Coach Jeff

Written by Coach Jeff


Elite Training- Marathon Specific Phase


This is two weeks from my build up to the 2008 USA Olympic Trials marathon held on November 3, 2007.  Perhaps someday I’ll write an article about why a race called the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials was held in 2007 but I’ll leave it alone for now.

This is two back-to-back weeks that made up the heart of my prep for that race.  The weeks before were not as impressive and they were basically build-up sessions to these weeks.

The week after was a rest week that finished with a half marathon race.  I struggled in that race as I was still flat from these two weeks.  I followed that with another down week to continue to recover from these workouts and the half marathon race. After that was about 10 days of heavy training to put the finally edge on things before tapering for two weeks leading into the Trials themselves.

The Training:

Training September 17 to 23


Off sick


AM: Noon rd. and trail 9 in tewks solo easy, 56:28 tot. 9
PM rd. and trail 8 solo shakeout in tewks, 58:47 tot. 8


AM:Noon rd. and trail 10 solo in tewks, 1:01:27 easy, congestion starting to clear up tot. 10
PM 8 shakeout solo in tewks, 1:02:06 tot. 8


AM:Noon at mines falls, 3 w/up (23:30) Progression run around factory loop, lap 1- 12:49, lap 2-12:30(25:19), lap 3-12:09(37:29), lap 4-11:47(49:17) straight only-4:08(on last lap I went 4:18 to this point) 53:25, 2 min rest  2 c/down tot. 15+

PM 8 solo shakeout in tewks, 1:00:16, tot. 8


AM: rd. and trail 8 solo shakeout in tewks, 59:40 tot. 8
PM trail 8+ shakeout at mines falls w/ Shannon, 1:04:30 tot. 8


AM: 3+ w/up, 24:30, 2x10k on Tewks 2.1 mile loop(lightly rolling), first 10k 35:15, 1:28 rest w/ 1/10th a mile jog, a bit of water and a quick stretch, 10k in 31:19 (splits 5:06, 5:01, 5:01(15:39 5k), 4:53, 5:03, 5:11) bad side stitch the last two miles hence the slow down on the plus side other then the stitch running 5:11 felt like a walk if you’d asked me what pace I was running I would have guessed 6 mins. 1- c/down 7:48, it was warm 75 or so tot. 16.5 4:10

PM 3 w/up, 22:30, warm again 80, 2x10k on same tewks 2.1 loop, 1st 10k 34:46, 1:58 rest, little water, light stretch 1/10th mile jog, 2nd 10k 31:28  (splits 5:06, 5:06, 5:03 (15:47 5k) 5:00, 5:05, 5:04), 51 second rest, 1 mile c/down, 8:01 tot. 16.5


AM: rd. and trail 6 solo shakeout, 45:52, tot.6
PM rd. and trail 6 solo shakeout, 47:43, tot. 6


122 miles, two real good workouts. I measured the factory loop and the progression run was a little over 10 miles and I averaged about 5:09 a mile so that is a real solid effort and the super compensation workout on Saturday went great.

Training for September 24 to 30


AM rd. and trail 10 in tewks solo, 1:01:36 tot. 10
Noon ART and chiro adjustment
PM rd. and trail 8 shakeout w/ Shannon in tewks, 1:04:55 tot. 8


AM: rd. and trail 9 solo in tewks, easy 55:17 tot. 9
PM rd. 8 solo shakeout in tewks, 1:04:06 tot. 8


AM: at mines falls, 3 w/up 22:40, factory loop progression run, 14.25 miles (6 loops), splits 13:32, 13:15(26:47), 12:50(39:38), 12:32(52:10 ten second stop on that lap to tie shoe included in that time), 11:54(1:04:04) 11:35(1:15:40), 2 mins rest then 12:09 c/down, very hot, 80 degrees despite early start tot.19

PM woods 8 shakeout w/ the umass Lowell girls, 1:05:10 hot 90 degrees
plus tot. 8


AM:rd. and trail 10 solo in tewks, 59:57 tot. 10
PM rd. and trail 8 solo shakeout in tewks, 1:04:10 tot. 8


AM: in tewksbury on 2.1 loop, very warm again 75plus w/ humidity, 3 w/up 24:30, 3×4.1 miles at goal mp w/ half mile jog rest, 20:47(5:12, 10:11(4:59), 5K 15:46(5:02), 5:01. half mile in 2:45 rest, 4.1 in 20:39(5:00, 10:03(5:03), 5K
15:37 (5:01), 5:02, half rest in 2:41, 4.1 in 20:40 (5:00, 10:04(5:04), 5k 15:37(5:01), 5:03, 2 mins standing rest then ¾ mile w/down. This loop is lightly rolling tot. 16

PM at mines falls 3 ¾ w/up 10 x 9 second hills jog down rest, nice to get back to these, I’ve been worried about adding them in before the achilles was strong enough but it was fine, 3 ½ c/down tot. 8


AM: 8+ solo shakeout in Keene, NH on rail road tracks, 1:03:09 tot. 8
PM woods 8 solo shakeout in Lowell, 1:00:16 tot. 8


AM: just over 1 mile w/up at 8 min pace then just over 40 km (40.11) at
between 90% and 95% of marathon pace on a very very hilly loop
(2:16:56), ran four 9.25 km loop and finished w/ a loop that was just over
3km loop splits (32:09, 31:18, 31:08, 31:37,(3.11k in 10:41) my average
pace was 5:29.65 a mile (3:24.8 a kilometer) oh ya, I almost forgot 40.11
km is 24.92 miles tot. 26


146 miles for the week with three very good workouts/hard efforts. This was as good a week training as I have ever had.

What you can learn from this training

The idea that we are trying to reveal with these elite training articles is being inspired by the trainings posted, not just copying them directly as prescribed. Likewise, you shouldn’t sign up for marathon training with Nate Jenkins expecting this type of training in your schedule. This training has been designed for somebody who has had a mileage of over 100 miles a week for more than 5 years and is trying to prepare for the Olympic Trials held in 6 weeks. Hard, risky, and shouldn’t be tried at home.

You can definitely learn a lot by taking a look at elites’ logs, their training, their feelings towards the workouts, or their plan of attack. You can use and incorporate their workouts to your training if something works for you, but above all, they will make you want to keep running and keep getting better.


This is two weeks of specific training for a marathon, which is why you see 5 workouts in those two weeks.  Of those 5 workouts 3 are very marathon specific and 2 are hour plus long progression runs that average about 90% marathon pace, which is to say not truly specific but still very close.  When you want to run a great race it is critical that in the final hard training leading up to the event you are doing work that is focused on teaching your body to handle the specific rigors of your race.

I like to think of it like building a house in Colonial times.  First you need materials – you can’t go out and buy the materials, you need to find them, make them, work to acquire them.  For most of your year a majority of your training time should be spent acquiring materials. Regardless of your ability level, these materials are always the same –  speed, high aerobic threshold, aerobic endurance, muscular endurance etc. However, when you’re getting ready to build to a certain type of race you may need to get more of one type of material then another in your ‘base phase’  – for example more mileage for a marathon and more speed for a 5k.

This gathering of specialized materials is the specific phase. In a marathon specific phase,  all of your serious workouts should be marathon specific workouts – a workout where the main body of work is run at 95 to 105% of marathon pace.  You may do other work within the workout to tire yourself out or soften your body up for the marathon pace work. but the focus of the workouts should be to teach your body to run for a long time at your goal pace and to teach your body to run at your goal pace when you are very tired and have very little glycogen left in your system.

I think the most common mistake that I have seen runners make is that they don’t prepare themselves well enough for the specific race distance they are going to be running. They are definitely fit, and they’ve included all sorts of workouts in their training, but they didn’t focus on the marathon itself. Rather, if they were participating in a 10K or a half marathon with that same training, they would have nailed it.

A quick review of their training shows they didn’t prepare themselves for the specific demands of the race. They did some incredible 10k workouts or even half marathon workouts and some great steady long runs. Heck, if on race day they had been in a 10k or half marathon they would have run fantastic.  However, the goal was to run a great marathon – not a good 10k or half marathon.

You always need to be thinking about what you are teaching your body to do with each hard effort.  It isn’t to say there is no truth to the idea that teaching your body to run 6 x 1 mile at a very fast pace won’t make your goal marathon pace feel easier.  It is to say that workouts with that focus should be run more than 8 weeks out from your marathon and are a stepping stone to running at 95 to 100% of marathon pace. Again, those workouts are great and will definitely be a huge part of your build up for the marathon training, but they belong in the base phase, not two weeks before THE day.

The Devil is in the details

There are a few tips in my marathon program that you can take and add to your current training to make it more efficient without making it harder.

First in the special block workout where I did a light 10k tempo and then 10k at marathon pace and then repeated the session in the afternoon.  Normally a session that involves only 10k of running at goal pace isn’t going to elicit a huge training effect, but by doing the uptempo work at 85 to 90% goal pace first, you sap the system of almost the same amount of glycogen as running 10k at marathon pace would, but it leaves you with enough energy to actually run another 10k at marathon pace.

By repeating the session in the PM you essential burn all the glycogen you would if you ran a full marathon at pace.  This is a tough session that will trick your body into a pseudo marathon race at goal pace without having to prepare or recover from it. Your body will expand its current limits and capabilities.

Your session need not be this tough. You can try adding marathon paced running, even paced repeats at the end of a long run, or even two shorter marathon paced tempo’s in one day instead of one longer one. These types of sessions can do wonders for your performance.

For example if you have traditionally done a 15 mile tempo at goal pace as a major marathon workout consider trying two 9 to 10 mile tempos at goal pace instead.  One in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Or even on back-to-back days where you run the first one as an evening session and the second as a morning session.

The next small thing I want you to notice is the speed of rest I took when I did marathon paced intervals.  My marathon repeats of 4.1 miles were being run at 5:00 to 5:05 pace. However, my rest 800 meters were run at 2:40 to 2:45 – 5:20 to 5:30 pace.  That is much faster then my normal training pace.  In fact it was barley slower then my marathon pace.

The key is that resting like this is a strategy take the edge off the workout, but still keep the overall effort up while keeping your mechanics very close to those of your marathon pace. This tricks the body into thinking that you ran the whole time at MP and you get the benefit as if you did run the entire run at marathon pace. In this session,  I only did 12 miles, but my body felt like it did 13. Small difference, but every little bit helps.

If the session had been the focus of the week I would have done 4 repeats and extended the rests to a full mile but kept them at the same 5:20 to 5:30 pace – basically an alternating tempo.

No easy long runs

You will notice that I didn’t include any easy long runs, which are so common in the boilerplate training plan you see on the Internet.  Unless your goal is to simply finish the marathon,  there should never be an easy or even medium effort long run in your specific phase.  Easy long runs should come early in the base phase as a prep work to handle the distance comfortably.  In the specific phase itself you are simply wasting energy with long runs at an easy pace.

Terrain specificity

You will notice none of these workouts are done on the track.  The Trials were being held on a rolling course in Central Park.  I did every workout on a rolling course.  In fact I ended up changing loops to a hillier one as I got closer to the date because I noticed I was rolling over the tewksbury loop a bit too fast and realized it wasn’t as hilly as it should have been.

This is a common mistake many runners training for the Boston marathon make. They fear the Newton hills, but don’t respect the early downhill miles that are going to thrash his or her quads the first 4 miles of the course.

Go easy when it is time to go easy

You will notice some of my easy runs say “with Shannon”, who was the girl I was dating at the time, or with the “UML girls”.  These ladies were all fine runners by their own standard, but their training pace was a good two minutes slower then you would expect someone who is Olympic Trials caliber to be running.

I didn’t have to run with them.  I was coaching at Umass Lowell (UML) at the time and could have opted to do those runs with the boys at a much quicker clip.  I could have had Shannon run alone. I ran with them because it was the best thing for me at the time.  They were doing me the favor.

When you are training the key is to recover and absorb the training – not impress your Runkeeper or DailyMile friends with your easy run splits.  If you are doing the kind of miles I was, or you just find yourself getting run down, don’t be afraid to go very easy- two minutes per mile or more slower than your usual easy pace.  Pushing for a bit more on easy days often costs you in workouts, which hurts your race performance.

Always touch on speed

In my training you can see short, explosive hill sprints mixed with my easy running days. Now, I might be contradicting myself when I said that the most important is to remain specific, but working on your explosive speed will keep your muscles efficient and your form smooth. It also helps with keeping the stroke volume of your heart high.

The best thing about adding 15 second bursts to long runs is that you get a lot of benefits from only one workout while you are still keeping the volume low and not very tiring. You can do these sprints on short hills, on diagonals, or strides. You should add one of these workouts every week or every 10 days to prevent potential injuries.

I will develop these two last points in future articles but they are so important that I felt they deserved a place in this one.

Let me know in the comments section if you have any questions or feedback, I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading and see you next week!

Free Run Faster Course

Learn How to Train Smarter and Run Faster Using the Latest Science and Proven Workouts

Here’s what you'll learn in this course

The scientific demands of your race distance so you know exactly how to target your workouts and training.

6 Race specific workouts that will help up you crush your next race

The most common mistakes you're making in training and in your race plan (and how to fix them)


Connect with Jeff Gaudette on Google+

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Adding new comments is only available for RunnersConnect Insider members.

Already a member? Login here

Want to become an Insider for free? Register here