Run less to run faster
There’s a direct correlation between my year of great marathons and running less.
In 2010 I ran Rotorua in May, Wellington in June and Auckland in November. I also ran five half marathons.
There’s nothing special about that, I know. Lots of people run plenty of races through the year.
But how many people prepare for such events with only three running sessions a week?
Running less to run better isn’t a new concept to me and it wasn’t as a result of reading Run Less Run Faster, though having since read it I can agree with their philosophy.
In 2008 and 2009 I completed Ironman New Zealand. I wasn’t intending on doing three in a row but there was always the intention of going back one day and that turned out to be 2011. For Ironman you mix up your training.
I swam three times a week, biked three times a week and ran three times a week. The mixture of training modes meant my muscles always had a chance to recover from the previous hard session while I was working on the next.
Even after I completed Ironman in 2009 I continued to train in this way, though not to the same extremes all year round. At the end of the year I finished a half ironman and started marathon training two weeks later.
The only difference with my marathon training and my Ironman training was that the gains in cycling and swimming weren’t quite so important, though my commitment to complete each session never waned.
It was little surprise then that I finished Rotorua Marathon – my first since my unforgettable disaster in 2005 – strong and able to return to cycling and swimming days later, albeit at a recovery rate.
My training involved four runs a week (one less than my training programme suggested) and these were a mix of tempo, hill repeats, long and slow, and fartlek runs.
Add to that a minimum of two swim squads, two windtrainer classes and a long outdoors ride on the weekend then I was a rounded athlete.
In Run Less Run Faster authors Bill Pierce, Scott Murr and Ray Moss explain the 3+2 training programme developed by FIRST.
The three run and two cross-training session programme has its origins in triathlon after they discovered they could run faster despite dropping run sessions to allow them to train for the three-discipline sport.
Cross-training is the name for an exercise programme that uses several modes of training to develop a specific component of fitness, ie your aerobic fitness.
It enhances your fitness levels and adds variety but not at the expense of your muscles. It also makes your training become more interesting as you’re not performing the same actions day in, day out.
Cross-training increases blood flow around the muscles that you use for running and this increases their ability to use oxygen and fat as energy sources for exercise. This means that your limited stores of glycogen are spared.
Because of this, cross-training provides the same benefits as additional running miles.
Swimming is a great aerobic exercise but uses very different muscles to running so you will not put extra stress on your running legs.
Cycling uses a different range of motion to running and has been credited by many sportsmen and women – particularly Ironman champion Mark Allen – for improving running fitness. If you are new to cycling consider using a stationary bike at a gym so you can stay stable and safe – it’s also a lot cheaper than splashing out on a whole new bunch of equipment.
I used cross-training throughout 2010. I tapered for my races but was able to return to full strength a week later. I would rock on up at swim squad the Tuesday after a Sunday marathon and then windtrainer class that night. These sessions I dialled back a little to make sure I didn’t overdo it but I credit these for enabling me to run a week later.
Cross-training reduces the risk of injury from overusing your running muscles but at the same time it has aerobic fitness benefits that will help with your running fitness.
In Run Less Run Faster the authors have plenty of runner’s stories to back up their programme – plus the science from their first experiments.
My running programmes use this philosophy too as I know firsthand how running less made me a faster runner. I still follow this; after all, if it’s not broke why try to change it?
*In 2005 I ran the Loch Ness Marathon following a five run a week schedule. I lost my mojo (was likely overtrained) and ended up injurying myself before the marathon, which I finished, stubbornly, in 6hrs 8 mnutes. In 2010 I ran the Rotorua Marathon in 4:35 despite missing three key weeks of running with an ITB injury. I backed that up eight weeks later with a 4:31 in Wellington and in the November I ran Auckland Marathon in 4:46. My half marathons ranged from 2:01 (Huntly) to 2:32 (Kinloch Off-road).