The Run Less Run Faster Experiment

Blue question mark
Is lower mileage training actually the key to success? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in September, Running Times ran a great piece on maximizing your training time to still get results and even PRs. They shared profiles of other runners who train on low mileage plans and have had success. I was intrigued by the article but at the time, I still held on to the belief that in order to run any decent times, one must be running at least 30 miles a week.

Enter life then: Take a day off and feel fat. Can’t eat my pieces of dark chocolate either.

Enter life now: Eh, it’s alright to take a day off. Maybe two. Live a little! And here, have some chocolate.

Riding my new found easy-going train,ย I came up with the idea of experimenting with Runner’s World’s infamous Smart Coach Training Plan System. It’s gotten a lot of flack (myself included!) for misleading runners to thinking that the train less, run faster theory actually works over the tried and true high-mileage theory. Since I’m already running low mileage and looking for something new with my training, I thought I would give it a try.

Holy intense! I guess I will be making this face a lot on my new high intensity, low mileage training plan.
Holy intense! I guess I will be making this face a lot on my new high intensity, low mileage training plan.

My training plan starts today, although I’ve been preparing for it for the last two weeks. It will be 13 weeks in length, with my goal race date on July 4th at a local 5k. I plan to share each week with you all for your own entertainment. Right off the bat, I had to laugh at week one:

Monday: Rest/XT

Tuesday: 2 miles @ 9:25 pace

Wednesday: Rest/XT

Thursday: 4 miles with 2 x 1600 in 7:28

Friday: 2 miles @9:25 pace

Saturday: Rest/XT

Sunday: 8 miles @ 9:25

You mean to tell me, Smart Coach, that a couple 2 mile runs and a bunch of cross training is the key to breaking 22 minutes? Eh, don’t knock it before you try it, right? My projected 5k time after 13 weeks of training is 21:45. If you followed my posts from way back when about my quest to break 22:00 for a 5k then you’d know I’d be more than happy with that! And as an added bonus, I am going to go back to running by distance after a year or so of running for time. AND an even bigger bonus, I’m going to use a GPS. That’s right. Me, of all people. For the most accurate testing of this experiment, I will do my best to adhere to the exact paces and distances requested. Because the plan calls for lots of rest or cross training (XT), I will be getting cozy with a bike or the pool. And you know what? I’m looking forward to that.

So, there you have it. Or I have it. It being a plan. I already feel motivated! Over the next 13 weeks we’ll be posting my training logs to the front page so you can follow along with this great experiment!

So what do you think? Are these run less/run faster plans snake oil or might I be pleasantly surprised?ย 

I run and work as a mental health professional. I write about mindfulness, my own experiences with depression and anxiety, and the professional sport of running. I'm currently taking a break from competitive running, which means I'm brushing up on my swimming and yoga skills.

Leave a Reply


  1. I’m glad that you are showcasing the Run Less, Run Faster training program. But what I really interested in, as I get ready to run my first full marathon in November (I have run 9 half marathons), is your opinion of the Hanson Marathon Method, a renegade path to your fastest marathon.

    The difference between the Hanson method and most other methods is . . . . . . . . .

    No 20 mile long runs. The longest of the long runs is 16 miles. Would anyone dare try to run a full marathon with an even somewhat challenging time/pace goal having completed only 16 miles as ones longest run during training? I am guessing that the answer is not only no, but he!! no.

    The reasoning behind the shorter long runs is that one should never pile too much mileage on a single training run. The mileage should be spread out among the training runs. That way, it doesn’t take you a week to recover from your long runs. The long runs are only a little longer than most of your other runs.

    Still sound impractical? Let me put it this way, I will be running at least 3 20 milers this summer as I prepare for my first full marathon, even if it’s at a crawling pace.

    1. I am intrigued by the Hanson method but I think it might only be beneficial for someone who can run 16 miles at a quicker pace/higher intensity (i.e. bordering on sub-elite). Sure, people can run marathons on low mileage but it doesn’t feel good afterward (speaking from experience!). Good luck with your summer training!

  2. When I began running longer distances and trained for my first half, I used the FIRST/ (Furman) plan that a friend told me about (article in Runners World). It was only 3 runs a week but at higher intensities (one tempo, one speed/interval, and one long run which was faster than the typical LR pace most other plans prescribe). I did that for 3 HM cycles and improved dramatically. And (I shouldn’t admit this), I wasn’t even cross training on the off days.
    Shortly after, I met Salty and she encouraged me to bump my mileage up to 40 and lower the intensities (either tempo or speed work but not both each week). I found that I enjoyed my runs a lot more after that b/c the intensity was so much lower for a few of my runs. The high mileage did help me get even faster and it fits better with my marathon goals right now, so I’m sticking with it. But the lower mileage/ higher intensity stuff can definitely produce results. I can’t wait to see how it goes for you!
    Oh and with SmartCoach…just a word of caution….I’ve used that a ton even in my higher mileage stage (because I’m too cheap to hire a coach or purchase a plan!). It’s a great tool, but in my experience, the predictions for time are pretty optimistic. During several cycles, I hit or beat all the paces and trained by the letter of the plan and only got close to the predicted race result once. Whatever the case, I am confident you’ve got that sub-22 in ya, and hope that the lower mileage plan is the path to that PR!

    1. Thanks, Basil! That’s great feedback. This will be so different of an approach for me that I think that will help spice things up. I picture Salty telling you, “Girl, you gotta run more!”

  3. I tried the Run Less Run Faster for the marathon distance a few years ago. It went well and I PR’ed (at the time), but I also really missed relaxing/easy days where there was no goal or target to hit. It started making me anxious! A few years later I trained for another marathon and went back to a more traditional plan and I PR’ed again. It’s hard for me to tell if I improved bc of the type of training or just more experience with the distance (RLRF was for marathon #2, current PR from marathon #5). I don’t think I’d try it again for a marathon or half but perhaps for a shorter distance where you aren’t toast afterwards (well, you are toast, but the kind that recovers quicker, lol) and can train/race again shortly after. I am very interested to hear how your 5k plan goes, bc I have a similar dream of breaking 22!

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I will see how the 5k training goes before trying it out for a half or full. Go get that sub 22!

  4. Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m currently in the “snake oil” naysayer’s camp on this one. But I am VERY willing to be convinced that RLRF actually works, so I’m glad to be experimenting vicariously through you! Go get that 21:45! :)

    1. Last year, I would’ve been a complete naysayer! But something about this seems fun whereas my old training programs got dull after a while. So, I’m keeping the faith! Thanks for the encouragement!

      1. Everyone’s different, of course, but for me running less/running faster worked GREAT for the 5K distance – not the half-marathon. In order to meet my HM goal of 1:45, I had to run more and run slower :) However, for the 5K distance, keeping my legs fresh throughout training by only running a few days a week was perfect. Of course, the age group level is different than the elite level – it’s probably a different story when you’re chasing down super-speedy 5Ks (need more miles under your belt to improve).

  5. I actually followed the RLRF plan (loosely) last spring and summer from the book, with the same goal, to break 22:00 in a 5K. I’m pretty injury-prone, so I was running 3 days a week, with speedwork on one of the days, and doing a lot of biking, swimming and weights. Going into a 5K race the first week in June, my PR was 22:15. I ended up (no joke) running it in 21:16! I ramped up my mileage and running days a lot in the fall and winter and now I’m dealing with some nagging injuries, so I’m hoping to recover with slow, easy runs and go back to the 3-4 days per week plan.

    1. Well that’s inspiring! Congrats on such a great race! I have a feeling something like this might happen, only because it is so different from what I’m used to that I can kind of go into it with some naivety and just trust the training. Good luck with your training!

  6. If you can get to a pool, I’ve had a decent experience with deep-water aqua jogging for cross-training. You sort of feel like you’re running, but there isn’t any impact, and it’s challenging for core strength and even your cardiovascular system if you don’t use a belt. You can do variations of the running stride, like scissor-kicks, skip variations, etc, to work different muscles, and you can speed up or slow down your stride to vary the effort levels. It can be mind-numbingly boring sometimes, although I improved that by purchasing a waterproof iPod shuffle – well worth the initial outlay as I got it 4 years ago and it has served me well ever since!

    1. Great info, Garlic. Thanks! I will likely get back in the pool for swimming and aqua jogging. Will need to check out the iPod too! Years ago when I looked into it, they were priced well over $400 but I think they are coming down in price now.

      1. Here is the one I have ( It’s $154 – still not cheap but like I said it’s a workhorse. It looks like there are a few companies now doing this, but I can vouch for the durability of Waterfi. Ive also done a ton of swimming with it and been submersed for as long as an hour and it has been fine.

  7. My coach recently suggested I sub out an easy run or two a week with cross training – imagine that! I think it will help me avoid injury – so often I hobble through easy runs which might normally recover me, but strain the strained parts. Ellipticalling or swimming will get the blood pumping without straining those over stressed parts. We’ll see if it helps and if I can do it – I have to get to the gym to cross train which isn’t always easy!

    1. What a novel idea ;) Glad to hear you are going to try to incorporate that into your plan. My problem with cross training is that it never felt like the power and effort of a run. However, I went for an hour long bike ride yesterday. I pedaled at a tougher gear and incorporated some hills. I was pleasantly surprised with the effort and how good I felt afterward.

  8. I haven’t ever done high mileage (under 30/wk) for up to half marathons and haven’t had much of a problem as long as I don’t do all hard runs or try doing them without the long running to balance it out, Good luck!!!

  9. I’m looking forward to following your training with this plan. I loosely follow the RLRF plan, with a tempo, speed, longer, and easy run each week, but I use the McMillan paces instead of the book’s. Good luck with it!

    1. Hi Allspice! Good to hear that you are a fellow follower. Last week, I did a test run of week’s one training and it wasn’t too bad, just an adjustment to not running everyday. However, adding the cross training helped with keeping my spirits up.

  10. I have been toying with the idea of this plan recently as well, so I’ll be interested to see what you think! After a serious injury during my last high mirage marathon training cycle, and then 8 weeks of forced rest, I read up on this plan and figured I would give it a try to see if it helped with injury prevention. I’m skeptical, and worried I’ll miss my “easy runs”, but also looking forward to some cross-training (who would have thought?!). Good luck with your first week!

    1. Hi Gail, sorry to hear about your injury. I’m probably most skeptical about the amount of days for running, as I worry that I, too, will miss my easy days or have to turn down easy runs with friends because I’m sticking to this plan! Thanks for the well wishes!