By Matt Fitzgerald 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower

80/20 Principle

The principle of 80/20 (often called the Pareto Principle) is applied to everything from sales and marketing strategies to time management. Matt Fitzgerald presents a compelling argument to apply the 80 (easy)/20 (hard) rule to running. For most of us, that means more easy running each week. As a result, we’ll achieve better results and reduce risk of injury and burnout. Sound good? Yeah, I thought so too.

Fitzgerald presents many case studies to support the 80/20 training philosophy. In fact, most of the world’s elite runners already follow this rule. There was a time when coaches focused on speedwork as the basis for better running performance. That changed when Arthur Lydiard’s athletes began winning big races with a new training approach. Lydiard employed lots of easy miles to build up his athlete’s endurance so that they could sustain their efforts for a longer period. Speedwork was the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

Stephen Seiler, an exercise scientist and researcher, has done exhaustive studies to uncover the most successful training methods of rowers, cyclists, cross-country skiers, triathletes, and runners. He discovered that elite athletes in all endurance sports do about 80 percent of their training at low intensity.

“Numerous descriptive studies of the training characteristics of nationally or internationally competitive endurance athletes training 10 to 13 times per week seem to converge on a typical intensity distribution in which about 80% of training sessions are performed at low intensity (2 mM blood lactate), with about 20% dominated by periods of high-intensity work, such as interval training at approx. 90% VO2max.” –Stephen Seiler

Runs at a conversational pace (below ventilatory threshold) are proven to increase aerobic capacity and fatigue resistance. What’s more, the brain actually develops a greater resistance to the fatigue of long endurance runs. Simply put, you’ll run faster for longer if you do lots (80%) of your running at a relatively slow pace.

Running efficiency is proven to increase with mileage. And, efficiency for one runner may be very different from another. Fitzgerald tells us that correct form can be taught, but most often results in decreased performance. It seems that a person’s natural gait is the best one in terms of running economy.

Fitzgerald provides a variety of training plans covering distances from 5K to the marathon. His detailed descriptions of 80/20 running guidelines and expectations are easy to follow and are adapted to both beginners and experienced runners. For runners that need a bit of on-the-run coaching, there’s an app for that. Look for it under Pear Sports.

I really enjoyed this book on 80/20 running. Fitzgerald is an excellent writer, and he is able to communicate some lofty scientific data in a very accessible way. If you are the kind of runner that wants to know why and how things work, you’ll be satisfied with the research summaries provided throughout the book. I found the origins of exercise science and running to be fascinating.

3 thoughts on “80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald

  1. I may need to try to power through it again on better sleep. I thought it was too tedious but had some excellent ideas. Now if someone would do the math for me.

    1. K-Fab,

      The history and research is interesting to me, but I can see where it might be a bit too much at times. Funny you mentioned the math, because I found myself a little irritated with all the cross-referencing back and forth in the training plans section.