68 80/20 Running

8020-runningby Matt Fitzgerald, 2014

It should be no secret that most of us want to run faster. I know that each time I set out on the lakefront I can’t help but look at those passing me by, running swiftly on as if each step were the easiest and most natural of movements. Meanwhile, I’m lucky if I can get my three miles done in thirty minutes, and I know event that’s a lofty goal for some. I used to subscribe to Runner’s World, so I have some idea of how to improve one’s speed – intervals, track work, hills, tempo runs. Those are all common phrases in the runner’s parlance, but honestly, when I set out on a run on a post-work evening, I’m not really pushing myself to those limits. So what else can one do?

In 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower Matt Fitzgerald answers just that. His solution: run slower, but run more. Fitzgerald posits that training at a high intensity for a long period of time (e.g., doing speed intervals for every workout) is not as effective as limiting those high intensity efforts and giving them absolutely everything the few times you do them. The catch here is the “run more” part of the game. Fitzgerald doesn’t claim simply that running slower will improve your race times, but that increasing the overall amount you run will make you an efficient runner. Instead of running three miles, three times a week, you increase that to five or six times a week add more miles to some of those runs. The high intensity runs are done sparingly – at about an 80% slow running to 20% fast running ratio.

Fitzgerald’s theory seems simple enough and he explains it a moderately easy to read manner, complete with running plans at the back of the book. Even if you can’t make heads or tails of the aerobic/anaerobic/VO2 max hoopla, you can still follow his prescriptions for a training plan that promises to decrease your race times. And, if you’re really into all of that and want to further research the subject, Fitzgerald clearly cites his sources. You have all that you need here to embark on a new running plan and see how it works for you.

To some extent, the fact that his examples tend to come from six- and seven-minute/mile pace runners is a bit discouraging to the 10- and 11-minute/mile runners like me. Likewise, I’m never going to be someone who runs six times a week – that’s just not how I’m interested in spending my time. However, I do think there’s plenty of value to be had in Fitzgerald’s advice and I certainly intend to implement it the next time I train for a race. My sub-two hour half-marathon goal may seem quaint by this book’s standards, but for me it’ll be every bit as arduous as the race times from his thoroughly accomplished subjects.

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