Matt Fitzgerald 80-20 Running Book Review
By Ryan Light, Running/Anxiety Coach
Matt Fitzgerald presents some interesting new ideas in his book, the 80-20 Running. He advises that marathon runners should actually not train in a conventional manner, but should instead perform 80 percent of it at a slow and steady pace, while the remaining 20 percent of the training sessions should be spent training at a medium to high intensity.
80-20 Running a Change in how you think (and train)
This is definitely not the norm, and it’s a fresh new take on an old subject. Slowing down definitely seems counter-intuitive here, but is it really? Turns out that this is actually a more optimal way to train, because your body doesn’t get that exhausted from it, meaning you will be able to finish the run in less time when really needed, and perhaps even break a personal record. There are some people who actually enjoy training at high intensity, but some don’t. For the latter group, knowing that you don’t always have to push your limits when training, that’s definitely some good news. There are some additional downsides to pushing yourself too hard, one of them being the fact that a lot of high-intensity training sessions result in more injuries, and you definitely won’t get any faster with that. Matt Fitzgerald tends to base his low intensity training advice on the recent scientific findings that seem to suggest the same. By avoiding the risk of injury that comes with training at high intensity, you also lessen the chances of getting burned out. Matt Fitzgerald wasn’t the one who came out with the concept, and he does base a lot of the book on the findings of Stephen Seiler, a sports scientist. Through years of analysis, he observed the commonalities and patterns of the world’s most prominent athletes. No matter what kind of sports-based activity they engaged in, he noticed that all of them shared a similar pattern of high and low intensity intervals, which he later named the 80-20 principle.
The 80-20 Running book is composed of multiple chapters, and goes in great detail about how each exercise should be structured, so it’s definitely worth a read even if you’re already familiar with its main point. The great thing is that he doesn’t only tell you what you should be doing, but also gives you a scientific background as to why this works. While reading, you might encounter some peculiar expressions like ‘respiratory compensation threshold‘ that may confuse even the most experienced runners out there, but Matt Fitzgerald really does a great job at explaining them, so you will always be able to follow what’s going on at the moment. The result is a book that not only promises results, but also delivers them as long as the reader is prepared to follow up on the newly-learned concepts and methods.
To give a realistic example what qualifies as a low intensity run, the book simply explains it as the type of run that you can combine with having a normal conversation without gasping for words. High intensity run would be something that makes your breathing difficult. That’s all there is to it. Simple Right? Matt Fitzgerald mildly criticizes runners giving too much effort into their workout sessions, meaning that they keep lingering somewhere between these two extremes. What they should be doing instead is avoid the middle ground, and either give it everything they got in 20 percent of the time, while the remaining 80 percent should really only be slow-paced running, which sounds easier to do on paper than in practice.
Compared to the 50/50 systems, those who follow the 80-20 rule can run more volume than any other runners. More volume definitely has a positive effect on one’s aerobic capacity, which means an increased ability to sustain the speed of running even when running longer distances. A very interesting thing is that Matt Fitzgerald criticizes the idea that the aerobic capacity can be increased indefinitely. According to him, it cannot, therefore you will need to improve in other areas if you’re aiming to go beyond your previous results. An example would be acquiring more mental toughness, instead of physical one, or simply bettering your running economy. As a matter of fact, he likes to promote the idea that runners should run with the least amount of mental strain possible, which is something that a lot of them don’t even think about.
Another benefit of training for running a marathon or a half marathon at slower speeds is simply the fact that you will be able to run more miles without breaking down. Not that this is a new concept, but a lot of runners chose not to believe it because of the lack of evidence, which has now changed significantly. In the 80’s, which is an era known for sub-par results in the American world of running, runners were focusing much more on quality of their training and neglecting quantity, which is why their results looked that way.
All levels of Running
Although 80-20 Running is focused on beginners above everyone else, it really should be noted that everyone can get something beneficial out of the book. You will get useful information like how to prepare for a 5K or a regular marathon, and even goes into details like cross-training and the history of running, which all nicely ties it together. At the end of the day, results are the most important thing, and if you’re looking for a new way to train or simply a path out of the darkness that will help you achieve the long-desired results as soon as possible, you should definitely give it a good read. While true that the science behind running is constantly evolving, 80-20 Running greatly sums up the most effective running methods of the current day and age.
All in all, Matt Fitzgerald introduces the perfect connection between the technical world of science and practical application, all while explaining it in simple terms that are perfectly understandable to any reader, which is something that not a lot of authors are capable of doing. If you’re only interested in results, however, it does need to be noted that the book spends a lot of time explaining the science behind the running, which may get a little long-winded if science doesn’t particularly intrigue you. But apart from that, this is clearly an excellent read.