would say marathons are different because we all ran in units and pulled for each other to finish. In comptision your alone and no one keeps you motivated. Ran a couple 5 ks and 10ks. Dont really like to push joints that far. Body cant use short distance running for long distance events. Not possible to prepare for bodys effects. An elite athlete gets paid and sponsers for his training this is all he does you give me and a couch potatoe that kind of time and Ill reach sub and elite training. Now i would use way different types training that no one has even gone into discussing. Such as weight added runs, mountain runs at high elevations build up lung compasity and short spirt runs at 4 min miles for 8 to 10 miles. Probably do same attempts at hyprovetalation effects such as navy seals do. I would have to think shocking body way outside normal range.

  55. I buy it. Look up the ‘Lyle Knudson’ training program, and his philosophy on distance running. I train with him for the 3k and 5k (I know, completely different races) but he also has a program for marathoners. His ELITE marathon program is 90-95 mpw, but it wouldn’t be that way for amateurs who are just starting out. He would probably start you on the 10k program.

    As for me, I’m on his 1600 program and I’ve PR’d my 10k by 3 minutes… my longest run per week is 3.5 miles. The intervals he has me do are extremely intense, but the recovery days are no stress days and allow full recovery, which prevents injury. I’m much faster than I ever was and I’m doing about 25-30 miles per week, and I used to run 50 miles per week.

    There’s definitely something to be said about anaerobic training, I am a firm believer.

    Lyle Knudson — Research him and check out the article on running times as well as his website and

    • Jeff Tran says:

      Perhaps Runner’s Connect Site attempts to bring the Hanson & Furman approach together. One single element that needs to be considered is the individual runner – their strengths/needs, age, experience, injury history etc. I believe that either approach will bring great results: Run Further Faster (3 quality runs & 2 cross training days) or the Hanson (quality, volume, and shorter pre-exhausted long runs). Both approaches are strategic and both approaches are based in science. I recommend reading both of their books, and downloading the free runner’s connect guide/book. How one responds will likely depend on individual differences. Currently I am following the Furman First because I want to focus on building speed with appropriate recovery for a middle aged runner. I can handle speed work and mileage, but similar to other’s in this comment string I question doing high volume and high intensity at same time, I tried running SLD 26.2 three weeks out from Marathon (similar to Galloway) with speed work during week etc similar to Furman First and it just made me sluggish as I was under recovered. Runner’s Connect would or other reputable coaches online would not make this strategic mistake – they would keep Long run shorter like Hanson, with a steady state 6 miler day before to yeild recovery, and pure Furman First would get same results by asking you to not run day before but and run a faster 20 miler. I get the sense that there is a training tolerance and it is also individual.

  56. Doug Smith says:

    The compromise from the Hanson brothers sounds similar to the way Team In Training (TNT) approaches marathon training. TNT takes people from running a mile to running a marathon in 5 months. The short version is that each week consists of: a short, fast run; an interval workout; one “long,” slow run; and x-training sprinkled in.

    Week 1
    M: easy run – up to only 60 minutes by last month
    T: Track (4X400s, 2X800s, reverse ladders, stadiums, dynamic drills, etc.)
    W: cross training
    Th: rest day
    F: cross training
    S: “long,” slow run, starting at 2 miles, increasing one mile/week and maxing out at 20 miles.
    S: rest day

    Week 2
    Recovery week. Same as week 1 except the Saturday run is replaced with a short run maxing out at 6 miles.


  57. Horses for courses. There’s no ‘best’ way.

  58. This sounds like how Emil Zapotec and Roger Bannister trained. It worked for them back then but these days this kind of training would not be competitive at the higher levels. Emil’s running form looked like he was in tons of pain. Plus there is a bit of a mental aspect to doing the long runs before a race like finding out if you actually can run x number of miles. Its not like all elite runners do is long slow distance runs they often incorporate track intervals hill repeats and strides to be able to run faster. The long slow runs are not there only to build up aerobic capacity but to also to train the body to adapt to the stresses of the long distance race as well as the mind. This kind of training logic that one should only do high intensity interval training suggests that 400 meter sprinters would be the best marathon runners, no olympic sprinter has ever qualified for the marathon or even the 10k or 5k or 3000 meter or the 1500 meter.

  59. Taking running advice from crossfit people must be a joke. First of all, almost nobody at crossfit gym can run under 20 min 5k unless they’re x-runners. And this type of bunch of speed workouts are so 1990s in running where Americans started thinking low mileage will make you faster when there’s research out that high intensity training is more effective. I think most runners understand now that mileage is the key to continuously improving. High intensity training may be better for you if you haven’t done any training and you need to try to run fast in a short period of time.
    There’s so much limit with doing high intensity training as it doesn’t take training to get you sharpened. Also it’s false that your aerobic system can be trained so quickly. It maybe true that they can be trained quickly but you can keep training your aerobic system for years before it hit your peak.

    I think it’s important to think running as lifetime commitment and not look at short term and so bunch of hight intensity training. You’ll hit your limit so quickly with it as well as injury and burnout potential.
    Basically, I think what’s wrong is the mindset of trying to complete a marathon or ultra marathon in such a short period of time. People need to look at in long term so they can enjoy running and continually hit PRs. I’m sick of these articles about focusing on all these hard workouts all the time like this one or book like run less run faster. Especially taking running advice from cross fit.
    Basically, all you need to do is these three things and you can push to your potential in long distance running long term by 1. Don’t get injured. Don’t push yourself to the point where you’re going to get injured. 2. Consistency. Get out the door everyday and run. If you can’t run everyday, you’re pushing yourself too hard. Running is all about pushing your aerobic system to the max but it takes years of building. 3. Progressive overload. Continue to increase your mileage slowly as your body allows. Speed will come. Be patient.

  60. This just feels like a fitness fad. The day that I read about the ‘Kalenjin Track Club’ (Totally made up name) abandoning their standard 20-30 mile long runs in favor of a few days a week of crossfit and 4×400 workouts, then I will take this seriously. Until then, I’ll stick with the same strategy used by every high level modern marathoner – LSD, tempo, track intervals, and easy days.

    If it ‘aint broke, then don’t fix it.

  61. Lol, let’s listen to a crossfit person tell us how to run. Crossfit wasn’t needed 100 years ago, and it’s not needed now. The most I have seen come out of crossfit is people getting injured. Crossfit is a fad.

  62. Christine says:

    I buy it! I read Hanson’s book last year and decided to do a modified Hanson’s plan for the NYC Marathon. I ran 4 days a week, 2 days of pilates reformer with one of those days also including a spin class. I did three 16 mile runs in my training. I felt great at the marathon. I think I would have PR’ed had it not been for the crazy headwind I faced for 20 miles. I have continued with cross training since by adding 2 bootcamp style classes and reducing my running to just 2-3 days a week. My longest long run before the NYC Half Marathon on March 15th was 8 miles. I PR’ed by 3.5 minutes at 1:49 in the NYC Half and felt great the entire time. I’m sticking with this plan!

  63. Brian M says:

    The elite group with the Hansons DO NOT adhere to the low mileage plan shown in their book.
    Brian Sell and Desiree (Davila) Linden are known for their huge mileage weeks. Brian Sell 140-160 per week.

    There are no elite Marathoners on a cross fit / low mileage plan. The least amount I have ever heard of for a sub 2:12 Marathoner amongst men was still in the 70’s per week and that is rare. Muscular endurance is completely different than aerobic endurance. It’s just the way it is.

    I agree that it’s not good for your health. If we exercised purely for health 30-60 minutes of swimming or the elliptical would be the way to go but neither will make you fast in a long distance race.

    Feeling great in the Marathon and maximizing your potential are also very different. You should be able to run a Marathon at close to 90% of your 5k pace. My athletes do.

  64. I came across this while wondering about my run routine and if it is normal or makes sense. I only run once every 3 or 4 weeks but always 15k or a bit more. Max 22k. No short runs in between. Just boxing work outs 4 to 6 times a week. I find the runs fairly easy at a 5min/km pace. I’m almost 40 and never ran distance that much when I was younger. I think it’s the skipping that makes running easy. But everyone I tell thinks I’m crazy. Thoughts?

    • I don’t think this says anything other than you’re obviously in decent cardio shape, and could probably be a pretty good runner if you made more of an effort. 5 min/km is 8 min/mile or thereabouts – which isn’t setting the world on fire, but for someone who doesn’t run much – points to good potential if you wanted to try running more.

  65. I admit being a 200 and 400 meter sprinter I lean towards short and powerful running almost all the time. But being in the military for 20 years it was safe to say the leaders were biased towards the author’s way of life regarding fitness. Not surprising, as most generals I’ve seen in person and throughout history fit the description of a marathoner’s build. We always gravitate toward what works for us. If they were muscular sprinter types wearing 4 stars throughout the years then I’m sure the emphasis would have been on its members resembling Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson as opposed to Prefontaine. Still looking sharp in uniform, albeit a bit more muscled and intimidating underneath it.

    Anyways once retired and after doing both short and long runs I personally feel run whatever distance gives you that runner’s high (and a trimmer waistline). If ultramarathons do it for you then by all means stick to it. I began focusing exclusively on sprint training myself. I can still fit into my old uniform with no problems.

    The goal for most is to be healthier and look the part. As far what part “that look” plays that’s an individual preference. I preferred being lean but muscular (not Arnold size, mind you). Strong but compact, an idea build for sprinting. So my training consisted of explosive movements which combined strength with speed. It gives one an athletic look in clothing (but not brawny) but in gym gear it gives a definition that makes a person look a lot larger than they actually are. Make no mistake about it though, there is a compromise: size or definition. I favored sprints so I just accepted the loss in size. The gains in speed more than made up for it, though.

    I’d say stick with whatever works. If the sprints gets you fit and fresh (not to mention thru the daily grind of life) then punch it. If the longer distances are your cup of tea then enjoy the scenery thru the city (or trails, maybe a bit of both). Nature certainly never intended for everyone to be one or the other exclusively. And life would be a lot duller if everyone were doing the exact same thing. Variety is the spice of life.

  66. mark davidson says:

    Don’t know if anyone is still reading, but FWIW here is 2cent from my experience.
    1. I find BODY TYPE which is critical to the ‘high intensity’ versus ‘low intensity’ discussion.
    A person with say 10% slow twitch and 90% fast, is going to respond better to high intensity workouts than a 90% slow/10% fast … and vice versa.

    Infact, the ‘injury risk’ is related to this, a person who is mesomorphic sprinter build, is likely to ge inured doing high mileage, and a ectomorph on extreme end raises injury risk with sprint training.

    2. Define the goal – ‘to finish’ or ‘to maximize potential’.
    Even a sprinter high twitch build, will be faster if they did some slow running/more mileage to develop their say 10-20% of slow twich fibres – provided not too much to risk injury for their body type. IF the goal is just ‘to finish’, sure, they don’t need it.

    Personally, I’ve tried all methods and i’ll share my results. I’m 48 right now, masters runner.
    I ran for college, OK ability, I’m probably 60% slow twitch, 40% fast – I can still run 28 second 200m off no training at my age, so i have decent genetic sprint ability, and find it hard to run past 10 miles – but its a guess. At college I maxed out 70miles a week, ran 4:30 mile, 15min 5K, 33min 10K, 59min 10 miles ….so my times go worse relatively with distance – again, likely genetics. My brother is 2:20 marathon runner, much thinner build i’ve ‘seen’ the difference body type makes – any article that ignores genetics is missing a big part of the issue i.e. u need to train to that.

    I quit running from aged 28-40 ..not one step, just did weight training . I simply cdn’t add muscle when running and also got bored of running. I went from 138lbs 5’9 to 150lbs. I started adding some running (5-10 miles a week) from age 40-43… FYI – genetics, after no running for 12 years, I cd still run sub-6 minute mile, only ONE mind you.. no speed-endurance ….speed is easy, endurance is easy to get but speed-endurance is what all the training is for!!

    I tried the ‘short cut’ – I decided to try lots of intervals, low mileage 10-15 mile week max -I entered some 5K’s in my mid 40’s …cd NOT break 20 minutes ( which I consider slow/fast divider). I had to add some 4-5 mile LT tempo’s, and some 15-20 mile weeks to break 20minutes.
    I go down to 19:00 minutes at 48 doing that ….but, again, I have ALOT of genetic speed ..its speed-endurance I have to work at.

    BUT – here’s the issue with high intensity approach –
    – I ran literally the same 5K in every race i.e. I reach a limit, that no amount of high intensity training cd get me past, tried for 3 more years…
    – I got alot of injuries, particularly tendon, ( achillees, ITBand) etc because I lacked the preparation in supporting tendons etc for high force speed work ( i caused these injured my first year back on the track doing intervals)

    Last 1 year I decided to try the ‘high miles’ . build slowly back up to 30’s mile a week(double what I was doing), added a 10-12 long run (8:30 type pace), cut out the high intensity for now except hill repeats every few weeks to maintain speed …lots ..result so far
    1. ALL my injuries for last 8 years have clearer up – amazing to me, and now doing the hill sprints is not causing me problems, so I can do more! rather than constantly nursing injury.
    2. My speed has NOT been lost, can still run same 1 mile time, and sprints – because doing some speed work to maintain it. ( hill sprints every few weeks)

    I won’t know if my 5K time is faster until March because I won’t complete the training cycle until then, will try to build mileage until early Jan, then gradually add LT work, and 5K race specific intervals, then lastly 400m type track intervals in feb for peak march races.

    That is also key point – speed work gets FAST RESULTS, but the leave fast and are limited. Slow long miles gets SLOW RESULTS, but it stays and are unlimited. Slow miles I don’t believe will get u injured unless u increase miles too fast, or ignore injury…well duh! as they say, without doubt, track intervals increased my injuries risk ..especially calves, tendons generally…and I had done a ton of weight work, so it wasn’t lack of strength, but lack of supporting structure ..I think with age we lose elasticity of tendons…so going straight into speed work is risky for masters runner with no prior slow build up ( me in this case).

    So that’s my experience FWIW …I’m not pro either method, note cross fit is just marketing of old idea’s tried many times of less miles, more intervals…so we know all this already. I think younger people can use it for fast but limited result, but I would advise against it for masters, and especially older people who had no prior running( base work). I think it wd work well after a decent base building period, then its just normal part of periodization e.g. 6-12 weeks of speed work to peak for races.

    Oh – and fyi, I have not lost any muscle doing long runs, more mileage, my body fat is down to 10%, weight upto 158lbs ( slowing me down a bit for running …too much upper body muscle from weight training)…but I am careful with eating enough calories, protein and doing weights to keep it. So I thnk the initial claim that long slow running loses muscle is bogus, unless u don’t eat enough or do not weights, then sure. Same for power, strength, speed. Testosterone ..that’s b.s., again if u don’t eat or sleep enough, or overtrain ..but a 10 mile run isn’t going to effect this by itself. Look, I do IF, I fast 18 hours, do weights for 40 minutes, then run 11 miles faster – I haven’t lost muscle, strength, speed and my wife will tell u, my testosterone hasn’t dropped ( ok maybe that DAY, next day if anything u get a boost!)…. its ‘dose -response’ effect, only if u don’t RECOVER properly …so sure, if u increase miles drastically, u wd get that, but u get same effect doing too much high intensity, infact I found it WORSE, CNS takes 2-3 days to recover, so easier to overtrain doing high intensity, and u get away with it for months, then blow up ! so its ‘high risk’ strategy if u aren’t good at self management and tend to ‘push push push’ .

  67. It has always been my belief that “most” people can BS their way through a marathon and some can even BS their way through a 50 miler. But… you leave one key component out when it comes to Ultra Racing at higher distances such as the 100. Sure you can develop your cardio and muscular fitness with less training, BUT, just like with a car, the chassis, the frame – your bones, tendons, and joints must also be trained and adapted for that long haul. This can only happen by training for long distances, for example back to back long runs on the weekends, 20-20’s or 30-20’s.

    For example… if runner A runs 10 miles a day seven days a week he will get in a 70 mile week. But in the end all he does is get really good at 10 mile runs. Now if Runner B takes two days off a week, say Monday and Friday and runs 10 on Tuesday, 15 on Wednesday, 10 on Thursday, then 25 and 10 on the weekend, he still gets 70 miles but is trained WAY differently and runner B would in the end have a much higher chance of probably finishing an Ultra than runner A. It’s not just the miles it is how they are distributed. 🙂

  68. Brian Smith says:

    Like with everything in life, I think we need to find a balance between shedding the body fat, building lean muscle, working our cardio and also training our mental ability to cope with the demands of endurance events.

    I think the biggest thing for me is keeping the workouts interesting, whether it means swapping a run for a turbo trainer session or a long ride out or doing some HIIT training. It keeps the body guessing and adapting, and helps me learn how to deal with different courses and the days when I just find it hard.

    There are no quick fixes in life and everyone is different, you need to adapt any plan to find what works for you.

  69. Collegiate and elite coach says:

    This is terrible, you have to be very ill informed in long distance running and the disappointing decade of the 90s in the marathon for the US. This is the type of crap runners were trying to do in the early 2000s and through out the 90s and precisely why the US went from having large number of runners who could run under 2:13 in the marathon in the 80s to barely having one qualify in the 2000 olympics.

  70. Scott Richardson says:

    I think the compromise approach isn’t really a compromise – it is standard practice for most long course triathletes already. It isn’t either-or strength or long distance. It’s both. I wouldn’t have anyone run more than 2:30 hours for their long runs. After that, the adaptation doesn’t really justify the need for increased recovery to avoid impacting other workouts or the increased concern of injury. The remainder of the workouts include speed work, hills, tempo and recovery. The same really holds true for the bike and run, too. The short bursts of power help to slow the loss of VO2 max that occurs over time and to raise threshold power faster. The long workouts help the body to adapt to the stress. It all works together. Strength exercises are terrific. You can incorporate even 15 minutes of kettlebells or resistance training several times a week without issues. Stronger bodies are more injury resistant. Foam rollers also are great, yoga, stretching, massage. Why are people always looking for shortcuts to endurance? We got into this stuff because we enjoy it, right? Scott Richardson, USAT L1 coach.

  71. I think it really comes down to “what works for you”. I am by no means a ‘seasoned’ marathon runner, having only done two so far, a 30k and one 24 hour relay endurance consisting personally of 30 miles, I know that I need the long runs to be able to deal with the mental pounding you get, and for the reassurance that actually, you CAN run that far, not to mention ensuring that my body can take the mileage without injury. I do mix it up though, with a good mix of long, tempo and hill reps and this year, with that have knocked minutes off my pb’s of all distances except HM, which is yet to come! 🙂

  72. It works but most people do not have the discipline to handle this strict form of training. Their bodies if not accustomed to training hard will break down. In most instances, many will overtrain, under-rest and end up getting sick. Then, what did it really get you ?

    LSD no matter the endurance sport is a good option because it flushes out all of the toxins you built up in speed work. There is a good amount of muscle memory built up from LSD.

  73. Wow, another stupid article written by another clueless non runner. Awesome.


  1. […] Could Your Long Runs Be Doing More Harm … – No Meat Athlete – Everyone knows that the cornerstone of any marathon training program, and especially any ultramarathon plan, is the long run. Well, guess what? […]

Leave a Comment