QT: An Honest Assessment After Running 80/20 for the Past Year

If you’ve been paying attention to anything I’ve been saying for the past year, you know that I’ve really embraced the idea of 80/20 Running.

80/20 Running, Running 80/20

80/20 Running

If you’re not familiar with running 80/20, it’s really pretty simple:

  • 80% of your training volume should be easy
  • 20% of your training volume should be moderate/hard

Like I said, simple right?

The Devil, as Always, is In the Details


Come on Phil…

Determining “easy” can be a bit tricky, and the success of implementation of the 80/20 running philosophy hinges on having pretty good idea of what easy running is.

On the surface, it shouldn’t be that difficult. You’re either running at an effort that feels easy or you’re not, right? 

Not necessarily. 

If you’re like many runners, and I was certainly in this camp for the first 4+ years of my running “career”, you probably do your easy runs too hard and your hard runs too easy.

And that means that what feels like an easy pace to you, if we look objectively at your “stats”, is probably harder than it should be.

So learning to slow down a bit and becoming comfortable running easy is the first step to finding success with running 80/20.

My Year of Running 80/20

What have I learned after a year of running 80/20?

A few things. Such as:

Patience is a Virtue

If you want to improve as a runner, by pretty much any measurable metric, I believe that 80/20 running will help you.

That said, running 80/20 isn’t a miracle cure for your running ails.

In all honesty, I believe that I’m only now starting to see the impact of all of the easy running that I’ve done over the past year. And I don’t think I’ll see the true fruits of this training style for another 2-3 years.

If you’re looking for instant “gratification” by switching to an 80/20 running style you’re going to be disappointed.

Running 80/20 Requires Patience

The 20 is Really Important

Admittedly, I’ve talked a lot in the past year about the importance of easy running.

Running easy, most of the time, is really important.

You know what else is important? Dropping the fucking hammer the other 20% of the time!

If you aren’t hammering your hard efforts, you are limiting the effectiveness of your training.

If you’re running quarter mile repeats, which are admittedly one of my least favorite workouts, your legs better be Jello when the last repeat is finished.

For your last tempo mile, your lungs need to be on fire and your heart needs to be pounding.

When you’re supposed to be working hard you better be working hard.

The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

Keeping track of your ratios of easy and hard running is important, but don’t worry about getting bogged down in the data.

I monitor my weekly ratio and my year to date ratio, and the latter is much more important the former.

On any given week, my percentages have varied. I’ve had weeks where 100% of my running has been easy. On the flip side, I’ve had one week where I only spent 66% of my training time in the easy zone and many weeks where I’ve been in the mid-70s.

But overall, since the second week of January, the running total of my training intensity has been 77-84% easy.

I’ll be curious to see what my running total percentages are after 2 years, but I would be shocked if they are outside of the range that already seems to be firmly established.

Will I have weeks outside of that range? Absolutely. But running 80/20 is about the big picture, and after a year I’m about as close to spot on as one could hope to be.

Ready to Try Running 80/20?

You Can Do It

If you’re on the fence about running 80/20, I’d definitely encourage you to give it a shot.

It’s an adjustment, but in my experience I think that the adjustment is beyond worth it. And I honestly can’t wait to see what my running looks like after another year of running 80/20.

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about some of the science behind the benefits of running 80/20, check out my interview with Matt Fitzgerald from last year and/or get the book and give it a read.

And if you have any questions about 80/20 running that you think I can answer, just leave a comment down below and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction!

An honest look at 80/20 #running after following the plan for a year. #runchat #runnerds Click To Tweet

Have You Tried 80/20 Running or Heart Rate Training Before? What Are Your Thoughts?

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33 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I too have firmly embraced this 80/20 method – and I can’t say I’ve been perfect at it, but I’m trying. With race season about to kick in, we will see soon enough if I am inching closer to my goal.

    I was going to post on Monday in the FB group about 80/20 so this is quite timely for me.

  2. Suzanne Jones
    Suzanne Jones says:

    Finally took a few minutes to listen to this one! Very interesting. Gonna buy the book & give it a whirl! Thanks Cuz.

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      I’m telling you Josh, it’s the best thing I’ve done for my running. If you have any questions on it once you’re into the book, just let me know!

  3. Christian D.
    Christian D. says:

    I’ve determined this is the way I want to train and have read the book. However I don’t remember reading in the book about how one should do off season training. I’m creating my own plan, for better or for worse, but I’d love to hear what others would suggest for off season. My plan now is to do 85 to 90% slow and the other fast. MAF, running slow all the time, hasn’t been productive in my mind (not saying it doesn’t have it’s application).


    • Denny
      Denny says:

      I think that’s the perfect plan Christian. With 80/20, I don’t think you do a dramatically different training cycle vs off season. You might pull back the high intensity slightly, but I’d still recommend doing a little bit of hard running and keeping the bulk of it lite. Sounds like that’s what you’re doing. If you ever have any issues that crop up, please reach out man. I’m always happy to help!

  4. Henrik Olsen
    Henrik Olsen says:

    Late into to this. Thanks for your word at this site. Bought the Matt book, and find it very explaining. 2018 is in the name of the 80/20, so I hope it will work for me too. Very easy to read. Very easy to understand how to plan your training at Any level. Happy New year

    The danish runner

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      I’ve tweaked things a bit, I’m probably a bit closer to 90/10 or even 95/5. Though I don’t really track it as diligently as I was a few years ago.

      I’m all in on the value of HR training. I’ve adopted a bit more of the Maffetone model (doing almost every run at an easy HR level) and it’s working! Just PRd in the marathon one week after running another marathon. No injuries. Feel strong. Looking forward to continuing to train smarter and not harder for many more years!

  5. Boyd Gentry
    Boyd Gentry says:

    Has anyone converted this to Zwift running workouts? HR-based zwift workouts for the 80/20 plans are on TrainingPeaks, but Zwift won’t import them, at least as of October, 2019.

  6. Ian
    Ian says:

    Interesting to see euouve changed more to easy running.I have run just easy,apart from races,for the last 18 months and dropped my marathon time from 3:55 to 3:07,what surprised me more is my 5k time sropped from just on 20mins down to 17:35.
    Easy running means less time injured and a great aerobic base.

  7. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I just finished 80/20 Running and came to the internet to seek support…I’m totally in, I’m onboard. But, I can’t figure out how to apply the principles to a marathon plan I can follow easily. I don’t have a desire to run with a heart rate monitor and track my zones. You said it…. “Keeping track of your ratios of easy and hard running is important, but don’t worry about getting bogged down in the data.” I can do the ratios but the plans included in the book are so detailed & specific and I have to ceos reference his run descriptions. How can I create a plan from the data that I can actually follow? This is my fourth marathon cycle, I’ve had success and im somewhat experienced in training. I didn’t expect reading the book and being made confused and unsure. Thank you!

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      Hey Sarah–

      Sorry things are so confusing with the 80/20 stuff, it really doesn’t have to be that complicated, I promise!

      When it comes to creating a plan, my vote is to keep it as simple as possible. Plan to run easy the majority of the time (at least 80%, right? hehe). As such, the bulk of your runs should be at an easy effort. Don’t worry about exact zones or paces or things of that nature. Run easy, which should be a pace where you can comfortably carry on a conversation while you’re running, and you’ll be fine. (For the record, getting a heart rate monitor is, without question, the best option since many runners have a tendency to think they are running easy when their HR tells another story.)

      As far as the hard runs, mix in one every week or two and really push the effort. As for what workout is best? I’m of the belief that for most runners there isn’t much of a difference between speed repeats, tempo runs, and various other hard workouts. Yes, there is a subtle difference. But to keep it simple, just mix in a couple of different workouts over the training cycle.

      Last thought, my favorite (and in my opinion, most beneficial) hard workout is the fast finish long run. I’d definitely encourage you to do that workout a couple of times in the training cycle.

      Any other questions? Please let me know! Always happy to try to help!

  8. Rhiannon
    Rhiannon says:

    I’ve toyed around with the 80/20 running and did fairly well sticking to it for about 3 months, but then became impatient. I’m looking at it again as a way to train. I have a chest heart monitor and an app that helps me train in and keep track of the zones. My biggest question relates to the fact that I am a *slow*, like think of a sloth, runner. In January I ran a 5K and my pace was 12:30. The fastest I’ve run a 5K was 5 years ago at a 10:30 pace. My goal is to get back down to that, as well as running longer distances, but I seem to be stuck in the 12’s/mile. To run in my zones, I’m incredibly slow. Like, really a walking pace for many. That is why I became impatient. I can barely even “run” when doing the 80%. In fact, I live in a hilly area and even walking up many hills my heart rate gets up in the upper zone 3 range. Right now I’m using a Hal Higdon plan to prepare for a 10K, that ended up cancelled, but I’m going to keep on training for fall races now. Any words of encouragement? Is there anyone out there that started out slow as molasses and has increased their pace using the 80/20?

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      80/20, or any other heart rate-based training philosophy, isn’t a quick fix. I know it can be frustrating, especially living in a hilly area, but if you stick with it longer than just a few months you will definitely see improvement.

      And when it comes to your pace, I know it’s hard but try to stop comparing to others. You gotta do what you gotta do for YOU! If that means slowing down your run, even to a walk, to keep your HR where it is supposed to be, do it! As your fitness improves (talking months, not weeks), you’ll gradually find yourself running more, and running faster, with your HR staying in the appropriate zones.

      Good luck! And if you have any further questions, please let me know!

  9. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    I’m 5 weeks in to the level 2 10k run program in the 80/20 book. I think I’m getting worse at running. I’m not sure that I’ve calculated my zones right. Prior to this program most of my runs were performed between an 8:30 and 9:15 min/mile pace. Now, in order to keep my heart rate low enough during all the easy runs I’m going an average of 11:30. I don’t feel fatigued after running (unless it’s one of the long runs – 6+ miles). Here’s what I can’t reconcile in my understanding of the program and how damn slow I’m running now. My most recent 5k race was 23:51. When I plug that time into the McMillan calculator, or even the 80/20 calculator, it gives me pace zones that don’t match up with my heart rate zones. As far as I can tell I’m either a bad ass and can handle some serious fatigue while running hard, or I’m doing something very wrong in my calculation. Is it unreasonable to calculate my zones based of of an estimated 172 LTHR?

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      Thanks for the note Jamie. I’m not sure I follow your question completely, but it sounds like you’re struggling with slowing down just like most people do when they get started on some type of easy running protocol.

      The one thing I’d stress to you, based on your question, is to remember that pace zones and heart rate zones aren’t often going to line up. Meaning, there are days when you might run 10 minute pace at HR X, and the next day you might be at 11:30 pace at the same HR. With 80/20, you want to make sure you’re training at the right level of effort, aka HR zone, regardless of what your pace is.

      Stick with the slower pace/lower HR for most of your runs, and my bet is you’ll see the payoff on race day for sure!

  10. Geoff Sumner
    Geoff Sumner says:

    I have been aware of 80/20 since reading Fitzgerald’s book a few years ago and loosely followed the principles. I started a more disciplined approach 8 weeks ago and have managed 76/24% overall. At age 73 recovery is often my issue but I am now regularly achieving 4 runs per week. I now want to improve my 5k performance. My test runs indicate that I have still maintained my 5k “pre-80/20” times around 24:30 to 25:00 mins which is very encouraging but I want to kick on and target 23 minute territory. I can run 5k’s under 5:00 mins/km and regularly run 10 x 200m intervals at an average of 4:10/km pace but I don’t seem to have the leg speed to go much faster than that ! I am tempted to inject more speed work (possibly 1 week per month ?).

    I would appreciate your advice…….Geoff

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      I’d hesitate to advise more speed work Geoff, though it’s hard to get a full picture of your current fitness from just this little note. I think for most runners, quality over quantity in terms of high-intensity work is the better option. And if you’re already feeling like recovery is an area where you struggle, I wonder if you might see more benefit from going with less intensity overall (maybe aiming for more of a 90/10 than 80/20 balance).

      Pretty sure that’s not the answer you wanted to hear, but maybe it’s the answer you need? Would love to hear how things go for you over the next few months, and good luck working toward that 23 minute 5k!

  11. Tom Sullivan
    Tom Sullivan says:

    I have loosely followed the 80/20 principle for the last year or so after reading an article in Runners World. However as the lockdown has stopped all the races I decided to take it seriously and bought the book and I have been following the 5k level 2 programme. I needed to take it a bit easy after training for an April marathon this year that was cancelled after the restrictions were introduced. I did a couple of virtual 5ks in June and managed a 24′ 30″ before changing over to the 5k plan in the book. Well the completion of the plan is this Sunday 6th Sept and I am going to set the Garmin to km and see what my time is for the 5k. I’m not expecting to to improve my time but I’ll be interested to see what it is. Like Geoff I am an older runner at age 71. I’ll post my time here if that’s ok.

  12. Jeremy Rutherford
    Jeremy Rutherford says:

    Hi Denny,

    An awesome and informative summary mate! There’s some good takeaways/support for those embarking on the journey – which you point out can be tough when slowing down to a relative excruciatingly slow pace for some Zone X runners (like ex-me!). I am in the first month and absolutely loving it!!! Its amazing the power of the mind – I always told myself “there’s no way you can run slower than 9min/miles without dragging your feet/feeling like walking” and after Week 1 of the 80/20 “cleanse”, I was rid of that mentality and loving the new pace. It definitely comes with its frustrations with your watch beeping at you if you flow over zones and if you’re having a bad running day for HR, but as you say worth it.

    ANYWAY I have an interest question – mainly because people are really focused on Zone 4/5 PB times results rather than more LT general effects in the lower/easy ranges. How long approximately did it take you to be able to notice an improved capacity in HR to run easy runs and slightly faster Zone1/2 (lets say a min/mile quicker)? Currently sitting at around 9min/miles in Z1/2 as a relatively fit person and wouldn’t mind having a ball park idea!! Everyone is different, but I think its reassuring to find some things to looking forward to on others experience.

    Thanks in advance for reading this long winded reply!!

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      Glad you’re enjoying the 80/20 world so far Jeremy, and exciting that you’re already feeling better about slowing down so quickly!

      For me, I feel like it took 2-3 months to really feel like things were making a difference. But now that I can look back with even more perspective, I’m convinced that the longer you stick with it the more powerful the impacts are! My “easy” pace is still a bit slower than I wish it was (typically high 9s/low 10s per mile), but I’m feeling stronger than ever while also running more miles than ever. And if/when I still want to throw down a hard effort? The speed is still there, but the ability to maintain that harder effort for longer is better than it’s ever been.

      This stuff definitely works. And the longer you follow it, the more it seems to work!

  13. Jaiveer Grewal
    Jaiveer Grewal says:

    Hi, Thanks for the wonderful tips. I m a new runner. started in the summer without any specific plan and started running all out and increase times. After some research, started running slow to build aerobic base. currently running slow easy pace for a period of 3 months. After that will start incorporating 80/20 rule by doing tempo runs once a week, hills once a week, intervals once a week. The rest of the runs will remain easy. Does this plan sound ok? or should I wait more than 3 months before starting speed work?

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      Good on you for slowing down and focusing on doing a nice period of easy running to really build your base. That’s a great thing for a newer runner to do!

      If I’m reading your question correctly, it sounds like you’re thinking about doing a tempo run, a hill workout, and intervals each week? If so, that sounds like too much! If, however, your plan is to rotate one of those type of runs each week, then it sounds spot on to me.

      Good luck, and if you have any further questions please let me know!

      • Jaiveer Grewal
        Jaiveer Grewal says:

        Sorry about the confusion. Yes plan on doing one speed work per week only and rotate them. Thanks for providing the feedback.


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