Run Less, Run Faster…Run Yourself into the Ground

I haven’t posted an entry in awhile because, well, there hasn’t been much going on, running-wise. Training for the Chicago Marathon began in late June, and I’ve been slogging through the heat and humidity for the past nine weeks.

After Flying Pig, I decided to try a different training regimen in order to get fast enough to go sub-4:00 at Chicago. I did some research and asked friends for advice before finally settling on following the Run Less, Run Faster method developed by a couple of guys at the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST). It’s based on a 3+2 philosophy – three meticulously focused and paced runs (speedwork, tempo and long) and two days of mid-intensity cross-training. Nearly all of the online reviews praised the program for its ability to make one faster. Heck, even Amby Burfoot seemed to endorse it. Most reviewers seemed extremely happy with their results, but there was a recurring theme that kept appearing.

“It worked, but I hated running.”

“I knocked off 30 minutes from my PR. The runs were hard and boring.”

Most of the flak the program received was about the paces that are assigned to each run. No problem, I thought. My goal is to cut 25 minutes off my time, so if that means laboring through some difficult runs, surely I can do that three times a week. Right?

The first few weeks of training were hard, but I chalked much of that up to an extended break I took after Flying Pig. I’ll get better and faster in no time, I thought.

Only I didn’t.


While the book’s title implies that you’ll run less, what’s it’s really saying is that you will run less frequently, not less distance. The runs that are scheduled are extremely regimented, and every single run has a goal pace that you are supposed to hit. I was hitting none of them. In four weeks of training, I’d actually hit just one goal – a speed-work run where I thought I was gonna puke the whole time.

By the fifth week, I was crapping out early on long runs, too tired to even finish a 15 miler. To make matters worse, the failure of completing the runs in the specified time was really taking a toll on my psyche. During a particularly bad long run, I felt so exhausted at mile 12 that I started to question the point of running another marathon at all. I left my running group and sulked around a water reservoir alone. I almost called it quits.

But then I realized how crazy that sounded. Maybe it was just the training program. I mean, not every program works for every runner out there, right? I was tired of the failure, and I finally fessed up to my training partner, Scott, that I didn’t want to do it anymore. To my surprise, he shared the same concerns (although he was enjoying much greater success than me).


Seven more weeks, Windy City!

We tried one more long run, but after failing to meet the pace requirement yet again, we hung it up. No more RLRF. Instead, we’ve decided to combine the speed workouts and cross-training from RLRF with portions of Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 program. So far, so good.

Keep running, friends.


12 responses to “Run Less, Run Faster…Run Yourself into the Ground

  1. I read the book. But the paces I would be required to hit just don’t seem feasible…and it sort of freaked me out. I adore Hal Higdon and am thinking of using his training program for an upcoming race series in January.

    • I kept reminding myself that training should be hard, but it got to the point that it was overwhelming. If you have a bad out with Hal Higdon’s plan, you brush it off and get back out there. The RLRF regimen just made me feel like every run was bad. Good luck with training!

  2. Glad to see you enjoying running Glenn, at least you will know when the zombies come you can run faster !!! 🙂

  3. Just like real life, Glenn, sometimes you gotta improvise on the fly. Seems like you’re doing that. I usually only do one speed workout a week (intervals or lactate threshold run) and then maybe one additional race pace med-long run every 2-3 weeks in marathon training. I feel like the “train to race, don’t race to train” is a good rule of thumb. For some reason, when I put on a bib, I come to life with energy I never knew I had. Maybe you will be the same. Get yourself into the mode of thinking about race day being D-day/Fight Night/Super Bowl (insert any old useful metaphor)… focus all that energy there. This is not to say you don’t have to hit your race pace in training (you do) but you also have to keep in mind you’ll be coming into race day with a nice 2-3 week taper and rested legs. That, combined with the race day hype, will help get you going. The real struggle (for me anyway) always comes with 10K to go… that’s when I find out who I really am and what I’m really made of. Enjoy the process and don’t forget, celebratory beers after the race sometime on Sunday. Holla!!!

    • Excellent points, Jeff. Somewhere in all those pace goals and numbers, I lost faith in my abilities. Today – new mindset. New goals. New attitude.

      I’ve been following along with your training. You’re in beast mode, man. Sub 3:00 is pretty much insane to me, but I have no doubt you’re gonna crush it – especially the last 10k.

      And yes – post-race Sunday will be a time to celebrate! I’ll shoot you guys an email soon to work out logistics.

      Happy running, friend!

  4. Switching it up can be rough. This summer I went from my normal training regimen to include many more long runs and I felt tired all. the. time. It wasn’t until I was tapering that I finally felt fresh at the start of any run.

    I guess that’s what’s supposed to happen, but it was at the cost of actually enjoying the runs themselves. At what point do you trade off happiness for performance? It seems like you crossed that threshold and decided that you’d rather enjoy yourself than become a slave to your athletic pursuits. Fine form, I’d say.

    Keep it up, double-G.

    • Running really became an outlet for me. It was my break away for a few hours to zone out and not worry about, well, anything. Adding an extra layer of expectation just kinda ruined all that. I’m sure I was bringing baggage to the table, but in the end, I just wanted to be happy when I was out there.

      Is a good time still important to me? You better believe it. But it’s not as crucial as just enjoying the run.

  5. Im doing RLRF right now and even though the paces look crazy I’ve been doing a pretty good job of keeping up. There are days when it’s really hot/humid that I know I won’t hit the goal but I still give it my all and try to do it with consistency. My race isn’t until the middle of September which should mean cooler temps and I’m hoping to complete the Canada Army Run Half Marathon in 2 hours with fingers crossed.

    • Great job keeping up, Robin! That plan is no joke. Nearly every review I read praised the program for helping folks hit time goals, so I’m positive you’ll get your sub-2:00 half since you’re putting in the work. Good luck! Where is your race?

      • The race is in Ottawa, Ontario. lt started a few years ago and has soldiers and civilians running together. It also includes injured soldiers (wheelchair, amputee, etc.) and the weekend has military demos. They even use an old cannon as the starter pistol.

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