Run Less, Run…Slower?

My review of the Run Less, Run Faster program!

If you’ve been around for a while, you’ve heard me go on and on about RLRF. I trained 2/3rds of the way through the program last year for a race I didn’t end up running. (I abandoned ship when I realized that running a marathon the week before moving internationally wasn’t a great idea.) I made it all the way through the plan in the train up to the EP Marathon.

A quick refresher (or intro for those not in the know). RLRF has you completing 3 runs a week:

  1. An interval run (repeating sprints of distances between .25 mile and 1.25 miles)
  2. A tempo run (4-8 mile runs with fast middle miles sandwhiched between an easy warm-up and cool-down)
  3. A long run (between 7-20 miles at marathon pace + so many seconds)
A portion of the RLRF training plan.

A portion of the RLRF training plan.

All the runs are pace specific, and the program instructs you to aim to run them as closely to those times as possible. It should be comfortably difficult, which I found to be true of almost every single workout. They were a challenge but not impossible. You are also supposed to complete cardio cross-training (swimming, cycling, ellipticalling, rowing, whatever) twice a week. I don’t much like other forms of cardio, so I would do yoga and walk my dog instead. Not exactly what the plan suggests, but it’s what I wanted to do. This was my only real deviation. I followed the running workouts to about 95% accuracy. There were a few missed or shortened runs, a few times that I threw my pace out the window, but mostly, I did as I was told.

With all that you, you’d think that I would run faster. Did I? No. Sunday’s marathon was 5 minutes slower than my PR, and 8 minutes slower than what I was training for. But but but but but this in no way reflects on the plan. I felt totally prepared in terms of my training. My 18 mile and 20 mile runs were both cake, and I know I have a faster marathon in me. <–That right there is the problem.

Interval run, run less run faster

Notes for a particularly tricky interval run.

The book specifically warns against aiming for a finish time that is faster than what you are capable of at the time (they have a pages and page of charts to help you figure out what time goal is appropriate). The authors point out that runners have a tendency to get hung up on arbitrary goals. Damn you, tantalizing round numbers! (I was training for 4:22, but tried to reach for 4:15 on race day.) I read that part of the book thinking, “Yes, this is logical. I should set a realistic goal based on my current abilities and run an evenly split race. I should ignore the round numbers.” But then I didn’t.

I think my downfall, if you will, was three-fold:

  1. The 5 miles of downhill at the start of the race gave me a false sense of myself. I felt so good that I kept pushing the pace until I gased out. Even if I hadn’t pushed it, a 1,500 foot elevation drop at the start of a distance race makes even splits tricky.
  2. I didn’t show up to the starting line with the intention of running the paces I’d trained for. I didn’t just want to finish, I wanted to smash my PR! Instead, I got smashed.
  3. My plan (fueling, hydration, walk breaks) was abandoned from the get go. I don’t even have a reason why. Endorphins? Foolishness?

When pepping me up prior to the race, a few friends told me, “run your race!” I thought, “yes, yes I will!” In my brain, though, that meant, “I’m going to go for it! I’m going to run the hell out of it!” instead of probably what they meant “run the way you trained. Run your pace. Don’t be stupid!” Whoops.

Would I recommend RLRF? Yes! Absolutely! The book is loaded with more information than you’ll probably ever need (how to train for an Ironman, how to BQ, how to stretch, how to cross-train, and on and on and on), and the plan is sound. It is scientific, it is specific, and it is effective. You know, as long as you don’t blow it on race day.

Where my other RLRF peeps at? What other training plans do y’all love? After only running 3 days a week, I’m not sure I could go back to 4 or 5.

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26 thoughts on “Run Less, Run…Slower?

  1. Wow–how interesting! Thank you for sharing.

  2. I agree.. I never got those people who say “I usually run 10K in 53 minutes, but for my race I’m hoping for 45″. What? Just not gonna happen.

    • The beauty of running is that we sometimes have more in us than we realize. Alas, we still have to balance that with realistic expectations about what we are actually capable of.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote up a review!! I totally know what you mean by saying you felt your training prepared you to run the race you wanted (even if things didn’t go right on race day). After my 2 long runs, I had zero doubts I could run the full 26.2 at the pace I was supposed to according to the training. My problem was like yours, I KNEW I could go faster, but…I hadn’t trained to do so. Whoops. You’ve inspired me to write about my own experience with RLRF!

    • Do it! Do it! I want to hear what your takeaways were from the plan. My biggest hurdle was my expectations. When I trained for Big D, I followed the Dallas Running Club training plan, but I didn’t work with specific paces. I knew I’d PR since I’d improved so much, but it was a matter of how hard I pushed myself.

      I should have gone into this race with a totally different mindset. I should have focused on running every mile at the MP I trained for. When I rolled up to the start line, I still had that Big D thinking going on.

  4. hahaha we will all remember to say “race the way you trained. don’t be stupid!” before next-next race (Bataan doesn’t count). sound good? :)

    • Yes, the next one after Bataan, please be very specific in your pep talks. Race endorphins confuse me. Haha!

      Have I mentioned yet how incredibly excited/effing scared I am about Bataan?

      • I’m proud of you for pushing yourself and trying something totally different. I’m guessing Bataan will be one of those things that is sooo not great during but really amazing to talk about afterwards. haha. Agreed? Thoughts?

        • That’s what I’m hoping! I want the pride of being able to say, “I did that.” I’ve been reading a lot of race recaps, and it sounds brutal, (and for miles, uphill for miles, heat for miles), but that’s also what makes it so appealing. Haha!

          I just started reading a book by a survivor who was a POW and did the real Bataan march during WWII. I’m really looking forward to getting the firsthand account. It’s going to make the race that much more meaningful.

          • This reply is going to look tiny/hilarious on the blog format. haha. Anyway, might be good to research solutions for a crazy environment like that. Like uh… walk backwards? wear a camelbak? wear white? I don’t know. Better have a stellar music playlist prepared for that one!

            • Skinniest comment ever! Haha! I’m still debating how I’m going to approach the race. If I run most of it vs. walking most of it, that will drastically impact things like what I wear. For now, I’m preparing by running in sand as much as possible and finally incorporating hills into my training.

  5. This is a really, really helpful post. I’d heard a little about RLRF and was always curious about the details, so it was great to learn more about the workouts here. Those 3 weekly workouts do sound very tough! And I am definitely a runner that likes to get hung up on arbitrary, round-number goals. I also get way too inspired by folks that smash their PRs by huge numbers. I start thinking that those types of things happen all the time (when they clearly don’t) and then put forth unrealistic expectations for myself.

    In any event – one of the challenges of running races is that there are so many factors involved! It’s never a perfect science. That’s why we all spend years and years trying to hone our techniques and strategies. We learn something from every race – and it sounds like you know exactly what to tweak the next time around (and I’ve certainly had unexpectedly bad runs for no apparent reason). There will always be more races!

    • I’d highly suggest reading the book and trying the plan. I was never one for speed workouts, but now I love them. I think it helps that the paces are based on your capabilities, so they are tough, but not too tough. Just the right amount to push you and get you faster.

      I think what you hit on is why I love running so much. Even after 4 years, I don’t have it all figured out. The challenge of running a “just right” race keeps me coming back for more.

  6. I think a lot of people get to the start of a marathon with lots of logical goals; once you start running and you feel great during the early miles and falsely think you can keep that up forever, the logical, sane, goals are thrown out the window and then you have a big mess on your hands the last half of the race. I’m totally guilty of this. It’s easy to follow a plan, but it is not easy to keep your mind in check. I’m so happy the plan worked for you, especially because the idea of running 5-6 days makes me want to cry. I think it’s entirely possible to train for and run on good marathon on a plan like that. Especially because it’s so specific, with no junk miles thrown in that could easily contribute to an overuse injury. Sure, you may have not met your goal on Sunday, but given the total random nature of running, if you ran on Monday or any other day, you just might have met your goal. Sometimes you just don’t know who will show up on race day. Also? I think they need to make a ‘train your brain’ marathon plan. Because if there is anything that can sabotage a race plan, it’s our dumb brains. But what do I know? I’m a much better arm chair marathoner than I am actual marathoner. :)

    • “It’s not easy to keep your mind in check.” <–This! Yes! Damn mind, having thoughts and shit. Especially once you are standing at the starting line. It's like a haze came over me. I hope to have more of a laser focus the next time I toe the start.

  7. I’m loving this plan so far. Of course, I’m not training for anything right now. I do plan on using this method when I do get around to picking a race and training for it. Thanks so much for letting me borrow your book! I will get it back to you soon, promise!

    • Take your time! I don’t need the book back any time soon. (I photo copied the pages I used so I could mark up on it.) The great thing about only running a few times a week is that it leaves you with plenty of free time for other things like yoga!

  8. I think whatever works for you is great! Marathon running is not anything I could possibly ever consider. I applaud you ALL.

    • True that. I listened to a Freakonomics podcast where they were talking about which exercises are the best (in terms of calorie burn for time spent working out). The conclusion was that the exercises you are most likely to actually do are the best because you’ll keep coming back. I feel like training is the same way. If a plan makes you hate running, it’s the wrong plan.

    • Oh! And I meant to add that maybe there is no marathon in your future, but you could totally do some bike races. A metric century, perhaps? Doesn’t CFF have some bike races? I’d be down for getting into that with you.

  9. I loosely used the RLRF plan for a half I did a few years ago and ended up PRing! It really made me realize how many “junk miles” (I really do hate that phrase…. exercise is good no matter what) I was putting in.

    • I agree that the best part is that every run has a purpose. For the next few weeks I’m following a Hal Higdon plan to get me prepared for Bataan, and I’m struggling. Run 4 miles? But how fast? Why? What’s the point! I mean, I know the point is to run, but I liked the direction I felt from the intervals/tempo/long run combo.

  10. I read that book and liked it. When I trained for my first marathon I ran 3-4 times a week and had specific goals in mind for each run. This plan I’m on now has 5 runs per week and I don’t like it. It’s just too much. A 50K is only 5 miles more than a marathon and it will be run at a slower pace so I’m thinking I can pull off running 4 runs per week and having more specific goals than just ‘Run 45-60 minutes’ like the plan says.

    • I wonder if the book has an ultra plan. I don’t remember, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I think 5 days a week is too much. 3 or 4 feels a lot more manageable. I think that if you run 4 times a week, you’ll be just as prepared for your ultra as if you had run 5 times.

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