Looking Beyond the One-Size-Fits-All Marathon Training Plan: Finding an Individualized Approach that Works

cross fit endurance marathon scheduleWhat’s the issue with “proprietary systems” and “secret training methods”? Besides being absurd, it’s often that they try mold basic training principles to fit their system. For example. Outside magazine recently published a piece that outlined CrossFit Endurance’s 12-week marathon training schedule. If you’re interested, here is the full schedule.

While I don’t want this to be an article that focuses on CrossFit endurance specifically, it’s hard to ignore just how ridiculous this schedule is. The longest run is 10 miles (which is run as fast as you can), has a 15k time trial the weekend before the race, and includes a grand total of about 15 miles per week of running. I pity the runner who attempts to actually use this schedule…ok, I’m done digressing.

Rather, the point of this rant is: Why does every “system” have to be the “only way” to do something?

Don’t buy into the hype that one way of training is the “only way” to train. Whether it be an entire philosophy, like running, CrossFit, the paleo diet, and even barefoot running. Each has their merits and may or may not be right for you and the goals you’re looking to accomplish.

Thoughts about crossfit marathon training

I’ll be the first to admit, if you want to get stronger, lose weight and get the satisfaction that comes with going all-out on every workout, CrossFit is a great system.

The workouts are very difficult and, if overall fitness and weight loss are your goals, the science backs up the training philosophy. But science clearly doesn’t support it as the optimal (or even a good) way to train for the marathon. Then why pretend that it does?

I would never tell someone whose goals were to increase their squat max and gain 15 pounds of muscle that running was the best form of training. That’s just not physiologically correct. So, why would someone attempt to advise runners that Olympic lifts and Tabata sprints are the best way to train for the marathon? It’s disingenuous and, sorry Brian MacKenzie, it makes you look like a fool.

Is there a correct running distance for marathon training?

I get into this argument  frequently around the topic of long runs. I’ve written extensively about why I don’t see the need for most runners to run longer than 20 miles in marathon training. However, that doesn’t mean I think it’s the only way to approach marathon training.

Many who’ve read our marathon eBook are surprised that our coaches frequently assign athletes we coach long runs of 22 miles. For many, it’s the next logical step in their development, and their previous training has shown they can handle it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve read on countless message boards that marathoners “must run at least 20 miles in training.” While I think that marathoners can run shorter distances depending on their condition, it would be just as detrimental for me to say that they must run no longer than 16 miles, because a mandated number for every person is an incorrect approach.

Instead, if there is one thing I’ve learned from being around some of the  best coaches in the U.S., it’s that they are all eager to learn, especially from other sports and disciplines.

The best approach to training is an open mind

You’ll never find the best coaches hiding away in some secret training facility preaching their method as they “only way.” Instead, you’ll see them at every major conference, attending seminars, and broadening their scope of knowledge.

More importantly, good coaches apply the lessons they’ve learned from other sports and coaches outside their own fraternity.

For example, Scott Simmons, coach at the American Distance Project, noticed football players putting their hands in mini chambers while on the sidelines on hot days. He started investigating why and quickly learned that research on power lifters at Stanford University found that cooling the palms of the hands is one of the most efficient ways to drop core body temperature. Simmons then went on to develop a lightweight, hand-held device that can help pre-cool a runner’s body and unlike traditional ice vests, was also something they could hold while running.

Will this revolutionize racing in the heat? Maybe, maybe not. But, Simmons is certainly keeping an open mind.

Final thoughts

It is important to realize there is no foolproof training method that works for everyone.

Certainly, there are some scientifically proven physiological truths, like to get better at running you actually need to do a little running (surprise). However, any coach or runner who tells you “my way is the only way” and can’t back it up with actual science or at least some physiological merit is a buffoon.

Keep an open mind and keep learning!

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