My Running Philosophy

Sometimes going your own way can lead you to the place you most want to be!
Sometimes going your own way can lead you to the place you most want to be!

When I first began running (again), I just ran. I wanted to get faster, and I thought to do that I had to run more. And sometimes that is true: if you’re a novice runner, often adding mileage will help you run faster. But eventually the newbie gains fall away and you have to try something different. But I didn’t know this. I just knew that, for most runners I knew, running faster meant running more.

Runners, especially new runners, feel a lot of pressure to follow strictly a training plan given by experts in the field. If you can follow the plan and it works for you, that’s great! But a plan that you can’t, don’t, or won’t follow, is actually a terrible plan, no matter how great it may seem, or how much it benefits others. The best training plan is one you will actually stick to, even if most people tell you it’s not optimal. By breaking all the “known” rules for running, I created a training plan that worked for me and this can work for you too.

When I wistfully talked about wanting to get faster, my husband Ben matter-of-factly responded, “You’ll need to train differently.” I didn’t know what he meant and he explained that there were different types of workouts, such as speed work and tempo runs that would help me get faster. My mind was blown.

With those words, he opened up a whole different world of running to me. I eagerly read about different training runs (and giggled at fartlek) and began applying these new concepts into my running.

…sort of.

In the summer of 2012 I devoted myself to chasing down a sub-25 min 5K. Early that summer I got a PR of 27:15 and I desperately yearned to shave off those 2 minutes and 15 seconds. So week after week, I went to the track to do speed work. A 25-min 5K requires that I run an 8:03 pace. I came up with my own speed work that summer, which influenced a large part of my training for the following years.

At that time I couldn’t run an 8-min mile, so I decided to focus on doing that first. While I couldn’t run 4 laps in 8 minutes, I knew I could run one lap in two minutes. Then I did two laps in four minutes. Next three laps in six minutes. Every week I went to the track to do more laps in two minute intervals until I reached my intermediate goal of an 8-min mile. I continued on adding more laps until I was able to consistently run 2.5 miles in 20 minutes. It took a few tries at different 5Ks, but I did break the 25-min barrier that fall and the 2-hr barrier for the half marathon without doing any specific half marathon training, except for a couple long runs.

Because I had such great success with minimal running, I continued training with lots of speed work, a few tempos, and a couple long runs if I had a half in the horizon. I averaged about 10 miles per week and peaked at 20 miles. That’s absolutely nothing in the world of serious runners!  In fact, it’s completely the opposite of what some training programs tell you do to. Greg McMillan, one of the most famous coaches for distance running, has long asserted that 70% of your weekly mileage should come from easy runs. According to his training philosophy, you need to run long, easy, and slow most of the time. If you think of training being like a pyramid, the long slow distance is the foundation of the pyramid and speed work is the peak.

I’m not going to argue with McMillan about the merits of his training philosophy, but as I said before the best training program is the one that you actually do and the worst is the one that you don’t do. I run because I love racing, not because I love running, so the thought of running long and slow most of the time was painful to me.  I couldn’t see myself going out for a long run when I was tired from a long day at work, but I could always talk myself into going to the gym for speed work. We used to live in a condo building where the gym was around the corner. No matter how tired or busy I was, I always had half an hour to exercise. That was all I needed to change into my running clothes, head to the gym, do my speed work, and be back at home showering. So my training program wound up being mostly speed work and very little else.

While this resulted in low mileage, I couldn’t argue with the results. I got faster at all distances, from 5Ks to half marathons. My friends who run more often than me (which is just about everyone) have tried to talk me into running longer and more frequently. Some claimed I would be even faster if I did. Maybe so, but when I tried to follow a plan created by an expert I wasn’t happy, so I kept finding excuses to skip training. It just wasn’t working for me.

Now that I’m training for a marathon, I know that an increase in mileage is inevitable. Luckily, summer is a slow time for me at work, so it gives me more time to devote to running. After careful consideration of various different training programs, I’ve decided to use the Run Less, Run Faster because their training philosophy jives with my inclination of favoring intensity over volume. Every week I’ll be doing speed work, a tempo run, and a long distance run. I’ll be running three times a week with cross training in between. I’m excited and a bit scared for marathon training during the summer, and crossing my fingers that this all goes well! But as always I won’t be afraid to modify the plan to make it work for me. A training plan is merely a tool and it’s up to you to make good use of it by using it in a way that’s effective for you.

What’s your training philosophy? Have you ever broken a training rule that resulted in a PR?

I'm an academic, a runner, and a New York cliché. I write about the science of exercise, training, and the culture of running. My current goals are a sub-23:00 5K (achieved on 4/22/17 with 22:48) and a sub-1:45 HM (achieved on 10/1/17). Now what?

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  1. I’m looking forward to following this as well! I used RLRF to train for a marathon (and a knockoff of it to train for a half) and both worked pretty well for me! My times were good and I finished uninjured. On the flip side, I tried using a Hanson’s plan to train for another half, and learned that my 40-year-old body needs some recovery time built into a plan.

  2. Good luck! I found success in using a similar approach for a 5k PR. I haven’t tried it for a marathon though but I know that it can work for some people based on reading other’s experiences.

  3. Intensity over volume works for some people, but for me too much intensity gets me injured. RLRF is a very tough marathon program if you aren’t used to doing those long runs.

  4. Great post and very insightful. I’d like to get faster and know that speed work is key. I’ve been “slow” for so long that I get comfortable running long because it doesn’t require me to run fast. But it contradicts my wanting to get faster lol!

    1. Thanks. I get comfortable in a different way. I do the speed work, but I don’t want to do the long runs. In a long distance race, you have to do the long runs. If I could just do short intervals as a successful method for a marathon, I would, but that’s just not gonna happen. I’m biting the bullet this training season.

  5. Good luck! it will be great to see how the cross training adds to your run training. what kinds of things will you be doing?

    1. Weightlifting! Another non-traditional choice. I love doing back squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. RLRF recommends swimming, cycling, and rowing, but I hate the first two. I may try some rowing.

  6. When I trained for my first marathon, my primary goal was to make sure I finished, so I ran miles and miles in training–without the strength training, speed work, etc., which I should have done. I did finish, even BQ’d, but then was injured. This time, training for a half marathon, I’m also using RFRL, but with some modification (it recommends long days of 15 miles, which seem to long for a half marathon, so I’m trying 10-11 miles for long, with another 5 mile day inbetween so that overall mileage is 25-30/week max.). I can’t run every day so hope, like you, this plan with my own modifications works! Good luck.

    1. Thanks! Wow, 15 miles does seem like a really long run when training for a half, but I know some people who believe in running longer than the race in order to build confidence. Good to hear that you’re making your own changes to suit your needs. Good luck to you too!