Run less run faster program review

I ran my first marathon ‘on it’s own’ two weeks ago.  When I say ‘on it’s own’, I mean that it was the first marathon I’d run that wasn’t part of an ironman.  My last ironman was in 2003, so it has been over 10 years since I ran marathon distance.

I looked into a number of marathon programs, but eventually decided on the ‘Run Less Run Faster’ program found in the book.   When my marathon program commenced I was still in the triathlon season, so didn’t want to drop my ride training.   It seemed to fit in well with my ‘minimalist’ approach to training.

At under $10 for the kindle book, it was an inexpensive program purchase, and there seemed to be a large number of testimonials touting its success.

The Run Less Run Faster program has you running 3 runs per week.  1 tempo, 1 speed session and 1 long run.  Crucial to the program is doing an additional 2 hard cross training sessions a week.    I did these on the bike.

The program is based on pace running.   From a time trial or known current time for a race such as 5km or 10km, the book provides an estimate of an equated marathon time.   I did the recommended test of some 1600ms and took the average to come up with an expected marathon pace of 3:37.

This then becomes the basis for pacing for all of your runs, with the book outlining charts with corresponding times that you should run each of your interval, tempo and long runs, based on your time trial.

Long Run

I was extremely happy with my long runs.  The program has you doing varying distances and paces, with the longest run being 32km, which was done 5 times.

I was always able to hit the pacing on the long runs, completed the runs reasonably comfortably, and recovered well.    My pacing increased easily.   Here is a summary of my 5 x 32 km long runs.

Date Distance Time Pace

1-Mar

32.4

2:59

0:05:31

15-Mar

32.4

2:59

0:05:31

5-Apr

32.2

2:52

0:05:20

21-Apr

32.16

2:50

0:05:17

3-May

32.6

2:46

0:05:06


Interval Sessions

I struggled on the interval sessions and was rarely able to hit the pacing.  I ran early in the morning, which I found hard for intervals, and, running in the dark, often just ran on the road, rather than a track, which meant there were some inconsistencies in the terrain.

I was probably 15-20 seconds slower on most of the efforts (which varied from 400s to 2000s) than what my prescribed pace was.

Tempo Sessions

The program has a number of different tempo paces – short tempo, medium tempo, and long tempo.

I was able to hit pacing on some sessions, but not always.   It depended on the terrain I was running – throw in a few inclines, and I found my pacing was harder to maintain.

Re-evaluation of pacing

Six weeks out from marathon race day I ran ‘Run for the kids’.  My time was quite a bit slower than the year prior, but given I’d done my long run the day prior, I wasn’t too concerned.   After realising that my 10km split from this 15km run was faster than the pacing I’d been working on, I adjusted my pacing down.  I was now targeting just over a 3:30 marathon, which equates to about 5:00 pace.  Again I was able to hit the pacing on my long runs, but I’d already given up on trying to hit the pacing on my intervals and just did these the best I could.

Cross training

The book outlines specific sessions for cross training, including some bike sessions.  As I was following my triathlon program earlier in the marathon build-up, I didn’t follow these suggested sessions.   Once the triathlon season was over I switched to the recommended bike sessions, and wished I’d done these earlier.

Adhering to the program

For the most part I was able to get in the relevant sessions.  I think I missed one long run, and there were a couple of weeks where I didn’t get all the mid week sessions in (interval and tempo).  As marathon day approached I increased my focus and made it a priority to not miss any sessions.

Race Week

The race week program is quite intensive in terms of intervals and race pace running.    In race week I generally scale back my distance and intensity considerably, just doing a few shorter bursts of race pace work.    The Tuesday before race day I did the track session of 6 x 400s.    Although my pacing was, as usual, slower than the recommended, I did feel good in this session.  Unfortunately I came down sick at the end of the week, so that was the final session before race day.

Race day

I ran 3:47.  Considerably slower than my revised target pace of 3:30 and slower than my initial estimate of 3:37. Ultimately I went out too hard, running a 4:47 pace (13 seconds faster than what I should have been doing) for the first 21km.  By the time I hit 27km I was starting to suffer and blew up at about 36km.

My race report is here.

The book reiterates running the marathon at the pace that equates to the time trial pacing, and not trying to run faster.   It specifically says do not try to set a goal time and work from that.  Because I’d had quite good long runs, on race day I just seemed to decide that if I ran it faster to begin with I would end up with a bigger buffer to slow down, and would achieve my 3:30 goal.  Secretly I even began to think I could run under 3:30 if I could keep up that pace.  Stupid.

Overall

Generally, I liked the Run Less Run Faster program.  It didn’t interfere too much with my family and work life. Tempo and interval sessions were easily accommodated before work, and I did the long run early on a Saturday morning so as not to eat into family time.  The thought of facing an interval session on some mornings was hard, and perhaps my inability to hit the prescribed times reflected that these sessions were perhaps a bit hard for me.   Still, I did my best.

I think the longest run being 32km was sufficient distance.  Doing it 5 times, with pacing increasing, certainly helped to increase confidence about the race.

I didn’t feel tired in this program, even towards the end.    Although my long run distance dropped during the taper period, interval and tempo distance remained much the same, so there wasn’t a noticeable difference in how I felt during the taper.

I have always trained and raced according to heart rate, and this was the first time that I ignored heart rate in training and racing.  My heart rate on race day was far too high, but I ignored that in favour of trying to hit a prescribed pace.

Giving a predicted marathon time based on a shorter time trial is all very well if things go to plan.  But things like nutrition, mental focus, race conditions or the course could all effect the outcome.  If I’d stuck to my prescribed pacing on race day I think I may have had a better result, although in hindsight I think a 3:30 was a stretch goal.   Which brings me to my final point – I think this program has the potential for disappointment about not reaching a predicted race time.

The program copped a bit of negative press recently.  I read some of this, and my argument was if you were pressed for time, and it was the best you could do, then it was worth doing.

Would I follow the Run Less Run Faster program again?

For the moment, no, I wouldn’t follow it again, but I won’t rule it out again in the future.  I do better training and racing according to heart rate, rather than a prescribed pace and I will go back to this approach.   If I were to follow it again, I would probably adjust my predicted time to a slower time – one that enables me to hit the pacing on the interval and tempo sessions.

Generally I think the program is a good one and suits those who are time pressed, although with 5 x 32km runs, it still requires commitment and focus.

Here’s an article which talks about it a bit more – you can also purchase the book on Amazon.  The book also includes programs for half marathon, 10km and 5km races.

What’s next?

I am self coached, and after a year of doing high intensity, low mileage I’ve decided to go back to basics and for the next 12 weeks will follow the Maffetone approach which is all about low heart rate training.   I’m not sure that I’ll benefit from this entirely, because I don’t have the time to do longer sessions, but I’ll go back to harder intensity after a few months.   I’m considering doing the Melbourne Marathon in October, and if I do, I will only do a speed / tempo / race pace focus in the last 6 weeks before the race.  This generally the approach I’ve taken in my ironman programing years ago, and in doing so, I was able to run a 3:42 ironman marathon PB.

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