Just over a month ago I ran my first marathon… Naturally (as a writer for Pro Training Programs) I took my training pretty seriously. As Pro Training Programs does not currently offer Marathon training programs, and I had no connection to any professional Marathon coaches or trainers, I went in search of a training program that I should follow.
Run Less Run Faster is the equivalent of Pro Training Programs for Marathon. Developed by the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST), the Run Less Run Faster program was originally published in Runners World magazine. The program built a cult like following of distance runners looking for something different. This lead to a short book by the training programs authors on the science of Run Less Run Faster.
The Run Less Run Faster program is a 16 week program of 3 runs per week, supplemented with 2 cross training sessions per week:
- 3 quality runs, including track repeats, the tempo run, and the long run, which are designed to work together to improve endurance, lactate-threshold running pace, and leg speed
- 2 aerobic cross-training workouts, such as swimming, rowing, or pedalling a stationary bike, which are designed to improve endurance while helping to avoid overtraining and boredom
As I see it, there are three keys to the Run Less Run Faster program; ‘quality’ vs. ‘quantity’, personalisation and simplicity.
Quality vs. Quantity
The book explains that most distance running programs are full of ‘junk miles’, low quality long runs, which contribute little to your Marathon time and can lead to overtraining injuries. Run Less Run Faster has just the 3 runs per week, but these are quality runs with set distances and paces that will push you – in the book the runs are described as ‘difficult, but achievable’. Cross training gives the training variety and will help build your endurance without the risk of overtraining (cross training are non-weight bearing exercises).
The relatively low time commitment of the Run Less Run Faster program also makes the Marathon possible for non professional runners who otherwise wouldn’t have the time for a more conventional Marathon training program.
Unlike traditional running programs that work backwards from a ‘goal time’, the Run Less Run Faster works from your previous race times, this can be a 5k, 10k, or Half Marathon, and trains you to your ‘Marathon potential’.
This is critical. The Run Less Run Faster program adapts to your current fitness level rather than potentially unrealistic goal time. From your current fitness level, the Run Less Run Faster program increases progressively to what current sport science research shows is achievable within the 16 weeks of the program. This significantly reduces the likelihood of injury from overreaching.
The Run Less Run Faster program has just the 5 sessions per week, all of which are straightforward and require little equipment. While the calculations in the book are almost enough to put you off doing the program altogether, the mobile application could not be any simpler. You enter the date of your event, your previous race time and preferred unit (km vs. miles) and the app gives you the 16 week program with exact distances and paces. This simple app became my most used app for 4 months (better than Facebook!).
Obviously the Run Less Run Faster book goes into significantly more detail. It’s an easy read if you’re interested.
But for those of you happy with the abbreviated version, I think the Run Less Run Faster program is the perfect combination of effectiveness and efficiency. The focus on fewer, quality sessions, the personalisation and the simplicity make it the perfect program for a casual, non professional Marathon runner of any level.
Have you tried the FIRST or a different method? I’m open to debate and would love to hear your thoughts.
Cameron is the Director of Pro Training Programs