How to run less and still get faster

Strapped for time? Endurance running coach Tom Craggs offers these simple steps to help you run less but still be at your best.

How to run less and still get faster

When approaching a long-distance race, such as a marathon, the most obvious move is to add an extra run into your week. Spending more ‘time on your feet’ helps to build capillary density, mitochondria and increase the ability of your muscles to sustain the pace for longer.

However, just adding more miles into your routine isn’t always the most efficient approach to chasing PBs. For runners with busy lives, it can become a case of the law of diminishing returns. How many of us really have the time (and strength) to run 100 miles a week without losing your job, neglecting your family or picking up an injury?

By mixing training methods and intensities, and taking a more balanced approach to running, less can be more. If you work a range of different types of training sessions into your week, you will see faster gains for less training time and still achieve that elusive PB.

Lactate threshold

Add a weekly run into your routine, where you work around ‘lactate threshold effort’. Start by running for 40 minutes and including 4 x 5 minutes at an effort where you could only speak four words or so to a training partner, with a two-minute jog between each effort. As the weeks go by, extend this to 5 x 5, 3 x 10 or even long blocks of up to 20 minutes at this effort.


Run faster interval-training sessions, with blocks of harder running of between three and five minutes around 5K pace – helping to train your body’s running economy and speed endurance. A great way to start would be 6 x 3 minutes at your current 5K pace, with 90 seconds recovery.

Cross training

Cross training can be a highly effective way of getting fitter and faster, while maintaining less miles in the legs. Before adding that extra run, consider if a cross-training session of swimming, cycling or rowing might give you the same benefits without the impact of another run – your heart and lungs won’t know the difference. Click here for more info on the benefits of cross training.

Rest is best

Recovery is a vital part of the training mix. When you rest and recover, your body repairs and rebuilds damaged muscle fibres, becoming stronger and reducing your risk of injury. Rest allows you to replace energy stores to ensure the quality of training is maintained.

You should also avoid running back-to-back hard interval sessions or long runs at marathon pace or faster. Build in a minimum of one complete day’s rest a week and ensure that your easier running is just that – genuinely easy.

Strength training

Appropriate strength and conditioning allows runners to hold their posture and ‘form’, develop a more efficient, dynamic foot strike and recruit more muscle fibres when your legs start to fatigue. Start by adding a simple routine of planks, side planks, bridges, lunges, single leg squats and press-ups into your routine. It’s also worth considering a yoga or Pilates class to improve your balance and flexibility.

When less IS less

With clever training, you can achieve a lot in limited time, but there is still no substitute for running. Improvement always comes from testing the boundaries of your fitness and without doubt training volumes are a crucial aspect of running. The key is to find the mix that is right for you. Look hard at your training and ask yourself if you are balancing quality with quantity.

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