Sunday, May 22, 2011

Review: Run Less, Run Faster

First of all, the title of this book is a little misleading.  The notion that running less will make you faster is too good to be true.  It sure is a snappy title, but don't let it kid you... the training plans outlined in this book are tough and not for the weak sole.

My interest peaked on the Run Less, Run Faster (RLRF) book in late December.  As a mother of two little ones, spare time is sparse and valuable.  I've always been drawn to getting the biggest bang for my buck.  That's how running engulfed me in the first place... highest calorie burn in the least amount of time.  Thus, the RLRF plan was the perfect fit for me.  Every single workout and run in the FIRST (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training) training program has a purpose.  There are no junk miles... but there are also no "fun runs" either.

The FIRST approach circles around the concept of 3plus2.  Three quality runs each week plus two cross-training workouts are the foundation of the plan.  The three runs each have an objective:
• Key Run #1: Track repeats (also known as speed intervals) improve your oxygen consumption and leg speed.
• Key Run #2: Tempo runs improve endurance by raising lactate threshold.
• Key Run #3: Long runs improve endurance by raising aerobic metabolism.

These key runs are completed at specific paces that are custom to your current race pace.  To start, I found the paces difficult to hit and/or hold, but this follows the book's "training with a purpose" concept... quality over quantity, intensity over frequency, fast running over the accumulation of miles.

Rounding off the week, two rest days and two cross-training (XT) workouts are added in - essentially replacing what would normally be easy run days.  This is meant to reduce the risk of injury by avoiding overuse of the same muscle groups.  By using non-weight-bearing activities, your legs, knees and running muscles are give a break while still maintaining a high-intensity fitness regimen.  The authors of RLRF recommend swimming, biking or rowing for the XT activities.  I used a 45 minute Spinning class at my health club.

The average week on a RLRF plan looks like this...

I put together my RLRF training plan last January in preparation for my spring half marathons.  This was like going back to college!  The book is not exactly an easy read for the novice runner.  I found myself going back rereading and taking lots of notes to completely understand the elements of the plan.

The core of your RLRF plan is built around your current pace, specifically your 5K time.  You can either use your last race time (if current) or jump on a treadmill and virtual race yourself!  I started with a flat 28:00 which was a close equivalent to my last Half Marathon time, according to the book charts.  For beginners, you may need to default to this website since the book charts don't accommodate those who run a 30:00+ 5K. I found this website easier to use anyway... Click HERE.  Just input your 5k time, and it will spit out all your key run paces. Once you have your paces figured out, the book has detailed plans for 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon training.

The book also includes sections on strength training, as well as flexibility and form.  I included the strength training exercises following days 3 cross training.  I also incorporated butt-kicks and knee-lifts before the weekly speed intervals.

I was extremely diligent to "The Plan" through week 7.  Even today, I feel that was a peak for me.  I ran an 8K that week, and for the first time had a race pace average below the 9 minute mark.  By comparison, a year ago, I was extremely happy to race a 10:00 pace.  I used my new 5K split time of 27:00 to up my training paces for the last six weeks of the plan.  Admittedly, I waffled a bit on training in the late spring.  But I still set new PR's in the half marathon and 5K.  I didn't run less (averaged about 25-30 miles per week), but I was certainly running faster.

The only thing I found missing from the plan was hill work... so I've added some into my summer marathon training plan. Overall, I enjoyed the variety of workouts that RLRF employed, and was extremely happy with the time results it produced.  However, there were times during the training that I craved to just run... no paces, times or distance to worry about.  I have used the month of May for that and it been a nice break.  But I can't lie, I'm getting excited and anxious to start up RLRF training again on June 6.

If you decide to use RLRF training, please let me know - I'd love to follow your training... and am always happy to answer any questions that best I can!

What training plan/strategy do you follow?
What do you like or dislike about it?

I've also added some more running book reviews to my blog HERE.  
Short and to the point recommendations. 


  1. This sounds like a great plan. I was using a mix between Hal Hidgon and Runner's World Smart Coach, but I'm not a fan of running four days a week. For me, it just feels like too much. Also, I feel either tired or don't have time on my rest days to work out. I will definitely give this one a shot. :)

  2. Great review. Similar to the comment above, I am using a mixture of Hal Higdon's intermediate plan and Runner's World Smart Coach to train for my fifth half marathon next weekend, but I am running five days a week. I crave the "junk" miles. I've read so many conflicting articles regarding these "junk" miles, so I guess I'll have to see how the race goes.

  3. A trainer sent me the FIRST training plan, I was supposed to start this week but I injured my knee a few weeks back so I'm taking a break. It will be my first half marathon. The one thing I'm not confident with is the speedwork out. I don't own a garmin so I'm not really sure how I'll figure out the pace and all. But I'm going to attempt to run on track for that one once I'm better.
    XT will be biking and yoga for me.

  4. Nice review! I just started the program this week and posted a recap on my blog. So far I like it, but I agree there are some weeks I am going to want to run an additional day, but I figure that will be one of my XT workouts.

  5. I do have this book but never really put it into action. Since I'm training for a tri it doesn't apply this time around. I've heard much success from those using this though!

  6. Thanks for the review, it sounds like it makes sense... kinda complicated tho for a newbie like me!

  7. Good timing on the review! I have a 50% off coupon that expires today at a bookstore nearby and was thinking about using it on this book. After looking at your plan, I'm not sure I'm ready for it. I only run 3 days a week, strength train another 2 days, and ideally fit in yoga on a 6th day. But I'm nowhere near that weekly mileage... 15-20 is about it. I think I barely got over 20 leading up to my half marathon. I might be able to do this plan if I were training for another half marathon but I think it might be a bit ambitious for me to use on my first marathon. ;)

    1. run faster, run less has a "novice" marathon training program - it's a bit less intense, still 3 days of running.

  8. I used this for the last month of my 1/2 training and it got me a 2:26:27! I don't have any races planned right now :-( but will definitely use it again if I am training!

  9. Great review. I'm really interested in RLRF program since right now I feel like I have a lot of easy runs that I'm not sure are necessary. Thanks!

  10. I feel the exact same about RLRF. I'm a speed/time junkie so I love that it is helping get faster times. BUT I really miss just going out for a run without a watch. I try to use the tempo or long runs as my "fun runs" but it's not quite the same. After the Seattle RNR marathon, I'll be taking a few weeks off formal training before Portland Marathon training starts and I'm looking forward to just carefree running. I'm sure, though, that I'll be chomping at the bit to get back to RLRF. The other positive thing I find about RLRF is that I've become more disciplined about cross training, which I know is better for my body. Also, the low overall milage is much better for injury-prone me. I'm doing about half the milage of other full marathon training plans.

  11. This was a great review for me to read. I also have a bunch of young kids and time is scarce. This is really similar to the plan I just used for Bay to Breakers (7.46-mile run). I found it very effective. I did get a little burned out on making every workout "count"... sometimes I need to just check out as I am "on" all the time with the kids. And I did have a hard time squeezing in the cross-training... but that was purely a self-discipline issue ;-) Off to vote for you now!

  12. I think this was a very good review, Jess! I have a lot of the same opinions about it. It's a little daunting, because I'm doing the half and full plans back to back. 29 weeks is a long time. I really need to get back on my crosstraining kick- I've slacked the last two weeks.

  13. I havn't offically started the program but I am figuring out all of my paces and how I am going to follow it. Thanks for the review.

  14. Thanks for doing this review, I recently ordered this book and planned to read it when I am done with Kara's book. I was thinking of using the training plan also for my next half marathon, so I will definitely be posting on my blog all about it!

  15. This is on my list of book I want to read. I think it will be so beneficial for me.

  16. Great review! I have my first marathon a month after yours. Our paces look similar, maybe I will steal your plan :P

    Actually, I have been interested in this book, but have a question. I am a rather serious weight lifter, 4 days a week, run 3 days a week and rest on Sundays. You mentioned strength and XT days. Do you feel they are "musts" in the success of the plan? If I wanted to follow this book's plan do you think I would have to cut my lifting?

  17. Thanks for this review! Just bought the book about a week ago and completed my first track workout yesterday. I love having everything so spelled out in the plan.

  18. Hey Jess! I have been using RLRF for my marathon training but too crave "fun runs" but as a single working mother I thought it'd be good for my schedule. I sure can't wait to get back to just running! I'm on week 11 almost through!! But I do have to say I've gotten faster ...despite my lack of xt. I'm so bad! I don't have a bike or pool so I used yoga and Pilates for cross training. I just haven't been faithful to it! Anyway I appreciate your review! Glad I found it. :-)


I appreciate your feedback and comments!