Friday, January 22, 2016

80/20 Running

I've really been enjoying the change I've made with my running lately. I mentioned how I always used to do my runs at that "in-between" pace--not too easy, not too hard--even though I knew it wasn't the ideal way to train. When I found this 10K training schedule several weeks ago, I decided to give it a try, and do each workout how it was supposed to be done. I decided to keep my heart rate in the aerobic zone for my easy runs, no matter how slow that pace was.

And I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed my runs! I always used to dread running, because it's so uncomfortable. Once I started running at a truly easy pace, the way I "should", I actually started looking forward to running. As far as my effort level goes, it feels almost the same as going for a walk--I don't get out of breath, and I can look around and enjoy the scenery. Nothing to dread :)

The idea of easy running wasn't new to me--I learned all about how to put together a proper training plan, and that's how I write plans for other people. But for myself, I always felt like I would make more progress by running faster, where I was slightly uncomfortable. Recently, I've been reading as much as I can about the ideal race training, and I came across a book called 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald.

The idea behind 80/20 Running is that the "perfect" running plan would have you do 80% of your running at a low intensity, and just 20% at a moderate or high intensity level. The book explains it all so well, and gives tons of examples, but the key point is that most recreational runners train in that moderate zone more than half of the time, and that is keeping them from reaching their full potential. Elite runners use the 80/20 principle, which allows them to reach their maximum potential.

Even though I knew better, I still didn't do my easy runs at a truly easy pace. I would push myself to a moderate pace, because then I'd finish my mileage faster (without being too uncomfortable). The 80/20 running in the book gives workouts in minutes rather than mileage, so you're going to be running for the same amount of time regardless of pace. I think that's what helped me to finally take it easy on my runs recently, because I've been training in minutes. If I have a 40-minute run scheduled, then I have to run 40 minutes, no matter how fast or slow I go. Slower is more enjoyable, so I keep the intensity very low (unless I'm doing speed work).

Doing this has helped me to make progress on my speed work, too. On those days, I really bust my ass during my workouts. By taking it easy on my easy runs, I have lots of energy to expend on my hard runs. I've seen a pretty big improvement in just five weeks or so. I'm kind of excited to run a 5K or 10K and see the difference in my finishing time.

The book has several training plans--three each for the 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon (levels 1, 2, and 3). I've been thinking about doing the 10K plan in the book (either level 2 or 3) instead of the plan I've been testing out recently. It's pretty much the same idea, just with more mileage. Surprisingly, I don't even mind doing more miles because they are EASY miles! (The book stresses that higher mileage is best for getting to your goals faster--something that I learned from Hansons Marathon Method as well).

The plans give you a certain number of minutes to run in five different zones. Zone 1 is the easiest (used for warm-ups, cool downs, and recovery runs); Zone 2 is for easy runs and long runs; Zone 3 like the aerobic threshold zone--tempo pace; Zone 4 is for longer intervals; and Zone 5 is for short intervals or hills. You can use heart rate, pace, and/or perceived effort to determine each zone, but Fitzgerald recommends a combination, which he explains in the book.

The hardest part of the whole thing is determining your lactate threshold heart rate. There are a few suggestions for how to do it, but I still felt kind of lost. It's not as simple as a formula. I went for a run today and tried a couple of the tests (a talk test, perceived effort, etc.).

I really liked testing out the Hansons Marathon Method when I trained for the Chicago Marathon. I followed the program right to the letter, and it was fun to write a review about it (the plan worked very well for me). So, I'm leaning toward doing this 80/20 Running plan--I'd follow it as-written, and see how well it works in getting me ready to PR my 10K. The plan is 12 weeks long, and my race is 11 weeks from Sunday, so I would have to start this plan tomorrow with tail end of week 1. The thought of focusing on a single race, and preparing for it to the best of my ability exciting to me--the last time I felt this focused on a goal race was the Chicago Marathon in 2013!

Reading 80/20 Running was very reassuring that training at an easy pace is ideal. It gave so many examples and studies that made me really believe in it. I was worried that I wasn't doing enough speed work, but from what I've read, the plan I've been doing follows the right formula. And I've seen progress, so I think it's working. Regardless of whether I'm getting faster or not, it's so nice to really enjoy running. I still dread speed work, but I feel awesome when I nail a good speed workout, so it's worth it.

I'm curious, have any of you ever tried any of the 80/20 Running plans? And if so, did you find that you got faster by training that way?

Here is a link (Amazon affiliate) for the book, if anyone is interested: 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower. I want to stress that this is NOT a good book for an electronic reader. The training plans will have you flipping back and forth between several pages, which would drive me crazy. I'm really glad that I bought the actual book. It's a very interesting read, and if you're in a pace rut (having a hard time improving), it could help you out of that.


  1. That's really interesting. I never tried that. It does make sense intellectually. I am afraid now my "easy" run would be me shuffling down the street, but I am plugging away and will get back to where I once was. Great information!

  2. YES!! I discovered this about a month ago - I was getting so frustrated with not improving my running times because I was in that middle zone. I was really getting burnt out on running but didn't want to stop - I have a half marathon goal I want to achieve first, but it wasn't looking likely that I'd EVER achieve that goal. and someone mentioned something similar about lower heart rate training (Maffetone Method training). All of a sudden I'm enjoying running again!

  3. I started running again at the beginning of the year after 6 months off and was feeling very frustrated because I was struggling to just run for 3 minutes without having to stop, of course I am 30 pounds overweight right now, but I didn't think it should affect me this much. I've been running for about 6 or 7 years so you think I would know what I was doing wrong, but I was determined to increase my speed this time around by just starting my training at a faster pace. After reading your blog the last few weeks and then reading the first review of this book on Amazon it FINALLY clicked. I'm just going to fast and unless I slow down I will not improve. I'm going to try running this week staying below my maximum heart rate, which is a shocking 133 for a woman my age. I think I can hit that at a faced paced walk, but I'm going to try it.

  4. Katie--You are such an expert on running now, I think it's time for you to write that book, incorporating your weight loss journey with your knowledge of HOW to run to lose and maintain a major weight loss.

  5. Great blog as usual but I found this one particularly helpful. Thank you!!!

  6. So helpful! I have been trying to improve my speed, but any time I tell myself to run "easy", I feel guilty and start running in the more moderate/hard zone. I definitely need to read this book!!!

  7. I haven't followed a training plan that called itself 80/20, but I have also read a lot about that approach being appropriate. I am following a training plan right now that's adapted from one in Runner's World. I would say that it's roughly 80/20 in its general structure. I totally, totally agree about it being so much more pleasurable to run when most of the runs are truly easy. And I've definitely see my easy pace improve since I've started with this philosopy.

  8. Just ordered the book - guessing this darn blizzard will slow the delivery down a bit! Ive never trained to heart rate - guess I need to start looking at heart rate monitors now too. I seem to have one pace... and its not getting me where I want to be.

  9. I listened to a podcast with Matt Fitzgerald last year, a few months before this book came out. It was so great, and really resonated with me! I use an online coaching program through, and they base their training off very similar ideals to the 80/20 method and Hansons. It has really changed my view on running - and my racing!

  10. I've done the lactate threshold heart rate test for this exact book! You need a heart rate monitor that you can connect to your phone with blue tooth. I'm not sure if there's another way. You have to download an app called Pear and then on that app there are different workouts. You can select the one to figure out your heart rate zones. Then a voice talks you through running and slowly increasing your pace. I think it only takes around 20 minutes and that includes a warm up and cool down. I know I ended up running less than 2 miles. And then it gives you the exact heart rate targets for each of the zones. And the workout is so easy you can repeat it each week if you really wanted to!

    1. Hi Rachel -
      Do you know what HR monitors do or do not pair with Pear? I ordered a Polar HR monitor but do not think it is compatiable with the Pear app.

    2. Hi Rachel -
      Do you know what HR monitors do or do not pair with Pear? I ordered a Polar HR monitor but do not think it is compatiable with the Pear app.


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