It has been a long time since I haven’t reviewed a book (maybe because I can’t read). The last time around it was ‘Born to Run‘, by the way, if you still haven’t read it: buy it now and read it! Shortly after I had read it, my dear friend Lanky Pole recommended ‘80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower‘ by Matt Fitzgerald and he even lent me the book.

I’ll spoil the book for you: the killer is the butler. Oops, wrong book. Joking aside, this book is all about how to improve your performance by running 80% of your training slowly and 20% of your training at medium or high intensity. The book starts with a little bit of history and explains how runners like Zátopek already knew that you have to train hard to improve your running, but some running coaches like Arthur Lydiard had the intuition that you should add a lot of easy running to make it even more efficient. And now most elite runners follow more or less the 80/20 rule, whereas recreational runners usually do 50/50.

The author goes on about all the research that has been made to support his claims. Even though he mostly cites studies that do not specifically focus on the 80/20 rule but on polarised running (no running at medium intensity: just low-intensity and high-intensity training), it kind of makes sense and his argument is pretty compelling: running mostly slowly will allow you to enjoy it more, but it will also give you the capacity to run more. He then makes the case that high volumes of running condition your body to refine and optimise the act of running (like playing scales on the piano) thus making the high-intensity training more efficient. One thing that he mentions though is that it only works if you train really hard in the 20%.

I can’t really go much more into the details because it is very technical and even a bit boring at times. To be honest, I’m happy the book was sprinkled with anecdotes because it is sometimes particularly abstruse. I read it a year ago, and even now that I have more knowledge about running than back then, I still think this book is too technical for me. The last third of the book is all about how to build your training plan based on his rules and his training plan templates. Boring.

I still learned a few things:

  • It is a good thing to monitor your Heart Rate (HR) while training. Although I learned the hard way that if you do that, you must imperatively adjust your HR zones precisely. It is also better to calculate your HR zones based on HR reserve rather than % of max HR. The book explains how to do it, but then again it does so in a very technical and boring manner.
  • If you decide to train based on HR zones, it is better to pace yourself using the HR monitor for slow runs (psychologically you’ll tend to respect the upper HR limit) and using pace for faster runs (you’ll tend to try and runs faster than the target pace, which isn’t a bad thing for high-intensity sessions).
  • Matt Fitzgerald is right: running slow is really enjoyable. Now I can’t wait for Sundays and my long runs!

As a conclusion, this book, like any book about running, couldn’t possibly be better than ‘Born to Run’ (because I loved it so much). All the same, I was expecting it to teach me a lot but it was just too technical for me – however it will certainly suit very well to more advanced runners.