80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower

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9780451470881: 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower

TRAIN EASIER TO RUN FASTER

This revolutionary training method has been embraced by elite runners—with extraordinary results—and now you can do it, too.

Respected running and fitness expert Matt Fitzgerald explains how the 80/20 running program—in which you do 80 percent of runs at a lower intensity and just 20 percent at a higher intensity—is the best change runners of all abilities can make to improve their performance. With a thorough examination of the science and research behind this training method, 80/20 Running is a hands-on guide for runners of all levels with training programs for 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon distances.

In 80/20 Running, you’ll discover how to transform your workouts to avoid burnout.

  • Runs will become more pleasant and less draining
  • You’ll carry less fatigue from one run to the next
  • Your performance will improve in the few high-intensity runs
  • Your fitness levels will reach new heights

80/20 Running promotes a message that all runners—as well as cyclists, triathletes, and even weight-loss seekers—can embrace: Get better results by making the majority of your workouts easier.

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About the Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is an acclaimed endurance sports and nutrition writer and a certified sports nutritionist. He is the bestselling author of more than a dozen books on running and fitness, including 80/20 Running, Brain Training for Runners, Racing Weight, and Iron War, which was long-listed for the 2012 William Hill Sports Book of the Year. He is a columnist on Competitor.com and Active.com, and has contributed to Bicycling, Men’s Health, Triathlete, Men’s Journal, Outside, Runner’s World, Shape, and Women’s Health. He lives in San Diego, California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ALSO BY MATT FITZGERALD

FOREWORD


   · Learning to Slow Down
   · The Evolution of 80/20 Running
   · The 80/20 Breakthrough
   · How 80/20 Running Improves Fitness
   · How 80/20 Running Improves Skill
   · Monitoring and Controlling Intensity
   · Getting Started with 80/20 Running
   · 80/20 Training Plans: 5K
   · 80/20 Training Plans: 10K
   · 80/20 Training Plans: Half Marathon
   · 80/20 Training Plans: Marathon
   · Cross-Training as an Alternative to Running More
   · 80/20 for Everyone?

APPENDIX: Detailed Intensity Control Guidelines for 80/20 Workouts

INDEX

FOREWORD

Fifteen years ago, when I was training at a high level with my twin brother, Weldon, a twenty-eight-minute 10K runner, and dreaming of the U.S. Olympic Trials, I had a conversation with my beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, “BB,” that I’ll never forget.

“Boys, I don’t understand this running thing,” she said. “I can imagine nothing worse than waking up and realizing I was going to have to run fifteen miles that day.”

“BB, it’s not like you think,” I replied. “Running is the best part of my day. Most of the time I’m not running hard. Weldon and I just run side by side at a relaxed pace and carry on a conversation for an hour and a half. It’s a ninety-minute social hour.”

“Oh, that doesn’t sound too bad,” BB said. “I always viewed running as a form of grueling punishment.”

My grandmother’s misconception was far from uncommon. A lot of people viewed running as she did—and still do. But Matt Fitzgerald is about to let you in on a secret: Running isn’t always supposed to be hard. In fact, most of the time, it should be easy and enjoyable.

You see, in order to yield steady improvement, a training system must be repeatable—day after day, week after week, month after month. And guess what. Hard running isn’t repeatable, either physically or psychologically. If you do too much of it, your body will burn out if your mind doesn’t first.

The ultimate compliment for me in my peak training years was being passed on my easy runs by a runner who had a marathon time more than an hour slower than mine. I’d say to myself, “He’s wearing himself out today. I’m building myself up.”

All too many runners wear themselves out by running too fast too often—now more than ever. There is an obsession these days with high intensity. Most of the trendy new training systems are focused on speed work. Running magazines, Web sites, and books can’t say enough about the magical power of intervals. Even champion runners are more likely to credit their speed work instead of their easy running when interviewed after winning a race. Yet the typical elite runner does eight miles of easy running for every two miles of faster running.

Speed work may be “sexier” than easy running, but just as a weight lifter doesn’t go hard two days in a row, a runner shouldn’t either. A weight lifter actually gets stronger on days off. Similarly, a runner gets faster by going slow in the majority of his or her runs. Strangely, most weight lifters seem to understand this principle, while most recreationally competitive runners don’t. Too much hard running is the most common mistake in the sport.

Thanks to Matt Fitzgerald’s truly groundbreaking 80/20 running program, that’s about to change. Building on new science that proves that a “mostly-slow” training approach is more effective, 80/20 Running makes the number one training secret of the world’s best runners available to runners of all abilities and all levels of experience. I only wish this book had existed when I was competing. As much as I appreciated the value of slow running, Fitzgerald’s 80/20 running program makes optimal training simpler and more reproducible than it’s ever been by boiling it all down to one basic rule: Do 80 percent of your running at low intensity and the other 20 percent at moderate to high intensity. The rest is details.

I know it might be hard to believe that you can actually race faster by training slower, but after you read the compelling case for Fitzgerald’s new method, you will definitely think it’s worth a try. And once you’ve tried it, I guarantee you will be completely convinced. If 80/20 running doesn’t make your race times faster and your running experience more enjoyable—well, then I guess my grandma BB was right about running after all!

—Robert Johnson, cofounder of LetsRun.com

INTRODUCTION

Do you want to run faster? Then you need to slow down.

As contradictory as it may seem, the secret to becoming a speedier runner is going slow most of the time. The key difference between runners who realize their full potential and those who fall short is the amount of slow running that each group does. Recent analyses of the world’s best runners—the first studies to rigorously assess how these athletes really train—have revealed that they spend about four-fifths of their total training time below the ventilatory threshold (VT), or running slow enough to carry on a conversation. New research also suggests that nonelite runners in the “recreationally competitive” category improve most rapidly when they take it easy in training more often than not.

The vast majority of runners, however, seldom train at a truly comfortable intensity. Instead, they push themselves a little day after day, often without realizing it. If the typical elite runner does four easy runs for every hard run, the average recreationally competitive runner—and odds are, you’re one of them—does just one easy run for every hard run. Simply put: Running too hard too often is the single most common and detrimental mistake in the sport.

As mistakes go, this one is pretty understandable. Going fast in training makes intuitive sense to most runners. After all, the purpose of training is to prepare for races, and the purpose of racing is to see how fast you can reach the finish line. Nobody denies that running fast in training is important, but as I will show you in this book, runners who strictly limit their faster running in workouts derive more benefit from these sessions and perform better in races, whereas those who go overboard end up training in a state of constant fatigue that limits their progress.

I myself learned this lesson the hard way. I started running a few weeks before my twelfth birthday. My first run was a six miler on dirt roads surrounding my family’s home in rural New Hampshire. I wore a stopwatch and pushed to get a good time—ideally, something relatively close to my dad’s usual time for the same route. Two days later, I repeated the workout, aiming to improve my performance, which I was able to do. Two days later, I took another crack at lowering my mark and succeeded again.

Young and naive as I was, I expected this pattern of steady gains to continue indefinitely. After a few weeks, though, I was no longer improving. I was also feeling lousy on all of my runs, and the joy had gone out of them. Eventually I quit training and turned my athletic focus back to soccer.

A couple of years later, I blew out a knee on the soccer field. After recovering from surgery, I decided to start running again. As chance would have it, one of the coaches at my high school was Jeff Johnson, a brilliant mentor of young runners who had the distinction of being Nike’s first employee and the man who named the company. Jeff’s coaching philosophy was heavily influenced by that of Arthur Lydiard, a New Zealander who had revolutionized the sport in 1960 with a method that featured lots of slow, comfortable running and modest amounts of speed work. I thrived on this approach, becoming an All-State performer in cross-country and track and leading my team to a handful of state championship titles.

The secret of slow running is not new. Every winner of a major international competition since the Lydiard revolution of the 1960s owes his or her success to slow running. Despite this fact, only a small fraction of runners today recognizes and exploits the power of slow running. The failure of the “mostly-slow” method to reach all corners of the sport has several causes, one of which is—or was—scientific skepticism. While many scientists still believe that slow running is rather useless, there is a revolution happening in the study of the optimal training intensity distribution in running, and the new advocates of slow running are looking like winners.

Previously, scientists who dismissed slow running as “junk miles” seemed to have the weight of evidence on their side. Then along came Stephen Seiler, an American exercise physiologist based in Norway whose intuition told him that the training methods used by the most successful athletes were probably a better representation of what really works than were the limited lab experiments that appeared to suggest that the world’s greatest long-distance racers had no idea what they were doing. This intuition led Seiler to embark on a research agenda that culminated in the most significant breakthrough in running since Arthur Lydiard’s original discovery of slow running: the 80/20 Rule.

Seiler started by exhaustively analyzing the training methods of world-class rowers and cross-country skiers. He found a remarkable consistency: Athletes in both sports did approximately 80 percent of their training sessions at low intensity and 20 percent at high intensity. In subsequent research, Seiler learned that elite cyclists, swimmers, triathletes, rowers, and—yes—runners did the same thing. Knowing this pattern could not possibly be an arbitrary coincidence, Seiler and other researchers designed studies where athletes were placed on either an 80/20 training regimen or a regimen with more hard training and less easy training. In every case, the results have been the same: 80/20 training yields drastically better results than more intense training.

The 80/20 Rule promises to revolutionize running (and other endurance sports) in a couple of ways. First, it ends the debate over whether a mostly-slow approach or a speed-based approach to training is more effective. No longer will scientists and coaches with a bias for high intensity (or even moderate intensity) be able to steer runners in the wrong direction. Second, by supplying clear numerical targets, Seiler’s discovery makes effective training easier even for runners who are already training more or less the right way. The 80/20 Rule removes the guesswork from the training process. Reaping its benefits is a simple matter of planning your workouts in accordance with the rule and monitoring your running intensity during each workout to ensure you’re where you’re supposed to be.

Seiler’s rule also helps runners by explicitly defining low intensity. The boundary between low intensity and moderate intensity, according to Seiler, falls at the ventilatory threshold, which is the intensity level at which the breathing rate abruptly deepens. This threshold is slightly below the more familiar lactate threshold, which you can think of as the highest running intensity at which you can talk comfortably. In well-trained runners, the ventilatory threshold typically falls between 77 percent and 79 percent of maximum heart rate. In pace terms, if your 10K race time is 50 minutes (8:03 per mile), your ventilatory threshold will likely correspond to a pace of 8:40 per mile. If your 10K time is 40 minutes (6:26 per mile), you will probably hit your VT at approximately 7:02 per mile. In either case, running at or below these threshold speeds will feel quite comfortable.

Scientists have determined that the average recreationally competitive runner spends less than 50 percent of his or her total training time at low intensity. This is a problem, because research has also demonstrated that even a 65/35 intensity breakdown yields worse race results than does full compliance with the 80/20 Rule. The good news is that, unless you are an elite runner, it is almost certain that you are doing less than 80 percent of your training at low intensity and that you can improve significantly by slowing down. The purpose of this book is to help you do just that.

When Jeff Johnson showed me the power of slow running during my high school years, I never would have guessed that I would one day coach runners myself. My role is not to innovate and discover, like Arthur Lydiard and Stephen Seiler, but to serve as a link between the innovators and discoverers and the broader running community. Early in my career, I was struck by some of the new ways that elite runners were using cross-training to elevate their performance and avoid injuries, so I wrote Runner’s World Guide to Cross-Training. Later I developed an interest in how brain science was influencing the sport at the highest level, so I made these new methods available to all in Brain Training for Runners.

When I learned about Stephen Seiler’s work, I was experienced enough to know immediately that the 80/20 Rule was a game changer. Even though I had always taught a mostly-slow training approach, I was aware that many of my runners ran too hard too often anyway. What I’ve realized—and what science proves—is that running slow just doesn’t come naturally to most runners. The same instinct that I had as an eleven-year-old new runner exists also within countless other runners of all experience levels. It’s an impulse to make every run “count” by pushing beyond the level of total comfort. This instinct makes a lot of runners rather hard to coach. It’s one thing to give a runner a training plan that is dominated by low-intensity workouts; it is quite another thing for that same runner to actually stay below the ventilatory threshold in all of those designated “easy” runs. I have discovered that unless a runner is systematically held back, he will more often than not run too hard on easy days and unwittingly sabotage his training plan.

Until I found the work of Stephen Seiler, my efforts to keep runners from making the most common mistake in the sport were ineffective. This quickly changed once I studied Seiler’s published research as well as that of other leading scientists of the 80/20 revolution. I also made direct contact with Seiler and his collaborators to learn more from them. I began to use the quantitative benchmarks of the 80/20 method to ensure that the training plans I created for runners were neither too hard nor too easy and that workouts were executed correctly. I later designed a range of ready-made 80/20 training plans for the PEAR Mobile app, which uses my voice to guide runners through heart rate–based workouts, and developed a separate 80/20 Running app that keeps track of time spent at low and moderate to high intensities.

Not surprisingly, many runners have had to slow down to conform to my 80/20 guidelines. Some have done so reluctantly, finding it difficult to believe that going easier in training could make them go faster in races. But the runners who have taken a leap of faith and seen the process through have been well rewa...

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