Run Less, Run Faster by the Numbers
Weeks of training: 16 weeks
Total # of miles in training: 396.2
Most miles in a week: 34.7
Least miles in a week: 12.1
Average number of miles per week (excluding last week): 26
This post is about my thoughts and review of the Run Less, Run Faster Marathon Training Plan. I bought the book, but my training plan came from the Run Less, Run Faster app that I bought on iTunes for $2.99. I read the book, but honestly I didn’t find it useful. Most of the rationale for why they chose to structure the plan the way they do can be found for free online. I didn’t do any of their warm ups or cool down, nor did I do their cross training. If you care about sticking closely to the plan as they prescribe it, then probably the book is more helpful. I didn’t care. The book is heavily padded with personal anecdotes and testimonials. A few is nice, but I got bored after a while because obviously they’re only going to include the ones of people saying it worked. I think you can skip buying the book.
The app was well worth the few dollars I spent. I loved having a customize-able plan. I plugged in a race time and it created a 16 week marathon training program. The app can create a training program for a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and a full marathon. I liked having an app because the plan was always readily accessible because I almost always have my phone with me. It was very handy.
I started marathon training in June being “out of shape” for me. I spent the prior two months doing very little running (hello life that included moving, house renovation, wedding planning, and then getting married). RLRF recommends that you use the most recent race time to create a training plan. I race quite frequently so having a recent race time wasn’t a problem. I plugged in the most recent race time and looked at the plan. I didn’t like what I saw because all of the paces for training were much too slow. I think RLRF assumes that your most recent race time is your best time and you at your peak fitness. While I had lost quite a bit of fitness from not running much for two months, I also knew that I would regain the old level of fitness far more quickly than the length of time it took me to achieve that level of fitness in the first place. I felt that if I used the paces that RLRF recommended based on my recent race time, I wasn’t going to achieve my full potential. I played around with the race times for a few weeks until I found a suggested training plan that I liked and that I thought would work well for me.
I eventually settled on using 23:30 5K race time (which is very close to my 5K PR set in Dec 2013) because it gave me paces for the training runs that were challenging, but doable. The first 6-8 weeks, I had a hard time hitting the paces for the speed work, but I could readily make the paces for the tempo and long runs. If I adjusted the plan so that I could get the speed work, then the paces for the tempo and long runs were far too easy. In the second half of the training plan, I was able to hit the paces for the speed work. I think the reason why I had such a hard time in the first half of the program was because I was still trying to recover my old level of fitness. By late July, I was back to my old level of fitness and then the question of not being “fit” enough to get the paces was no longer an issue.
Of course, in the second half of the training plan, I then had problems getting the pace for the long runs. This wasn’t a fitness issue, as much as being affected by heat and humidity and bonking all the time because I hadn’t figured out how to fuel properly for long runs.
Theoretically on this training program, I was training for a 3:48 marathon. I never thought that I would do a 3:48, but I thought that if the weather cooperated and I had the race of my life, then there was an outside chance achieving a sub-3:50. Sub-3:50 was my A-goal. Several weeks before Wineglass, based on training I thought that getting around a 3:55 was a realistic expectation. I also knew that in a first marathon, anything could happen, so I also set a more realistic goal that would be attainable without having to rely on perfect weather (sub-4:00 B-goal). The C-goal of just finishing was for if things simply fell apart. In a marathon, anything can happen.
I did not follow the training plan perfectly. I ran most of the miles. I didn’t always hit the paces. I did very little cross-training (a couple yoga session, one or two weight lifting sessions, and some walking) and none of the cross-training was what RLRF recommended (rowing, cycling, or swimming). I had planned on doing more cross-training, specifically weight-lifting because I believe that weight-lifting is beneficial to running and I sincerely enjoy it. I ended up not cross-training because 1) I’m lazy, 2) I was always a little tired from the increased mileage from RLRF. On my non-running days, I really wanted to rest and I did. I didn’t care enough to do more. I was happy with what I was doing with my training. Excluding cross-training, I figured I following RLRF 80% (the # is not based on anything scientific or calculated, but my own feeling and self-assessment). It’s unfair to expect a plan to lead me a 3:48 marathon when I didn’t follow it perfectly, so I calculated how much slower I would be because I hadn’t adhered perfectly to RLRF. Again, not based on anything scientific, I decided that for every 10% I deviated away from the plan, there would be a 1% slowing in time. This meant that I should expect a marathon time of 3:53. I ended up running a time of 3:54:03. I was absolutely thrilled with my performance because I ran the best marathon that I had in me.
RLRF is an unforgiving program. It does work, but you need to follow it exactly (or very very closely) if you want to get the target goal that you’re training for. If you deviate from it in terms of not doing the cross-training and not hitting the paces or miles, you’re going to fall short of the goal. I think if you’re realistic about how well you’re sticking to the program (and the weather is good during the race), you can reliably predict the time that you will run.
Although I love RLRF and will be using it again to train, I don’t recommend it for everyone. Because of the lower mileage and running for 3 days a week, people falsely assume that it’s a beginner friendly program. I absolutely would not recommend this to beginner runners. It’s an effective plan for intermediate or advanced runners. While Wineglass was my first marathon, I have three years of racing experience (from 5Ks to half marathons; over 50 races) and PRs that solidly place me as an intermediate runner.
It’s also not a plan for runners who love long slow runs and easy runs. The long runs were never that slow and there are no easy runs (except for warm ups and cool downs). Every run is a hard one. This aspect of RLRF was something that I loved because I hate doing easy runs. I love running for intensity, rather than for volume. Although RLRF was developed for those runners who only wanted to run 3 days a week, I think it can be adapted for runners who wish to run more frequently by running easy on the non-running days that are meant for cross-training.
Another aspect of RLRF that I loved was how flexible the plan was. By having only three days of running, it was easy for me to get all of my training runs in. Last spring I tried to run 4 days a week, but it stressed me out. I really don’t like running more than three days a week. I never felt like marathon training took over my life. I was able to live my life with relatively little interference from training because I would move my runs around to days when I didn’t have as much stuff going on. One week, an out-of-town friend came to visit NYC and the only time he had free was Saturday morning. Normally Saturday morning is when I do the long runs, but by having only three runs a week, it was easy for me to shuffle the runs around that week so that I was free Saturday morning. I never once felt that I couldn’t go out with my friends or that I had to give up my social life for marathon training. This was really important to me. There are weeks in my life when I disappear from my friends because of work, and I didn’t want to add another period of weeks where I disappeared again.
I appreciated doing five 20-milers because it got me prepared for the marathon. By the time Wineglass rolled around, I knew I could finish it because I had done so many 20-milers. Also those long runs mentally prepared me for bonking because I hit The Wall in four out of the five run (thanks to not fueling properly). I knew that if I hit The Wall during Wineglass, I knew what to expect and how to handle it. But more importantly, it taught me how to fuel for the long running. I didn’t feel like fueling, but the memories of bonking reminded me the necessity of eating and I forced myself to consume calories. As a result, I never hit The Wall during Wineglass.
I may have done better with training if I did the cross-training that RLRF recommended. They prefer rowing, cycling, and swimming because those activities train the cardiovascular system without taxing the muscles used for running. Unfortunately for me, I hate swimming and cycling and you can’t convince me to do those activities. While RLRF has fewer mileage than other popular training programs, it’s more miles than what I was used to doing (I trained for half marathons by running 10-15 miles per week). Going from 10-15 miles per week to an average of 26 miles per week is a big jump for me. I was pretty much tired all the time and not in the mood to go cross-train. For most of the non-running days, I chose to take a rest day instead.
The program is for 16 weeks, but next time I would stretch out those 16 weeks over 20 weeks. I found that personally I needed a couple cut-back weeks. RLRF has a couple of light cut-back weeks (fewer miles), but it wasn’t enough of a cut-back for me. Ben and I agree that compared to the average runner, I recover more slowly and need more time. Next time I’m training, when I find myself even more fatigued, I would take a cut-back week by running fewer miles and then redoing that week’s training the following week. I can do this without sacrificing RLRF’s training plan, if I start the program sooner.
I got to Wineglass uninjured, not overtrained, and eager to run. I’m not the greatest about sticking to programs and the fact that I stuck to RLRF is not a testament to my willpower, but to how well RLRF works in fitting into my lifestyle. I had a really good experience with training and with racing Wineglass. RLRF is well-suited to how I like to train (intensity over volume and running 3xs a week). I would highly recommend it to other runners who also share the same proclivities in running.