There are countless training methodologies for runners that all aim to produce the same results: help the runner get faster and hit PRs.
While each of these different training approaches for runners may structure the training program differently and emphasize certain types of running workouts more than others, there is one thing that most runners would probably agree upon when asked the question,
“How do you get better at running?“ The answer most runners would give? Run more. But, do you have to run more to get faster?
As it turns out, there can be benefits of running less to improve your running performance.
In this run less run faster training guide, we will discuss the benefits of reducing your running volume or the number of miles you run per week, and how running less may actually help you run faster.
Let’s jump in!
What Does Run Less Run Faster Mean?
“Run less to run faster” or the “run less, run faster” approach to running is all about maximizing the training benefits of every mile you run (or every minute you run if you run for time instead of distance) and cutting out “junk miles.”
What Is The FIRST Run Less Run Faster Approach?
The run less run faster approach to training is also called the FIRST method or FIRST marathon training program.
The FIRST training system was developed by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss and has a few defining characteristics:
- You run no more than three days per week.
- Your weekly long run constitutes 60 to 70% of your total weekly mileage.
- You have at least two hard cross-training workouts per week.
- Every running workout is intense, either in terms of actual intensity, such that you are running fast or long.
Potential Benefits of the Run Less Run Faster Training Plan
Here are some potential benefits of using the FIRST marathon training method and who the run less run faster training approach may work well for:
- Reduced running mileage is good for those with a history of joint or bone injuries from running.
- May be appealing for triathletes or multisport athletes who like forms of cross-training exercise as much as running, or for whom these types of workouts translate more directly to race performance (for triathlons).
- Can appeal to runners who like to push themselves and have intensity in every workout.
- Good for runners who believe in the concept of “junk miles.”
Does Run Less Run Faster Work?
In theory, running less to run faster is an appealing endurance training method if it actually works.
After all, if you don’t have to spend as much time training and you can still get the same results, why not? This is at least true for people who don’t love running or have limited time to run.
However, there is a lot of criticism among running coaches and marathon runners who have tried the FIRST marathon training program.For one, it’s a little bit misleading because people assume that if you only have to run three days per week, the time commitment is significantly less using the run less run faster marathon training program than most traditional training plans for a marathon.
However, because you have two supplementary cross-training workouts per week (at a minimum), you are still training at least five days per week, which is not all that different from many marathon training plans.
Another point of criticism with the run less run faster marathon training plan is that the emphasis on intensity can cause physical and mental burnout and may take away some of the joy of running, compromise recovery, and actually increase the risk of injuries.
This is a bit ironic and probably surprising for most people interested in a low-mileage marathon training plan.
After all, the concept behind the FIRST training plan for marathons is ultimately to reduce the risk of injuries by eliminating junk miles and thus decreasing the total impact stress accumulated on your body by running a bunch of “unnecessary“ miles per week.
However, since you are always going hard when you run, you are still taxing your musculoskeletal system.
In fact, higher intensity means that the impact stress is higher, and the mechanics that you use for running faster are more taxing on your muscles, connective tissues, joints, and bones, all of which can increase injuries.
Plus, there’s been a fair amount of research to suggest that polarizing your training, meaning that you vary your pace and do some much slower runs and more intense runs, decreases the risk of injuries.
This is due to your biomechanics and running stride, as the stresses and strains on your tissues are much less repetitive when you change your pace from workout to workout.
If you are always running at a high intensity with the run less to run faster training method, you aren’t getting that polarized training benefit due to the more repetitive nature of your running speed.
Who Should Use The Run Less Run Faster Method?
Using the FIRST run less run faster marathon training method isn’t generally recommended for marathon prepping.
That is unless you’re not trying to chase a PR or are a multisport who prefers running just a few days per week and equally prefers doing cycling or swimming alongside running.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the principles of running less to run faster in how you train for other distances.
A run less run faster training program essentially is a low-volume training plan that is still designed to improve performance for a given race distance, like most structured training plans for runners.
However, instead of hitting the average weekly mileage that most other training plans would have for the same race distance, the best “run less run faster” plans for runners would have significantly lower weekly mileage or minutes of running.
Essentially, we can think of a run less to run faster training plan as a low-volume running plan.
When we think of training volume for running, the volume typically refers to how much you are running per week.
Depending on where you live in the world, your running value might be an average weekly mileage or weekly kilometers. Alternatively, if you prefer to run for time vs distance, you might have an average weekly number of minutes or hours that you train.
In either context, a “high-volume training plan“ would be one where you are running a lot per week for a given distance.
For example, most recreational runners who are training for a 5K run anywhere from 15 to 40 miles per week, with the average weekly mileage closer to the 20 to 25 miles per week range.
Therefore, someone who is averaging somewhere between 40 to 60 miles per week while training for a 5k would be considered to be doing a high-volume 5k training plan.
In contrast, a low volume 5K training plan that is taking this run less to run faster approach would be closer to the 10 to 20 miles per week for the low mileage approach to running faster.
Another factor of running volume aside from just the distance or time that you are running per week is the intensity of your running workouts.
The primary benefit of taking a run less to run faster approach to training is that it can reduce the risk of injuries by decreasing the mileage you are putting on your legs.
Another benefit of reducing your running volume, particularly if you are not supplementing a low-mileage running plan with an equal number of cross-training minutes, is that low-mileage training plans for runners are obviously more time efficient.
If you are running fewer miles per week or fewer minutes per week, the time commitment to train for your given race will be more feasible for anyone with a busy schedule.
However, you’ll need to decide the right balance of running miles, cross-training, and rest days, along with how you want to combine intensity and recovery in your training based on your own needs.
Ultimately, while the FIRST training method for a marathon is generally not ideal, using this style or approach to training might work fairly well for shorter distance races such as a 5k, 10k, or perhaps even half marathon.
The aerobic demands for these shorter races are not as significant, and runners will benefit more from the intensity prioritized in the run less run faster approach.
For another approach to distance running and endurance training, check out our guide to the Norwegian Method for Endurance training here.