Book Review: “Run Less, Run Faster”

Before I get too into this review, I would like to say I really, really, really loved this book. BUT, I’m not entirely sure I would use the plan yet and I would like your opinion (yes, you!) on what you think about the training method. Or, if you or anyone you know has tried this method to train for a race, what they thought.

I read. A lot! I usually, almost always, have more than one book going at a time. Generally, it’s a combination of one fiction/fun book, one non-fiction/informative book and random books I store in my bag or purse for down time.

Lately, I’ve been reading through zombie fictions books like they’re going out of style, so I’ve completed multiple fictions while still reading my non-fiction book.

8721183If you want to know how “Zombie Apocalypse!” by Stephen Jones was or “Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos” (yes, that’s a real book) by James Marshall was, you can email me at racingthestates@gmail.com and we’ll have an intense conversation. However, this is a running blog and I have ALSO been reading “Run Less, Run Faster” by the experts at FIRST: Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss.

I absolute loved this book for many reasons. I was originally interested in it because of the idea that you can still train for races (i.e. a marathon) without running as much and thus less stress on your joints and bones and body. I STILL feel like I’m almost recovering from my first marathon last MAY! I know this is not true, it’s a been a series of events that have made me not fully “healed,” but if there’s a way to reduce all that stress, I’m all for it.

Run Less Run Faster Book coverLet me explain the FIRST program, first. No pun intended. FIRST stands for the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (how do I get a job there!?) and they have developed a training program that has been proven to minimize the stress on one’s body WHILE improving your racing performance. Hard to believe, right? But the program is designed and tested from scientific principles, which is one of the reasons I loved this book.

As crazy as it sounds, I have a degree in Zoology. It’s a long story, but basically I used to dream of becoming a veterinarian but after working in the field, I changed my mind. Although I don’t want to do surgery on animals anymore, I still have a strong love for science in general. My mind works in a very scientific way and I like to combine that with my passion for health and fitness.  This book uses so many science principles that it is hard to have any doubts that this program works. I also love that it took definitions and words straight from my personal training book and applied the science to those principles as well. For example, right in the first chapter, they talk  about exercise pricinples like The Progressive Overload (the principle that as you gradually increase the training stress this will cause the body to adapt to that overload. I.e., gradually increase the distance of your long run will help you train for a marathon). The book is very “smart” for lack of better words.

Anyway, back to the idea of FIRST. The philopsohy is to make running easier, and limit overtraining, thus cutting the risk of injury but also producing results. FIRST is a 3plus2 training program. This means that there are three key running workouts and two cross training workouts.

Yes, you read that right. You only RUN three days a week. Keep in mind, and it’s repeated constantly in the book, it is NOT an easy program. A typical boston qualifying goal (for my age) training week, mid plan, would look like this: Workout 1 – 2 x 1600 in 6:51 (60 second rest), 2 x 800 in 3:17; Workout 2 – swimming 10 x 2 lengths, kick 4 lengths, 10 x 2 lengths; Workout 3 – 1 mile easy, 4 miles at 7:38, 1 mile easy; Workout 4 – cycling 20 min easy, 10 min temp, 10 min easy; Workout 5 – 20 miles at 8:40 pace.

That seems pretty intense if you ask me!

The science behind it: You are running fast at high intensity because this increases the muscles ability to metabolize lactate. You are training your body to use lactate as an energy source. It’s about intensity rather than time. You cross train in between to allow the body to FULLY recover from the stress of running and in the end you are reducing the chance for overuse injuries. Simple, right?

Proof? Well, there’s dozens of success stories throughout the whole book, but they also detail the running studies they conducted right in the first couple chapters. They tested maximal oxygen consumption, running speed at lactate threshold and running speed at peak oxygen consumption. And in all the studies, the data proves and supports the success stories. I wont detail the data here – although I am tempted because it reminds of writing dozens of science research reports in college.

Benefits: 1. People who have limited time to exercise can still train for a marathon. 2. Like I said before, reduces injuries. 3. Improves running times and performances.

Doezens and dozens of charts like this

Doezens and dozens of charts like this

But that’s not to say there aren’t downsides: 1. It’s hard! In order to benefit from the plan, you have to stick to the listed paces. There’s an million and a half charts in the book, one lists comparable 5K, 10K, half and marathon times. Basically, you determine your current 5K time, and using the chart, find what paces you should be running in your training.

I’ll visualize it for you. My most recent 5K time was 26:10 (or something like that – but this is not my PR). The book strongly urges you to choose your most recent time, not your PR, to prevent injuries. For a simple non-boston qualifying marathon training plan, my first day of training would be 3 x 1600 track workouts. My 1600 would be at an 8:09 pace. That’s pretty fast, for me, but probably doable. If I were to stick to this plan, based on my current 5K pace, NOT my goal time, it will improve my performance, according to this book.

The book goes on to breakdown how to use the plan and pick a training schedule and what to do on the cross training days. There are charts for that including cycling, rowing and swimming crossing training for every week of training. It talks about realistic goals, year-round training, and a little bit on nutrition. What I also really like about this book is that is gives you a little bit on strength training, including key exercises for the runners, and flexibility and form, including essential stretches. However, I would have like to have seen more on how to incorporate the strength training into your training week. I wish it would have discussed which days to actually do the exercises.

The book concludes with boston-qualifying training plans for EVERY age group (and gender). That is actually pretty awesome and makes it pretty easy to find a plan just for you and your goal.

My thoughts? Sign me up…. I think! It sounds like a great plan, all the evidence is there..my only concern isn’t really a concern. This plan is made for people who are VERY goal oriented. That’s not to say I’m NOT goal oriented, but my goals don’t really consist too much based on time or performance. Yes, I want to run a marathon in every state, but I’m not going for gold in these races. I just want to finish, to check the states off my belt. Although, EVENTUALLY, maybe a few years down the road, I do want to try for BQing.

There is a teeny tinny section of running multiple marathons a year. They barely address it and strongly encourage readers to only stick to 1 to 2 marathons a year to reduce injury and peak performance. But like I say, they address the question assuming people are trying to PR at every marathon they run, even the noted Marathon Maniacs trying to running 3 marathons in 3 months. So take from that what you will.

I really LOVE the idea of reducing stress on the body, especially with how I felt after my first marathon. That is want made me purchase the book. But i’m still not entirely sure about it or if it is ideal for everyone or all goals.

What are YOUR thoughts? Has anyone tried one of these plans? Do you think it is still an ideal plan for someone, like me, not trying to PR but to just finish a race? Comment! 

Other book reviews I’ve done: “50/50 – “Secretes I learned running 50 marathons in 50 days…” by Dean Karnazes

Addendum: I would like to point out that if you are interested in doing one of the training plans, the book does suggest that if you are not used to this type of high intensity training that you slowly start to incorporate speed work into your weekly running.

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: “Run Less, Run Faster”

  1. i’ve not read the book, but it sound a LOT like the training cycle i did for my first half marathon. i was coming off of a bad IT band strain and i knew i had no ACL in one of my knees, so i was worried about overtraining. while i started out at running 4x/week with cycling on a fifth, i ended up kicking out the fourth day in favor of cycling, leaving me with 3 days running, 2 days cycling. it kept me injury-free and i had a great first half! i think certain people CAN run several times a week and be okay – some bodies just handle it better. mine isn’t one of them, so i always like hearing about “less is more” training options!

  2. I actually have this book, but haven’t read it yet. I just started training for a 10 mile run, so I guess now would be a good time to read it lol! Great post 🙂

  3. I am really intrigued, but holey smokes those are fast paced training workouts! I’m glad u also added that last little addendum of info – one would need to be conditioned for speed work. It sounds good though. Do they emphasize longer warm ups and cooldowns then too?

  4. The training regime wasn’t for me. I enjoy running most days of the week and I found that it took the pleasure out of running for me with all of the workouts being very strict. It left no additional easy run days, no-pressure days. Yes, I was able to do other forms of training but for me it just wasn’t the same.

  5. I also have the book and like the idea of quality over quantity. My concern is, that people use this method to “save time” by only running 3 times. But this plan won’t work if you only run 3 times, cross training is super important and if you consider that time as well, it is just as time consuming.

    Also, the runs are hard. I believe for somebody who is prone to injuries, it might be better to run 5 easy runs a week and slowly adding miles.

    I started one marathon training with this method and half way through changed to Hal Higdon’s plan. I was not able to do all the cross training and felt under-prepared. Once I started to run more miles, but kept them easy I started to feel better prepared for the race. I think for a fast half marathon this is a good plan though.

  6. I’ve been working this plan for a few weeks. The book says that the prescribed paces are challenging but doable and that is exactly what I’ve found. I have 3 little kids, and getting outside to run is a challenge. The cross training gives me an opportunity to row in the basement, so my husband can get out to run while an adult is still in the house after the kids go to bed. Being pace-focused has given me something to work toward on each of my runs, as opposed to just making it through. Paired with the stretches and strength training, I feel healthier than I did earlier this year when I trained for a Ragnar Relay using a more traditional plan.

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