A friend at work has been using the Run Less, Run Faster program since last year. A longtime runner, she has never run a marathon because injury strikes during her training. She’s running MCM this year and using the Run Less, Run Faster program. I’ve been hearing a lot about the program, so she let me borrow the book.
When another friend at work came into my office and saw the book on my desk, she said, “Run less? But you’re all about running more!”
“I know!” I cried. That’s one of my main problems with the program.
But first, I’ll give a quick summary. The book is written by authors from the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) and published by Runner’s World. The authors did three separate research studies on runners using their approach to run marathons in 2002, 2003, and 2004. In each study, participants averaged improving their marathon time by 20 minutes, and most got PRs. In all three studies, the runners significantly improved on the running performance variables of max VO2, pace at lactate threshold, and pace at VO2.
The program has the following main components:
- Three key workouts a week. These are very intense, hard workouts that include intervals on the track, a tempo run, and a long run close to race pace. They are “designed to work together to improve endurance, lactate-threshold running pace, and leg speed.” There are prescribed paces and distances that are faster than normal running speed. This is based on the FIRST philosophy that favors “quality over quantity, intensity over frequency, fast running over the accumulation of miles.”
- Two cross-training workouts a week. These are also hard workouts and can be cycling, swimming, or rowing. The idea is to build in more time for recovery so the key workouts can be quality. “Running 6 miles, 5 days a week results in muscular fatigue, not muscular adaptation. However, using those same muscle fibers for different types of activities will permit recovery and recharging of the muscle’s energy stores (glycogen). So you can engage in another aerobic activity and reap the cardiorespiratory benefits while the muscle fibers used in running are recharging for the next hard workout.”
It is a convincing argument, and it has research to back it up. All weekend I considered using the half marathon training plan in the book instead of the Hal Higdon one I’d planned on. But I would have to start immediately, so I needed to decide soon. I found mostly positive reviews online, but I found one argument against this approach that was also very convincing. It’s from the RunnersConnect site and has a bunch of reasons why the program doesn’t work. The one reason that most struck me was that slow, easy runs are very important in helping you improve and get faster. The author wrote a separate article explaining why that is, but the gist is that slow runs develop your aerobic system. (Now I know–I’ve always wondered about that!)
Here’s what I liked and didn’t about the FIRST approach.
- I love spinning and used to do it a lot until running took over my life. Plus, my husband is a big cyclist. He bikes to work every day and goes on additional near-daily rides. So biking is something we could do together, unlike running, which he does infrequently and runs at a much faster pace than I do.
- I could improve my speed.
- The paces are prescribed, which works for me. I struggle with the “run by feel” idea, which I know works well for many.
- No easy runs?!? I love my easy runs! If all I did was run hard workouts, I’m certain I wouldn’t love running as much.
- I would much rather do an easy run than biking, swimming, or rowing. One of the reasons I love running is to get outside and enjoy the world. The only cross-training I could regularly do outside is biking, and I refuse to bike on roads with traffic, and biking on the trails all the time would get pretty boring.
- In addition to the three workouts being hard, they take a long time. The track workouts end up being between 6 and 7 miles. I don’t have time to run that much before work. I get up at 4:45 a.m. as it is and can’t get up any earlier. And doing hard workouts after work when the heat is at is worst is not an option for me.
- I’m not sure I have the fitness level to jump right into this program. One of the runners I talked to at Saturday’s group run said that if you’re not used to doing that level of intensity for workouts, you need to build up to it. I thought Saturday’s long run, one of the book’s workouts, was tough.
- I’ll improve my speed at my next half marathon regardless. Last year, I thought you ran a half marathon at as slow a pace as you possibly could so that you could finish. I had no idea you should try to run it faster than the slowest pace possible! Based on time predictions from my last races, I think I should be able to improve my time by about 1:00/mile.
So–I’m not going to do this program. I’m going to stick to the Hal Higdon plan. However, I might consider this plan if:
- I wanted to lose weight. Between the intense running workouts and the hard cross training, it seems like you’d get really fit.
- I wanted to qualify for Boston (that will never happen) or have some other reason to significantly improve my time.
- I didn’t like running as much and wanted to run less or really wanted to do more cross training.
- I was training in the winter, where I could devote evenings to the long workouts instead of doing them before work.
I did read some reviews from people who said they substituted the cross training with easy runs. I might like the program more if I did that.
Have you ever tried this approach? How did you like it?