Run Less Run Faster marathon training review

I might have mentioned a time or two hundred that I was using the RLRF/FIRST method to train for the Houston Marathon.  The Run Less Run Faster method of training was developed by the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training back in 2003. There’s no real point to that sentence, just letting you know that some pretty smart people put a lot of thought into this whole running and training thing.  And if it worked to make those people faster and stronger while staying relatively healthy and injury free, then it was good enough for me.  

I have had very limited success with training plans that call for running more than three or four days per week.  I guess I’m just injury prone or need to work on strength training, but whatever the cause, I know what works best for me, and running back to back days is not it. That’s largely why this training program appealed to me when Amy mentioned it last year.  

The RLRF plan calls for three very specific runs each week; a speed workout, a tempo run, and a long run.  
The speed workout consists of intervals ranging from 400 to 1600 meters, or .25 miles to 1.25 miles.

The tempo run includes a warm up, 4-8 (I think!) miles run at 10k (+ 10-30 seconds depending on the distance) and then a cool down.

The long run is basically what it sounds like, longer runs between 7 and 20 miles at a slower pace (10K + 60/75 seconds), with each week progressively longer.  I modified my long runs and didn’t follow the book 100% on the distance each week because my version was the Boston Qualifying edition and included three 20 mile runs. That wasn’t happening. 

All of the training paces recommended by RLRF are slightly faster than other training programs and the plan really stresses quality over quantity of the miles.  The plan also places a high importance on cross training two days a week and are supposed to be done at the same intensity as the key runs. 

So that’s the plan in a very abridged version.  Three key run days, two cross training days.  

The book details all the distances you should be running, and my version listed each pace for each day. I used the five hour training plan to put together most of my key run pace information.  However there’s also a great website that I used, and it gave slightly different paces and workouts, so I took a little from each. 

And now the important question, did it work?  The short answer is yes, it worked, I ran and finished my marathon within the goal time I used when preparing all the workouts. 

I’ll try to go into more specifics, but I feel like this is getting wordy!

The plan worked great for me and I was happy with it mostly because I set my goal too low. I was just a few weeks into training when I realized I didn’t set my time goal fast enough.  Each workout is supposed to be hard (yet still achievable) and they are supposed to be fast, fast enough that you’re making your body adapt. I should have adjusted the paces to reflect that, but I guess I didn’t want to work TOO hard and burn out. I wanted to get through the weeks of training. So instead of increasing the paces I just ran where I was comfortable.

My long runs were supposed to be run at a pace around 10:56-11:30/mile (depending on the distance).  And while I’m not the FASTEST runner, and will never profess to be, I was running faster long runs before I started training. Every single long run I had was faster than the prescribed pace, because I simply couldn’t run the predetermined paces.

I did all of my interval runs on the treadmill, which made keeping track of the specific paces much easier.  When the plan called for me to run eight 800 meter repeats at 8:56 minute/mile, I needed the treadmill to tell me exactly how fast I was going.  The interval runs were the hardest of the three key runs, which is likely the point. Could I have pushed and increased my pace on these runs? Probably, but like I mentioned, I didn’t want to work too hard.

After my two longest runs I did adjust my time goal, however by then it was too late to make much of a difference, since I’d already done 18 weeks at the 5 hour paces.  After looking over  the times I was running my tempo runs combined with my long runs, I was a lot closer to following the 4:30 plan so I really thought that would be an achievable goal. 

As for the cross training, I probably could have done more, both in terms of intensity and frequency. The first two months I was firmly in the can’t skip a day of cross training camp, but as time wore on I wasn’t as good about getting in on my workouts.  I definitely should have incorporated strength training as well, but that’s something I say after EVERY training cycle, so I shouldn’t be surprised about it here.

On race day I felt completely prepared, I had no doubts I would finish close to my goal.  And for the first 22 miles, I was on pace to run under 4:30. Things like horrible heat, stomach cramps and nausea attacked me, slowing me down for a few miles, and I finished in 4:31. Close enough that I’m calling it a success.

To sum up, yes the plan works! But set your goals appropriately! I specifically chose a slower time goal because I didn’t want to add too much pressure during training. However maybe I could have run a little bit faster if I’d actually tried a little bit harder. I can see the opposite being true too.  Just because you WANT to run a sub 4:00 marathon, doesn’t mean you can go from being a 4:30 marathoner to a 3:59 marathoner overnight. You have to put in the work, and be realistic about your abilities. 

I will be using RLRF for any future marathons I run because I know it works for me and will keep me injury free. 

Have you used RLRF? If not, would you be willing to run less and incorporate more cross training?

5 thoughts on “Run Less Run Faster marathon training review

  1. I used it and loved it. I set an ambitious goal and every workout kicked my ass. I thought I would hate doing less running but the running days were so intense that I found I NEEDED those light cross training days! would love to follow it fully (I only did an abbreviated version). Would you do it again? What’s next on the docket?

    • I will definitely use RLRF again, I would definitely set a more ambitious goal…Or maybe not, because I’m also lazy. I think RLRF would be a great method for someone who does a lot of races, since the running doesn’t wear you down so much. Also, WP ate this comment and it just now showed up for me. I’m not really a horrible person who ignores people.

  2. I’m so glad you wrote this! It’s interesting to hear how our experiences varied. I thought the long runs were too fast. When I ran with the Dallas Running Club, our long runs were much slower (and I was in the 4:10 pace group!). I really credit that with helping me kill Big D in 2012. If I was to do the plan again, I might go tweak the long run pace so that it’s slower.

    I wish I would have been better about cross training. I started walking a ton, but I think I should have hit the stationary bike at least once a week on a regular basis. That was probably my biggest mistake (in addition to going out to fast on race day).

    I’m a big fan of RLRF, though. I think 3 runs a week is the perfect amount, and I suggest it to anyone who will listen!

    • I also suggest it to anyone who will listen (or not) especially someone thinking about committing to their first marathon. It’s very gentle to ease into this type of schedule.

      I’m going to use this method again, but I will do more cross training and more strength training. I know the long runs are supposed to be super fast with RLRF, but I am not sure I’d increase my paces that much. In my mind, finish the mileage at a pace I can hold, rather than running a slightly faster pace and ending the run early. Sorry I just now replied, apparently WP and I are not BFF lately.

  3. Pingback: Houston Marathon training update | Steph Runs On

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