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80/20 Running – Run Faster by Training Slower


Woooh, this year has been productive so far! Even more so when I find myself consistently running into books (pun intended) that totally revolutionise the way I approach my training and coach others to approach theirs.

This time, the revolutionary book I read is about running and, more importantly, running much faster.

Don’t be too quick to judge it by the pretty optimistic, to say the least, title of ‘80/20 running – run stronger and race faster by training slower’.

It’s apparent that Pareto’s efficiency (the 80/20 rule) has become a dead horse that’s consistently beaten by authors and entrepreneurs of our age. For those who are still new to this principle born from and beloved by economists, the Wilfredo Pareto efficiency states that 80% of results (e.g. profit, outcomes, positive or negative results) can always be assigned to just 20% of factors. However the running advice in this book is about more than just applying Pareto’s 80/20 rule to your running routine.

The basic premise is that you can run at high intensity for just 20% of the training time you spend on running and that this is enough to help you become faster. The remaining 80%? You should allocate to very–and I do mean very–slow running (HR zone 1, 2 if you’re lucky).

Ok ok I know this sounds a bit too unrealistic and quite simplistic, but Matt (the book’s author) lists quite a few studies, as well as anecdotal evidence, on why this approach works.

To put it simply:

  • The split between training at low intensity vs high intensity comes to about 50/50 among general population
  • The majority of pro athletes in the fields of swimming, rowing, running and more train at 80/20. Most of them don’t even know they’re following a rule – this split in training just comes out naturally.
  • Spending 80% of running time on super slow running allows athletes to run almost every day by minimising injuries and maximising recovery rates. Furthermore, these enduring runs build grit. A key reason why people who spend more time out on the trails tend to also be faster and run unstoppably is their higher tolerance for pain and suffering. The brain becomes conditioned to sustaining the resistance and pain of constant movement, which can only be achieved through constant and long exposures to a slow, high impact sport – such as running.
  • The 20% of running time spent on very high-intensity runs (think: sprints, interval training, speed trials runs) then gets the athlete building up their speed which leads to progress in lower intensity runs as well. If you still think doing sprint workouts 3 times a week is good, Matt lays out a convincing argument to think otherwise: based on study data, speed training 3 times vs 1 time a week stunted the progress in sample athletes and produced worse results for their running than not doing any high intensity training at all.


And that’s the jist of it.

There’s another takeaway I found extremely useful:

  • Matt lists the 7 best cross-training activities for runners. These are the low impact activities you want to do if you are injured or want to switch up your lower intensity training routine. In order from the best activity to the not so good:
    • Antigravity treadmill running
    • Bicycling
    • Outdoor Elliptical Biking
    • Indoor Elliptical Training
    • Pool Running
    • Slideboarding
    • Uphill Treadmill Walking


As is by now typical for a book about running, this one also contains detailed workout plans and training schedules. What I like about these is that they are split into categories based on the type of challenge you’re training for. Let’s say you were training for a short 5k, you’d need to focus more on the quality of your high intensity interval running. A 10k and beyond on the other hand, requires you to prioritise the lower-intensity, slower runs. This is probably nothing new to you: the bigger the race, the better prepared your body has to be in order to sustain the effort and endure it.

As a parting thought, I’d like to mention that this book is based on and follows the original Arthur Lydiard’s training approach with increased mileage in mind. It goes against the Crossfit Endurance approach (check our review of the Unbreakable Runner book on CFE) which puts focus on short spurts of activity rather than collecting long hours out on the trails.

Because of the polar differences in training methodologies, my personal take is to experiment as much as possible to figure out your individual minimal effective way to train. I think taking some of the 80/20 running advice and combining it with CFE might be the perfect combo for not just improving your running, but also your performance in obstacle course races. Which is what we’re here for after all.

Nonetheless, any runner will find this book helpful.

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