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Run Less, Run Faster

March 8, 2010


As some of you might remember, I used the Run Less, Run Faster program to train for the Austin Half Marathon, which I ran a couple weeks ago. The basics: three runs a week–one speedwork, one tempo, one long–for any distance from 5k to the marathon. All have specific paces, based on your previous race times. The splits you are supposed to hit are definitely challenging, but not totally out of reach if you can mentally hang in there.  It also calls for  easy cross-training two days a week and a basic strength routine.

I wasn’t always able to hang in; the tempos thrashed me without fail and left me wondering why I wanted to run faster. Some other details:

Here’s what worked for me:
I ran faster. I ran a PR by about 2 minutes (1:51:25) on a pretty hilly course, despite my mental toughness being terrifically unimpressive. I walked 3 times, including up a massive hill at mile 12. 5. (After seeing it and muttering an expletive I won’t reprint, the  guy next to me was like, “What is this: the Tour de France? Is that Alpe d’Huez?” My sentiments exactly.)

Did I mention it worked? I also PR’ed in the 10k on  another hilly course (I promise: I’m not being dramatic about hills) about midway through the training cycle.  I can’t remember the exact finishing time (50:xx), but I definitely remember being able to truly kick at the end of a race. Novel–and pretty amazing–feeling.

I ran less. I usually ran Monday, Thursday and Saturday, which left plenty of (vital) time to get psyched to run again, and plenty of (very necessary) time to recover from the intense workouts. I feel like that’s the sweet spot for my injury-prone bod.

The very specific guidelines of the workouts. They eliminated that  I’m at the gym, so now what? or do-I-really-need-to-get-out-of-bed-and-run? wishy-washiness.

They made me feel just slightly less accomplished than Apolo Ohno. I gotta admit, the days when I was  at my desk at 9:15 and thinking, I’ve already done 7k of speedwork this morning, I felt like a serious, dedicated athlete. (The intervals of speedwork usually added up to 5k total.)

I hit new heights. I pushed the number 8, as in over 8 mph, on the treadmill for the first time ever. Whee!

Here’s what didn’t:
A 4.5-month long training plan. Unless you’re starting back from having a kid or very new to running, 18 weeks is an awfully long time to train for a half-marathon.  Because I didn’t start it on time, I cut out about 3 weeks, but 15 weeks is also too long for me to stay focused–and, more importantly, motivated.

I never really relaxed and just enjoyed a run. I got a little anxious, pre-run, about being able to complete the sucker, both about the effort and the math I had to do to convert random splits (5:23, say, for a 1,000) to speeds on the treadmill.

–I could never find the right song to motivate me. Because I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I needed fast songs. But I quickly tired of my 15 or so pulsing songs, and anything with less than a Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night tempo didn’t keep my feet quick enough.

I felt a little deceived.  Based on the I-easily-took-15-minutes-off-my-PR testimonials in the book, it sounded like I would float along the course and barely break a sweat. Um, not so much. I worked for that PR.

Injuries still lingered. I still couldn’t shake my injured left hute (hybrid of hip and glute). The speedwork exacerbated it, I’m certain, because I was so fixated on hitting the splits that I compromised what little form I have.

I flaked on the cross-training. Because talking myself into the runs was harder than getting my son to stop bugging my daughter when she’s trying to do her homework, I felt justified giving myself a pass on the cross-training. I usually did it once a week, but hardly ever the recommended twice, and I can count on one hand the number of times I strength trained.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. If I had a race and a goal for that race, I’m confident that RLRF would help me hit it.

Am I going to run less, run slower now? Absolutely.

Have any of you used RLRF? What were your results?

23 Comments leave one →
  1. Natalie permalink
    March 8, 2010 9:57 am

    So interesting to hear your impressions of Run Less, Run Faster, as I recently checked the book out of the library. I’m running the Chicago Marathon in the fall (my first) and the thought of three days of quality running (versus the five haphazard days I’m doing now) really appealed to me. But the math part of it (figuring out how much I’m actually running on any given day) threw me. It all just seems so complicated. I’m training for a ten-miler right now and had considered following RLRF, but the long run starts at ten miles, which I found perplexing, so I settled for a SmartCoach plan instead. I’m lacking for good speed training (and always have), which is what appeals to me about RLRF. So… I don’t know. I have such limited time during the week that I’m finding any plan that requires an eight-miler on a Tuesday to be a bit daunting. Even if I get up at 5, I still don’t have the time to get it in before work. Long story short, still thinking about RLRF for the marathon, which isn’t until October. Although…. Does the plan you and Sarah followed for the Marathon Moms RW feature still exist somewhere? Because I’d be interested in checking that out again now that I’m actually facing marathon mom-dom myself.

    • March 8, 2010 2:04 pm

      Hi Natalie–
      Congrats on signing up for Chicago! Very cool. Love the marathon mom-dom term. Sarah and I followed different coach’s plans for the Nike Women’s Marathon, so we can’t offer those to you (and mine was mostly on a bike, which isn’t helpful at all). Sarah likes Hal Higdon’s plans, so that might be another one you can check out. If you can make RLRF work into your schedule, I’d vote for that, but yes, 8 miles on a weekday morning is tough. Good luck and thanks for reading–let us know how your training progresses.

  2. March 8, 2010 10:40 am

    Congrats on your race, Dimity!!! I used RLRF for my first marathon and really like it. It was my first introduction to speed work and that was huge for me. I love the concept of doing intervals and tempo/pace, so now it is always incorporated into my training plans. RLRF is definitely a plan that I would recommend.

    • March 8, 2010 2:09 pm

      So *that’s* how you got so fast. 🙂 Glad it got you started on a really strong running career.

  3. March 8, 2010 11:53 am

    Dimity: I’m using Run Less Run Faster’s marathon training plan, or at least trying to. The idea is quite appealing to me as I have two small kids (age 2 and a baby), a full-time job, run a choir, etc. To do my long runs, I have been specifically taking part of one morning off of work during the week. My workday childcare is regular, reliable and cheerful about it (unlike, say, trying to get hubby to cover a 3-4 hour long run on the weekends). I make up the time either at night after my kids go to bed or… just try to be more efficient the rest of the week. I’ve mostly been sticking with the paces, but that’s because I’m going to run the marathon really slowly. So far so good – I did a 15 miler this morning and felt pretty reasonable at the end, all things considering. We’ll see how the real marathon goes! I enjoyed your and Sarah’s article in Runner’s World and will be sure to check out the book.

    • March 8, 2010 2:06 pm

      Hi Laura–
      Glad you liked the story–your life sounds remarkably similar to our’s. 🙂 LOL about your husband cheerfully (or not) watching the kids. Nice job on 15 miles on a Monday morning–all downhill from here, right? What marathon are you doing?

      • March 8, 2010 2:25 pm

        Big Sur- I know, not an easy first one (I’ve done a couple of halfs). That’s why I’m planning to go so slow. One of my training practices has been setting the treadmill grade to mimic Hurricane Point on days when I run inside.
        I was particularly interested in Sarah’s discussion of her husband’s difficulties with taking all three kids to mass (I wrote recently about my baby getting kicked out of a service: Pope Benedict says it’s supposed to be a family affair! But yes, my doing long runs during the week is much easier on our family than trying to make it happen on the weekends. My husband and I can trade off for 1-hour runs, but more than that is tough.

        • March 9, 2010 10:24 am

          hey laura–
          sarah is running big sur too! you guys should connect and talk mass and husbands and all that pre- or post-race. I couldn’t get the link of your article to work but I’m not on my home computer…will check it out later. thanks again for reading…and good luck with your training. Hurricane Point sounds intimidating to me just by its name. 🙂

  4. March 8, 2010 12:59 pm

    The idea of less runs is appealing to me as well. Mainly because of a lack of time to run (AKA being a working mom) and also since I have shin splints I’m dealing with. I just worry it won’t be enough to get my endurance up. Thanks for your comments and thoughts!

    • March 8, 2010 2:09 pm

      My take (and I’m far from a running coach) is that your endurance doesn’t suffer on RLRF, but I’d bet you’d be well served by having a base of, say, 15 miles weekly before starting it. I don’t have the book in front of me, but they have a beginner 5k program, so starting there, especially if you have shin splints (sorry!), might be a good call. Overall, though, the idea of quality over quantity will only improve your endurance.

  5. March 8, 2010 2:00 pm

    Sweet PR’s, Dimity!!! I’m so glad you critiqued this running program. I have picked the book up several times, but never bought it. I don’t know if I can mentally deal with not running every day. The days I don’t run are extremely hard for me. But, maybe the XT days could be super-light runs 🙂 And, after 4-Months to a 4-Hour Marathon (Dave Kuehls), I wanted to find Dave…I’m all about doing the most with what we have. But, this 42-year old momma physically can’t do the things a much younger person can – it was hard for me to do speedwork & a long run within the same week. The speedwork was great, but I didn’t feel adequately recovered for the other runs that week & running sluggishly, heavy-legged just stinks. But, reading what you had to say, it sounds like you really give such an effort, that time off is really good recovery time. I think the next time I train for a marathon, I will probably alternate weeks – I used whatever marathon program was offered for the Houston race & really liked it…anyway, I love hearing real stories from other moms who’ve used certain programs…thank you for your post!

  6. March 8, 2010 3:48 pm

    Congrats on the PRs! Such a great feeling, isn’t it? As to RLRF, I like the concept of it because I would guess it probably saves a lot of people from getting injured, especially folks new to the marathon. On the other hand–I love to run so much, I would hate to only do it 3x/week. There, I admitted it. I’m a bit of a runaholic, I guess!

  7. March 8, 2010 4:35 pm

    I loved your comment about being lulled by the testimonials in the book into thinking running the race would actually be easy. I used the program last year for my third marathon. I loved it, and PR’d by more than 20 minutes, but I definitely worked for it. I’m using it again right now for my spring marathon.

  8. March 8, 2010 10:19 pm

    RLRF has been my bible for all 5 of my marathons. When I first started training with it I PR’d every distance I ran and hit the BQ pretty comfortably. This old girl got faster than she was 10 years ago. That said, sometimes I do unleash my inner speedster a little too much and I got injured building up to Boston last year doing warp-speed 400’s. I still love the program though. And truth be told, I too flake on lots of the XT.

    • March 9, 2010 10:25 am

      good to hear you hit a BQ and still flake on the XT, old girl. 🙂 love that you’ve got warp speed. can I have some of that? 🙂

  9. March 8, 2010 10:53 pm

    Hilarious post (I am laughing with you). I love the invention of “hute.”

    Umm, yeah, I should say this program worked for you-you are a machine! Now enjoy your time off, you HAVE earned it.

    Oh yeah, I am using it now, but at this point in my training my body can only handle one speedworkout/week. But I am loving it, cross training and all. “They eliminated that I’m at the gym, so now what? or do-I-really-need-to-get-out-of-bed-and-run? wishy-washiness.” Agreed!

  10. mhelen37 permalink
    March 9, 2010 9:47 am

    Hi Dimity, great review….I’ve been a lurker for a while, so I remember from your personal blog that you mentioned the book before. It intrigues me, b/c I’ve trained for 2 half-mary’s on 3 runs/week (of course, I wasn’t nearly as organized or planned w/tempo runs, speed work etc, I was just happy to get out there and get some miles in!). Now that I’m a bit more experienced, I believe that book would offer me some great direction/guidelines…might have to pick it up.
    Also, I totally agree w/you on the music thing….I’m constantly on the lookout for good tunes to motivate me! The prob is that when I get online to buy them, I completely blank! AND playlists usually offer me no help, as I don’t recognized the names of songs, LOL (unless they are from the ’80s 🙂 I guess that’s part of the perks of being a mom: my brain is too full of kiddie songs/Disney channel music!

    • March 9, 2010 10:27 am

      STAY tuned for a post on music. I am counting heavily on this crowd to help me update my iPod…I’m exactly like you and I’m like, what was that cool song I heard on the radio again? totally blank. I mean, I love Wake Me Up Before You Go-G and all, but enough is enough.

  11. KateinCT permalink
    March 11, 2010 12:43 pm

    I’m trying the 5K RLRF program as an experiment for a race in mid April, I’ve previously done more Jack Daniels based training which has me running 30ish mpw and doing speed/tempo but with less volume and slower easier days….it will be interesting to see how this works, it is hard getting used to only running 3 days but I’ve started spinning once or twice a week which feels like it is making me stronger…

  12. April 20, 2010 1:15 pm

    i am using it right now to train for Newport marathon. I love it. I love that it gives me goal times to meet and I love the way I feel when I meet those goals. I also like that I am rested for the next run and I actually look forward to it and not have to push myself to do it. I like the cross training, which I think is very crititcal to the plan, but it gives my mind a break from running and I get to ride my bike. I am really hoping it will help me PR or better yet get a BQ.

  13. Edie permalink
    April 22, 2010 5:14 pm

    JUST what I needed to read. Haven’t done a marathon in a couple years and was dreading the intense time commitment but am 9:00 minutes from a BQ time. That is with no speed workouts or tempo runs…just miles. I have been doing intervals and mile repeats this spring leading up to the Helvatia Half and this program might just be what I need for Portland on 10/10/10 for a BQ. Thanks!

  14. Rakus permalink
    May 23, 2010 6:47 pm

    Love your post! Thanks for sharing your results 🙂
    I am half way through this RLRF programme now and LOVING it! I love the structure and the speed work and the tempo run and the long run – I have 2 kids and work full time so this works for me and I am really motivated to get the runs done and am actually enjoying running again (ran my first marathon in 2008). I am hoping for an improvement in my times and will keep you posted as I progress. I have had no injuries or any pain that has slowed me down at all and to see my speed improve feels like some sort of miracle, as I approach 40 I would have to say that I have never been fitter in my entire life!

  15. ErinP permalink
    July 26, 2010 3:32 pm

    Hi All!

    I have a body that is so very not built to run and running more then 3 x per week really really hurts!!!

    I did the program for my last half and PRed by 50 minutes. I was really slow to start with and now I am average (I have never worked so hard to be average in my life)!

    I loved the program because I could still swim and bike without feeling like I had to train twice a day. Highly recommend it for those of us that still want a life outside running.


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