Run Less Run Faster Review

Hi, everyone! A couple weeks ago I introduced the new This Runner’s Library feature on this blog, and I’m back with my second post for it today!

I first read Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster: Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary 3-Run-a-Week Training Program two years ago and have tried some of the workouts. What I want to review today is what the book has to offer, how the training plans are structured, and who it is best for. Since I have never used Run Less Run Faster to train for a race, I personally can’t vouch for the effectiveness of the training plans.

The subtitle of Run Less Run Faster, which is associated with Runner’s World, pretty much summarizes the training plan: “Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary 3-Run-a-Week Training Program.” Most physiologists and running coaches believe that the more miles you run, the faster you become. Instead of emphasizing volume obtained through lots of easy miles, this training philosophy emphasizes three high-quality running workouts and cross-training to become faster while preventing injury. The Run Less Run Faster training program is also known as the FIRST method (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training).


Image Courtesy of
Image Courtesy of

Run Less Run Faster is divided into five sections. Section I, “Training with a Purpose,” introduces the Run Less Run Faster philosophy and offers tips on goal setting and steps for new runners. Section II, “How to Follow the FIRST Training Program,” explains the FIRST fundamentals behind the training plans and then provides programs for 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon training. This section also offers charts full of prescribed training paces based off of 5K race times. Section III is “Performance Factors” and covers injuries and nutrition, and Section IV is titled “Supplemental Training” and offers strength training and stretching exercises. Section V, “Boston and Beyond” provides information on how to use the FIRST fundamentals to train for ultras or triathlons and offers specific training plans for various Boston Qualifying times.

So what are the FIRST fundamentals? They follow a “3plus2” formula of three quality runs—intervals, tempo, and long run—and 2 cross-training sessions on the in-between days. The authors (Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss) argue that three runs allow you to train specifically for your race and achieve personal bests while minimizing the risk of injury. There are no easy runs in the FIRST program; instead there are swimming, rowing, or cycling sessions that build your aerobic capacity without building additional weight-bearing fatigue.

The FIRST fundamentals are based off of five training principles: progressive overload, specificity, individual differences, the law of diminishing returns, and reversibility. Progressive overload is the notion that a gradual increase in training stresses leads to adaptation without overwhelming the body and causing burnout. Specificity means training for a particular distance and goal time, and individual differences accounts for the fact that individual runners experience different responses to training programs. The law of diminishing returns here refers to the fact that you see less improvements in your speed the longer you have been running. Reversibility indicates how you lose fitness when not training, and thus the FIRST program encourages sustainable year-round training.

Each of the three quality runs serves a specific physiological purpose. Key Workout #1 is track repeats and helps increase your maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max). The higher your VO2max, the faster you can run because you have a high capacity for oxygen delivery to your muscles during running. In addition to increasing your maximal oxygen consumption, track repeats help you improve your running economy, which means you can run faster more efficiently. Key Workout #1 includes intervals of 400m, 800m, 1000m, 1200m, or 1600m or ladder workouts that combine different distances. Each Key Workout #1 requires a 10-20 minute warm-up jog, some running drills, and a 10-15 minute cool-down jog. The track repeats emphasize quantity over quality, and so even in the marathon plan the most you will do is 3 x 1600m (1 mile), but at a pace faster than your 5K pace (if your 5K pace was 7:15/mile, you run the 1600m repeats at a 6:59/mile pace).

Key Workout #2 is the tempo run. Tempo runs raise your lactate threshold, which in turn improves your endurance. These workouts begin with a 1-2 mile warm-up before shifting into 2-6 miles at tempo pace. Like the speeds for the track repeats, the tempo paces are based off of a recent 5K race time. There are three types of tempo runs: short tempo (ST), medium tempo (MT), and long tempo (LT). For 5K and 10K plans, the LT pace is the long run pace and all tempo runs at at ST or MT; for the half marathon and marathon plans, the tempo runs at ST, MT, or LT pace. For example, if your 5K pace is 7:15/mile (22:30 5K), then your ST is 7:32/mile, your MT is 7:47/mile, and your LT is 8:02/mile.

Key Workout #3 is the long run, which serves to improve your endurance. For the 5K and 10K plans, as mentioned above, the long runs are run at long tempo (LT) pace. For the half marathon plan, long runs are at half marathon pace (based off of your 5K pace) plus 20-30 seconds. The marathon plan calls for long runs at marathon pace (again based off of 5K pace) plus 15-45 seconds.

On the days between the key workouts, you add in non-weight-bearing cross-training in the form of swimming, rowing, or cycling.The cross-training workouts span 20-45 minutes in duration and include some intervals at hard or tempo efforts.

A sample pace table from Run Less Run Faster.
A sample pace table from Run Less Run Faster.

Just because you are only running three days a week does not mean this plan is easy. The marathon training plan tops at about 38 miles of running per week over three days and includes five 20 mile long runs, with the last 20-miler at only 15 seconds slower than marathon pace.

Run Less Run Faster is for you if:

  • You love swimming or cycling and want to cross-train.
  • Running on consecutive days leaves you prone to injury.
  • You enjoy having specific workouts with specific paces.
  • You are busy and don’t have the time to run every day.
  • You like to push yourself in each and every run.

Run Less Run Faster is not for you if:

  • You love running and want to run almost every day.
  • You hate cross-training.
  • You are built more for endurance than speed. The paces in these workouts are hard!
  • You enjoy easy runs where the focus on something other than pace.

Overall, Run Less Run Faster is not a plan I would personally choose, as I love mixing up harder runs with easy runs and running 5-6 days per week. I also had a huge aversion to cross-training, so that probably plays a role in my preference. However, I’ve heard of runners have success with this planning and enjoying it, especially if they like to incorporate swimming and cycling into a training plan.

(Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.)

Question of the Day:
Have you tried Run Less Run Faster?
Do you like to add swimming or cycling to your training plans?

Sign Up for My Newsletter for More Running Tips

* indicates required

Share this post

4 Responses

  1. I followed this plan about 3 years ago for a half-marathon. I got bored only running 3 days a week and gradually more running in, so I didn’t really follow the plan. I did like the workouts prescribed, but I prefer to run about 5 days a week. I enjoy my easy runs:)

  2. Thanks for the recap! That is an interesting concept. I think it wouldn’t be best for me because I like to have runs that I just “enjoy” and go for a run, without any goal (other than distance). I do like to add cycling to my training, but it’s pretty lazy cycling. Nothing intense… like reading on a cycle at the gym!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *