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How fast do elite runners spend the majority of their time running? Slow, Easy, and Effortless.

Here is Part 2 of my review if 80/20 Running.

I had the opportunity to read a new book by runner Matt Fitzgerald and I will be featuring sections in several upcoming posts sharing his viewpoints and ideas on improving your running. The majority of recreational runners in our society run way too hard and leave their legs tired and never adapt to improve. If you haven’t read his book or do not understand how fitness improves by running easy I suggest you read it. It’s available here at Amazon. And, if you’re one of the many that think you already run easy, you probably aren’t!!

Below is an excerpt from Matt Fitzgerald’s book – 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower, where he uses examples of many elite endurance athletes and how they train 80% of the time easy.

In 2001, Veronique Billat collected training data from elite male and female marathon runners from France and Portugal. She found that they did 78 percent of their training at speeds slower than their marathon race speed.

Previously, scientists who dismissed slow running as “ junk miles” seemed to have the weight of evidence on their side. Then along came Stephen Seiler, an American exercise physiologist based in Norway whose intuition told him that the training methods used by the most successful athletes were probably a better representation of what really works than were the limited lab experiments that appeared to suggest that the world’s greatest long-distance racers had no idea what they were doing. This intuition led Seiler to embark on a research agenda that culminated in the most significant breakthrough in running since Arthur Lydiard’s original discovery of slow running: the 80/20 Rule. Seiler started by exhaustively analyzing the training methods of world-class rowers and cross-country skiers. He found a remarkable consistency: Athletes in both sports did approximately 80 percent of their training sessions at low intensity and 20 percent at high intensity. In subsequent research, Seiler learned that elite cyclists, swimmers, triathletes, rowers, and—yes—runners did the same thing. Knowing this pattern could not possibly be an arbitrary coincidence, Seiler and other researchers designed studies where athletes were placed on either an 80/20 training regimen or a regimen with more hard training and less easy training. In every case, the results have been the same: 80/20 training yields drastically better results than more intense training. The 80/20 Rule

Esteve-Lanao recruited eight members of his running club to participate in a study. They were all young (twenty-one to twentyfive years), male, and fast, with an average 5K time of 15:22. He gave out heart rate monitors to the runners and demanded that the devices be worn during every run for twenty-four weeks as the runners prepared for the Spanish national cross-country championship, a race of just over ten kilometers. After the race, EsteveLanao calculated how much time each runner had spent in each of three intensity zones. “Low intensity” was defined as the range of heart rates that fell below the ventilatory threshold. “High intensity” was specified as the range of heart rates falling above another threshold calledthe respiratory compensation point, where hyperventilation begins. This threshold is a little higher than the lactate threshold, and it occurred at 91 percent of maximum heart rate for these subjects, which is typical for trained runners. The space between these two thresholds was defined as “moderate intensity.” On average, the runners spent 71 percent of their total training time at low intensity, 21 percent at moderate intensity, and 8 percent at high intensity during their twenty-four weeks of training. The numbers were not the same for all of the runners, however. Some runners spent more than 71 percent of their total time at low intensity, others less, and the differences were strongly predictive of differences in race performance. The individual runner who spent the most time at low intensity during training recorded the fastest time on race day, while the runner who spent the least time at low intensity produced the slowest race time. Fitness tests conducted periodically throughout the study period showed that all of the runners became significantly fitter, but those who spent closer to 80 percent of their total training time at low intensity improved the most.

The study was published here.

Esteve-Lanao and Seiler presented their results in a paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2007. They concluded, “The present data suggest that if the runner can dedicate more time to daily training sessions, it seems better to design an ‘easy-hard’ distribution of load (increasing the amount of low-intensity training) than a ‘moderately hard–hard’ approach.”

Again, this is a direct reprint of the material in Matt Fitzgerald’s book – 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower, where he uses examples of many elite endurance athletes and how they train 80% of the time easy.

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