An outline of the important workouts and definitions you need to know before we can talk about specific workouts and plans.
I start with a quick introduction about me, your teacher for the next 9 lessons, and then discuss terms like VO2 max, aerobic threshold and lactate threshold to give you the foundation you need for the upcoming lessons.
Hi fellow runner, welcome to our Marathon video training series. You made an awesome choice in joining me as I really feel like this is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn, help you train smarter and run faster!
Now, this video learning series is broken down into 8 lessons. In each lesson we’re going to cover a different topic, starting at the most basic to develop your foundation of learning and then getting to more advanced topics and specific workouts by the final videos.
In a way, it’s kind of like how we build your training plan.
In this video, the first lesson, we’re going to outline the important workouts and definitions you need to know before we can talk about specific workouts and plans.
Now, if you’re an advanced runner, you might be able to skip this lesson. But, I do think you’ll find it valuable.
For example, did you know there are 3 types of thresholds?
Then you should stay tuned. Even better, I have a special bonus waiting at the end of this video for all those that watch the entire way.
So, let’s head to the whiteboard to talk about what we’ll cover in the next 7 videos and begin our discussion on important definitions.
Ok, so in video number 2 we’re going to talk about the Physiological demands of the race distance and marathon training theory in general. That means the critical elements of training you need to work on to succeed.
In video 3 we’re going to talk about the marathon long runs. How long they need to be, how to structure them and how to get the most bang for your miles.
Now that you have a firm grasp on the overall philosophy, video 4 will provide you example marathon workouts, how to structure in training, and why they work
In lesson 5 I’m going to discuss how to structure your plan. That means we’ll delve deep into where speed work fits in during marathon training, what to watch out for, down weeks, mileage levels and targeting the right paces.
Video 6 is going to walk you through the taper. How to execute, what to watch our for and how to be primed to run your best on race day.
What’s a training plan if you blow it on race day? That’s why Video 7 will provide you a mile-by-mile race plan.
In Lesson 8 we’re going to show you a couple of case studies to give you concrete examples of how the training works and how to put it together.
In our final video we’ll give you a glimpse inside our coaching and training plans and how we can help (with a special bonus)
As a side note, one thing we won’t be talking about in this video series is nutrition. That’s because nutrition is an entire subject in itself. Luckily, we’ve already created a course for it. You can check it out at: nutrition.runnersconnect.net
So, I hope that has you eager about what is to come. I know I’m excited to share with you.
Before I get to the meat of this lesson, I wanted to introduce myself very quickly in case you didn’t know who I am.
My name is Jeff Gaudette. There’s my handsome face on the screen there.
I am the head coach and owner of a site called runnersconnect.
Our motto and our goal is to help you avoid the fluff found in most running magazines and to help distill and translate the complicated running research and concepts into actionable, specific advice you can apply to your training.
That’s what I hope to do in this video series as well.
Personally, I’ve been running for about 15 years now, most of that spent running at the professional level. I’ve been lucky enough to have competed all over the world, in numerous marathons, and recorded Olympic Trials qualifying times in the marathon and 10,000 meters.
I began coaching in 2005 while a member of the Hansons-Brooks Olympic Development team and then continued to branch out as I worked with different Olympic coaches and a variety of runners.
Most of the runners we work with are regular runners just like you probably are. Most of our athletes run somewhere between 3:45 and 4:30 for the marathon, but we work with many who are faster and slower. We don’t care what your pace is, we just want you to improve. In fact, last year, our awesome team of coaches helped 867 runners achieve new PRs from 5k to the marathon. I am very proud of that number.
I am excited to help you and hopefully someday add you to that growing number of PRs!
Now, enough about me.
As I promised, in this video we’re going to start defining important terms and building the foundation for the lessons in the videos to come.
Let’s start with what is the foundation of all training – the aerobic system.
Aerobic running or respiration occurs when your body has sufficient oxygen – like when you run easy miles with your friends.
Each time you breathe in, your body efficiently uses all the oxygen it needs to power the muscles, and you exhale out what your body does not need.
When you are “running aerobically”
your muscles have enough oxygen to produce all the energy
they need to perform.
Aerobic running is the most important factor in your ability to run faster. In fact, the marathon is 97% aerobic, which means it’s the most important system to target.
So, when we refer to aerobic running or the aerobic system, this is what we mean.
The most efficient way to target the aerobic system is by easy runs and long runs, which is why easy runs often comprise 50-75% of your training.
This is where most runners get it wrong. They try to run their easy days too fast and thus miss the aerobic zone.
This is the number one mistake runners make. Don’t make it, you know better now!
The ideal easy run occurs between 55 and 75 percent of your 5k pace.
Now, remember I told you about a special bonus at the end of this video? Well, since I know calculating percentages of your 5k pace is difficult, I am going to give you a handy excel workbook that makes it as simple as entering your 5k time.
Like easy runs, long runs build the aerobic system.
While we could get really scientific, the summarized version is that long runs
- increase the number of capillaries per muscle fiber,
- increase the myoglobin content of your muscle fibers,
- and increase both the number and the size of the mitochondria in your muscle fibers.
In the end, these factors improve how efficiently you can deliver oxygen and fuel to your working muscles and how quickly they can clear waste products.
Speaking of clearing waste products, that’s a big part of the goal when you perform what are traditional known as tempo runs or threshold runs.
Now, it’s my belief that there are actually three different “thresholds” and we can specifically target each one in training for better results.
The first threshold is the slowest pace and is called aerobic threshold. I believe it is the most important, especially for marathoners.
Aerobic threshold is the point at which switch from primarily using the aerobic system as your energy source. For marathoners, it’s also the point at which you can still burn fat efficiently as a fuel source. We’ll talk about why this is so important in video 2.
The next zone is what we call lactate threshold. This is the point at which the body begins to produce lactate to slow the build-up of acid. This usually occurs right at the border when anaerobic respiration overtakes the aerobic system’s ability to remove the waste products.
The final zone is called anaerobic threshold. Anaerobic threshold is the point at which acid builds faster than the body is able to remove it.
So, I know that was a little technical, but I hope it highlighted the continuum and the subtle differences between thresholds.
This is critical because every workout in a training plan has a specific purpose. It is designed to elicit a precise physiological result.
As an example, if your plan calls for an aerobic threshold run and you go out and run harder than you should, you end up targeting the anaerobic threshold. This leads to poor results and missing the mark in training.
Finally, the last definition I want to get to in this video is VO2max.
Defined simply, VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise. It’s a combination of how much oxygen-rich blood your heart can pump and the muscles efficiency in extracting and utilizing the oxygen.
Personally, I believe VO2max is over rated and too often the focal point of a runners training when it shouldn’t be, especially for the marathon.
While we know VO2max is a good predictor of running performance, having higher absolute values doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be faster.
For example, consider the comparison between Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter, two athletes whose VO2 Max values differed by 16% (Franks was 71.3 and Steve’s 84.4), yet whose best 5k times differed by just .2 seconds
Why is this?
Well, VO2max is only one component to how fast someone can run. Running efficiency and economy (believed to be the case between Prefontaine and Shorter), lactate clearance abilities, and a myriad of other factors.
Ok, so that was a long discussion and a little technical, but I hope it gave you a good background and understanding. I promise the next videos will be a little more exciting and actionable. But, you can’t build a beautiful house without a strong foundation!
An in-depth lesson on the specific physiological demands of the marathon distance and how to target them in training for optimal results.
Specifically, I'll discuss the importance of aerobic threshold, burning fat as a fuel source, and muscular endurance. This lessons sets the stage for the "why" of the important long runs and workouts we'll discuss next.
Glad you made it back for the second video in this marathon training series.
In this lesson, we’re going to go in-depth on the 3 most critical physiological elements of marathon training.
More specifically, we’re going to talk about why they are important, how to target them, and where most plans get it wrong.
Let’s move to the whiteboard to get started.
Success in the marathon boils down to 3 physiological elements.
First, you need the muscular endurance to run 26.2 miles at your given pace.
Second, you need to be able to maintain your aerobic threshold for the entire race
And finally you need to be able burn fat efficiently at marathon pace so you have enough glycogen to finish.
If you have these three things then you’re going to succeed.
Sounds simple, right? End of lesson. Just kidding.
What we need to do is better understand what each of these elements really means and how to target it during training.
Let’s start with aerobic threshold as I think it’s the most misunderstood.
I think the best way to explain why aerobic threshold is important is to use an analogy.
Let’s imagine you are a hybrid car.
Your Muscles are the engine
Glycogen is the gas power
Fat is the electric power
Your gas tank holds a finite amount of gas (glycogen). This is as true in your body as it is in a car.
Fully carbo-loaded, you can store about 1400 to 2000 calories of glycogen in your liver, muscles and blood combined.
(don’t get intimidated by the numbers. We explain them more in our nutrition series, but for now you just need to understand the total values)
Depending on your size and fitness, running at marathon pace utilizes about 1 calorie per kilogram per kilometer.
So, let’s say you weight 175 pounds (80kg) you need about 3360 kcals (80kg x 42 km) to make it through the race.
Obviously, the amount of glycogen you need, 3360 calories is less than the amount you have stored.
That means you need to get that glycogen from somewhere.
Now, gels and sports drinks help. But, because of limitations on how fast your body can process glycogen, it’s impossible to eat 2000 calories during the race.
Thus, we need to find a way to conserve gas (glycogen) and run as efficiently as possible on eclectic (fats)
Now, like a hybrid car, the faster you run, the more you need to rely on gas (glycogen).
Luckily, just like a hybrid car uses mostly electric when going slow, running aerobically requires only a little glycogen and mostly uses fat as a fuel source.
But, if you just run very easy, you’re not likely to finish in a time you’re happy with.
So, we need to find that optimal balance between fat burning and glycogen burning. One that allows you to get to the finish as quickly as possible.
This is defined as your aerobic threshold.
Aerobic threshold is the fastest pace you can run while using the aerobic system as the primary energy pathway
In essence, aerobic threshold is that optimal pace between fat and glycogen usage. Thus your marathon pace, and thus your finishing time, is directly correlated with your aerobic threshold.
In lesson 4 I am going to give you specific workouts that target the aerobic threshold.
Now, I’ve talked a bit already about using fat as a fuel source, but let’s get in-depth.
The problem with using fat as an energy source is that it’s not a very efficient provider of energy. It takes a while for your body to be able to oxidize fat into usable energy for the body.
The faster you want to go (and thus the more energy your muscles demand) the less efficient fat becomes.
Luckily, you can train your body to become more efficient at burning fat as a fuel source.
However, you can only train this ability a finite amount. You can never get to the point where you could run your fastest pace or to your potential in the marathon or anything shorter using only fat. It’s just not physiologically possible.
But, let’s say you could get 1% more efficient at burning fat as a fuel source at marathon pace (this is hypothetical, I don’t know of a way to measure it), it could potentially mean you’re able to run 1% faster. For a 3:30 marathoner, this could be an improvement of 5 seconds per mile.
Once again, we’re going to talk about specific workouts and long runs that teach your how to burn fat as a fuel source at marathon pace in lesson 4.
But, I think one of the big mistakes I see a lot of runners make is not paying any attention to improving their ability to burn fat as a fuel source in training.
They either don’t know about it, are following antiquated training methods, or are simply given wrong information. Now you know better and will soon have the specific workouts in hand to help yourself improve.
The final big piece of the puzzle is muscular endurance.
You can have all the glycogen in the world, but if your muscles are not up to the task of running 26.2 miles, you’re going to have a bad race.
Fatigue during the marathon is the same as any other race distance. The problem is that it’s magnified by at least twice as much thanks to the distance.
First, you have muscle damage, which can be quite significant during a marathon.
- One scientific study conducted on the calf muscles of marathon runners concluded that both the intensive training for, and the marathon itself, induce inflammation and muscle fiber necrosis that significantly impaired muscle power.
- Another study concluded that creatinine kinase (CK) damage – a marker that indicates damage to skeletal and myocardial tissue – persisted more than 7 days post marathon while another study confirmed the presence of myoglobin in the bloodstream post marathon for 3-4 days post race.
In short, when you’re racing the marathon, you’re significantly damaging your muscle fibers.
This damage to the muscle fibers reduces their ability to produce the powerful contractions needed to maintain marathon pace effort. It also causes that soreness and dead-leg feeling you get late in a race. If you don’t significantly increase your effort, you begin to slow down.
Second, as you begin to increase you effort to make up for the muscle damage, you begin to produce more lactate (a by-product of anaerobic respiration) which interferes with your body’s ability to clear hydrogen and results in a build-up of acid in the muscles.
As you can see, this quickly becomes a triple whammy of fatigue that sets you down a path of fading during the final miles.
The challenge is that running the full marathon distance in training is not recommended (due to how long it would take to recover). So, we need to get creative in training to simulate the fatigue and develop the muscular endurance needed.
To accomplish this, we can do two things:
First, we can implement what coaches call the theory of "accumulated fatigue". Basically, this means that the fatigue from one workout accumulates and transfers to the next so that you're always starting a workout or a long run a little tired from your previous training. This type of training helps your develop the muscular endurance without needing to run the full marathon in training.
We’ll talk about this more in lessons 3 and 5.
Second, you can implement specific workouts that are designed to fatigue your legs and muscle and then have you train and run at marathon pace. The nice thing about these workouts is that they occur all in one session and can help simulate different types of fatigue you’ll experience on race day.
There are a few different ways you can do this and we’ll go into depth about the specific workouts in lesson 4.
In the end, these 3 elements are the backbone of running a good marathon. Get them right and you’re going to have a great race.
In the next lesson, we’re going to talk about the marathon long runs. How far they need to be, the best pace, and how to specifically target the 3 elements we discussed today.
I'll walk you through how long your long runs need to be, how to structure them for better results and how to reduce injury by running the right paces
Specifically, I'll show you the two most effective long run workouts and give you both beginner and advanced versions.
Welcome back to lesson 3. Hope you took good notes from the last video and started to think about how your current plan might be, or might not be, targeting the 3 critical systems.
In today’s lesson we’re going to talk about the most feared aspect of marathon training.
The long run.
But, I’m going to surprise you and tell you it doesn’t need to be as long as you think.
That’s right, no 20-22 milers or 4+ hour runs for you.
Not only am I going to show you why this works, but I am going to give you example long runs that are even better than 20 or 22 milers.
Let’s head to the white board.
Now, As we’ve discussed already, the primary goal in marathon training should be to increase aerobic threshold, utilize fat more efficiently at marathon pace, and build endurance.
So where does the marathon long run fit in with these 3 goals?
Let’s start by comparing the “traditional” 20-22 miler with what I call the “marathon specific 16-18 miler” when it comes to hitting aerobic threshold, fat utilization and muscular endurance.
Research has shown that your body doesn’t see a significant increase in aerobic development, specifically mitochondrial development, when running over 90 minutes.
As a 3:45 marathoner, your easy long run pace is likely between 9:30 and 10:00 mile. So, a 20-22 miler will take you a little over 3 hours to finish. You can extrapolate if you’re a little faster or slower than this.
That means you get roughly the same aerobic benefit from going 16-18 miles versus 20-22.
Of course, you’ll say even if there is a slight benefit, isn’t it worth it?
Not when you consider that running for longer than 3 hours significantly increases your chance of injury.
Your form begins to break down, your major muscles become weak and susceptible to injury, and overuse injuries begin to take their toll.
And I’m not just making this up. Research has shown it.
Not only are aerobic benefits diminished while injury risk rises, but recovery time is significantly lengthened.
The total amount of time on your feet during a 3-hour plus run adds considerable fatigue to the legs, which leads to a significant delay in recovery time.
In the long-term, this means you can’t complete more marathon specific workouts the following week, which I believe, and research has shown, is more important component to marathon success.
Finally, let’s look at pace and how it factors into aerobic threshold.
To train a specific physiological system we need to run at the specific effort level. That means to improve aerobic threshold you need to run at aerobic threshold.
If you follow a traditional plan and run an easy 20-22 miler, just barely surviving, you get 0 miles training at aerobic threshold pace.
Not one mile trains you to run at aerobic threshold. You can’t improve an energy system if you never train it.
Compare this to an 18 mile long run with a 4-5 mile fast finish at marathon pace.
The total time for the run will be closer to 2:30. That gives you roughly the same aerobic benefit.
You’ll spend 4-5 miles running at aerobic threshold (and while tired). That’s 4-5 miles more marathon specific work than a 22 miler.
And you reduce injury-risk by not going over 3 hours.
It seems like a no-brainer.
I’ll detail how to execute this workout momentarily.
For now let’s move on to fat utilization.
Once again, let’s compare the 20-22 miler to a 16-18 mile fast finish or a surge long run.
To teach yourself how to burn fat as an energy source at marathon pace, you have to run at marathon pace with low glycogen reserves.
How many miles do you run at MP when doing an easy 20-22 mile?
However, during a16-18 miler with a faster finish you get in 4-5 miles of training to utilize fat as a fuel source while running at marathon pace.
Advantage 16-18 miler.
Ah, but I am sure by now you’re saying “but how can I finish 26.2 miles if I only run 16 in training. How will I build the muscular endurance?”
Yes, running 20-22 miles is good for muscular endurance. I won’t deny that.
But how specific is that to the marathon?
Meaning, are you going to run easy on race day? Don’t you need to improve your muscular endurance at running marathon pace for an increasingly longer period of time and while tired?
During an easy 20-22 miler you never run at marathon pace while tired.
So, easy running muscular endurance is improved. But, muscular endurance while you’re tired and trying to run marathon pace is not.
Not very specific to what you’ll experience on race day. Unless of course you just want to run easy the last 10k
Compare this to the muscular fatigue from a 16-18 miler with a fast finish.
You get 4-5 miles of running at marathon pace while tired.
Plus, if you do things right, like we’re going to teach you in lesson 4 and 5, you’ll buttress the long run against a shorter, but steady paced run the day before.
For example, you may run 1 mile easy, 6 miles marathon pace, 1 mile easy on Saturday and then run your full long run on Sunday.
Because of the harder running on Saturday, you start Sunday’s long run not at zero miles, but rather at six or eight miles, since that is the level of fatigue and glycogen depletion your body is carrying over from the previous run.
For the traditional 20-22 miler you’ll get 0 total miles at marathon pace and, if you follow a traditional schedule, just 22 miles for the entire weekend.
However, when you impellent a steady run with a marathon specific long run, even though it is shorter, you’ll get 11-14 miles at marathon pace and 26 total miles for the weekend.
Plus, you’ll actually recover from this faster so you can do another marathon specific workout in a few days...and you reduce injury risk.
Now, that’s not to say you can never go over 18 miles in a long run. This example is to demonstrate that marathon specific long runs out perform easy long runs when it comes to marathon readiness.
If you’re faster than 3:30 for the marathon (meaning that 20 miles will take you less than 3 hours) or you’re running high mileage (so that a 20-22 miler is less than 33% of your mileage) then going longer is ok. However, you still want to include marathon specific work.
Long run types
Now that we’ve talked about the philosophy behind the shorter, marathon specific long run, it’s time to give you some example workouts.
I like to use what I call a fast finish long run and a surges long run. Both have a beginner and advanced version.
The basic fast finish long run is pretty easy. The goal is to teach you how to run faster when low on glycogen, burn fat at marathon pace more efficiently and physically and mentally prepare you to run fast when tired.
Execution is pretty simple. Run your normal easy pace for half or three quarters of your long run (8-12 miles). Your easy pace should be about 65% of your 5k pace.
Then run 3-5 miles at marathon pace. Run easy the remaining 1-2 miles to cap off the distance.
Here’s an example run: 10 miles normal easy pace, 5 miles at marathon pace, 1 mile easy
Now, we can make this more advanced by increasing the amount of time running at marathon pace. I call this the advanced fast finish. It goes a little something like.
Starts with 3 miles at an easy pace. This is to get your body warmed up and the blood pumping.
From miles 3 through 8 (5 miles) you’ll target a pace that is 5 percent slower than marathon pace. For those of you who struggle with math like I do, that’s usually going to be about 15 seconds slower than goal marathon pace. Not quite hard, but challenging.
Miles 8-13 should be run at marathon pace. Not only is this good practice to help you lock onto marathon pace as your legs are getting tired, but you’re starting to teach your body to burn fat as your glycogen stores deplete and you have to continue to run at a moderate effort.
Now comes the hard part. Miles 13-16 (3 miles) should be run at 3-5 percent faster than marathon pace. 3 percent is about 10 seconds per mile faster than goal pace, which will be very difficult. Again, you’ll be low on glycogen and training yourself to mentally and physically push when you’re tired.
Run the last mile or two easy, almost as a cool down.
The second type of marathon specific long run are called “surge” long runs.
The goal is to surge for 60-90 seconds at 10k pace every 5-8 minutes. This surge creates a sharp demand for energy and therefore a call for glycogen. This will deplete your stores faster and signal the brain that it needs to conserve, and thus burn fat as a fuel source.
It also engages intermediate and fast twitch fibers, tiring them out and forcing your slow twitch fibers to develop. More on this in the next lesson.
Run the first 10 miles at normal easy pace. At mile ten, surge for 90 seconds at 10k pace. The exact pace isn’t important. It’s faster, but not all out. After the 90 second surge, slow back down to easy pace. Maintain this easy pace for 5 minutes and then surge 90 seconds again. Repeat 5-7 times. Finish off remaining run distance easy.
16 mile long w/7 x 90 sec surges @ 10k pace w/5 min easy between starting at mile 10
Surges with a twist
To make this long run even more marathon specific, we can incorporate some of the principles we’ll learn in our next lesson on lactate clearance to not only train the body to clear lactate quickly at marathon pace, but to also trigger high levels of glycogen depletion and further improve your ability to burn fat as a fuel source at marathon pace.
Instead of running easy between the surges, you will run marathon pace as your “rest”.
The surges should be between 10k and half marathon pace and the marathon pace “rest” will be 4-5 minutes, depending on your ability level.
Surging at 10k pace will burn through more glycogen than you would remaining at a moderate, marathon paced effort. Then, as you slow back down to marathon pace, your body realizes it must conserve glycogen for these 60-90 second bursts and attempts to use fat as a primary fuel source at this pace.
Here’s an example
18 mile long with 8 x 90 sec surges at 10k pace w/5 min at marathon pace between, starting at mile 9. Finish run off easy.
Now you have the specific long runs you need to crush your next race.
In lesson 5 we’re going to discuss where, when and how often you should include them, along with other workouts and pace guidelines.
Before we get to that, we’re going to talk about the other marathon specific workouts you should be including in your training throughout the week. We’re once again going to use science and our understanding of marathon physiology to give you some innovative marathon workouts.
See you next time!
Learn the 4 critical workouts needed for an awesome marathon, why they work, and exactly how to perform.
Workouts discussed include the 2x6 mile, hill to tempo, steady state run and alternating tempo.
I hope our last lesson gave you a lot to think about when it comes to the marathon long run and you’ve started to reevaluate your plan based on the science and research.
In this video we’re going to get to the meat and potatoes of the training – the race specific workouts.
Like the long run, we’re going to use our knowledge of exercise physiology to really target the specific demands of the race and give you some innovative workouts.
Let’s get to the whiteboard so I can show you.
Like our long runs, the theory behind marathon specific workouts is to examine the physiological demands of the race.
We know we need to target the aerobic threshold, teach ourselves how to burn fat more efficiently and somehow prepare our legs and body to run 26.2 miles without actually doing it in training.
A daunting task. But, I have some secret weapons.
Let’s start with aerobic threshold since it’s the simplest.
We’ve already talked a bit about including miles at marathon pace during your long run and how this targets aerobic threshold.
In that lesson, I mentioned something called a “steady run” that often precedes a long run. These steady runs are designed to specifically target the aerobic threshold.
Ideally, you’ll run them about 5 seconds faster or 10 seconds slower than marathon pace. This way, you’re staying in the aerobic threshold zone for the entire length of the workout and maximizing your gains.
An example workout would be 1 mile easy to warm-up, 4-8 miles steady pace, 1 mile easy to cool down.
It’s really that simple.
The innovation is where and when you can include these runs in your training. You’ll want to add them the day before your marathon specific long runs. This is because steady pace will slightly deplete your glycogen stores, helping your body learn to burn fat during the long run.
In addition, they will make your legs tired for the long run, but not so tired (like a hard workout might) that you can’t run a quality effort. This means that in theory you’ll be starting the long run not at mile 0, but at mile 4,6 or 8 (depending on how long your steady run is).
Because it sets up the accumulated fatigue that enables the long run to simulate the latter stages of the race.
This is how you’re able to train for 26.2 miles without running 26 miles in training.
We’ll get more into the details of how often to include steady runs in the next lesson, but this simple workout is one of the keys to consistent marathon training.
But accumulated fatigue isn’t the only way we can increase muscular endurance. We can also use our knowledge about how muscle fibers work and get innovative with our workouts.
You see, skeletal muscle, the type that is responsible for moving our muscles when we run, is comprised of three different muscle fiber types, each with its own advantages, disadvantages, and specialty.
Type I, better known as slow-twitch fibers, are the body’s primary method for less explosive, sustained movements. They do not contract forcefully and thus require less energy to fire, which makes them well-suited to long distance running. More importantly, they house our main supply of oxygen-boosting power plants – mitochondria, myoglobin and capillaries.
Type IIx are best known as fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the muscle fibers primarily responsible for fast, explosive movements like sprinting. However, they lack the endurance-boosting ability of slow-twitch fibers and can only be used for short periods of time.
Type IIa are what we call intermediate fibers. These are a blend between fast twitch and slow twitch fibers. They have some aerobic capability, but not as much as the slow twitch fiber, and they can fire more forcefully, but not quite as explosively as the fast twitch.
Now the important thing to note here is how and when we use different muscle fibers. This is called the recruitment ladder.
The recruitment ladder is a way of envisioning how and when each fiber type is activated.
You move up the ladder based on how much force you need to generate to sustain a given pace. If you were to head out to the streets right now and begin running easy, your body would start by using slow-twitch fibers. If you were to pick up the pace, your body would start recruiting some of the Type IIa intermediate fibers to supplement the need for more power from the muscles to generate more force during the stride. Finally, if you were to sprint across the road to be traffic, your body would then engage the fast twitch muscle fibers to give you the explosive burst you need to sprint.
In addition to intensity, the other factor in muscle fiber recruitment is fatigue.
As you get further into a long run, the slow twitch fibers you’ve been using start to get tired and you can no longer fire them as efficiently. As a consequence, you start to recruit some intermediate fibers to help maintain pace.
Of course, these intermediate fibers require more glycogen and are not as fatigue resistant as slow-twitch, so it won’t be long before you find yourself slowing dramatically as your muscles start to fail.
Ok, that was a little sciency, but I hope it helped you see the bigger picture. Now that we better understand the different muscle fiber types and under what circumstances we use them, we can employ this knowledge to better structure our training.
My favorite workout for this is called the hill to tempo.
The workout looks something like this: 2 mile w/u, 6-9 x 90 sec hill repeats @ 5k pace w/jog down rest, 3 min rest, 4-6 miles at MP, 2 mile c/d
Can you see how it works?
First, we tire the legs by running a series of hill repeats, which target the Type IIa and Type IIx. This requires explosive muscle contractions, burns glycogen, and get the legs feeling like jello.
With your Type IIa fibers already tired, you then try to run at marathon pace or a bit faster. Without the help of the Type IIa fibers, which are now tired, you train your body to generate more forceful contractions using the type I fibers.
On race day, this will allow you to use these Type I fibers longer into the race and thus hold off the dreaded fade.
Another favorite workout of mine is the 2x5 or 2x6 mile. The workout looks like:
1 mile w/u, 2 x 5 or 6 miles @ 10-20 seconds faster than marathon pace w/10 min rest, 1 mile c/d
I like this workout better than just a 10 or 12 mile tempo because the rest provides the opportunity to run a little faster, which slightly stretches the endurance of Type IIa fibers and the explosiveness of the Type I fibers.
I also find that the 10 minute rest starts to slow down the blood flow to the legs, so when you start the second set the legs feel lethargic. It’s very similar to how you feel late in a race. That tight, achy feeling.
Now that we have a workout to target aerobic threshold and a couple of workouts to target muscular endurance, let’s talk about how we can help your body use fuel and energy more efficiently.
To start, we need to talk a little about how the body actually creates energy because many of you watching likely misunderstand terms like lactic acid and muscle fatigue.
Your body breaks down glucose for energy, and a byproduct of this process is lactate.
During easy running, your body reconverts and recycles this lactic acid back into energy (through the Cori Cycle) and carries away hydrogen ions with it. Therefore, the production of lactate, and the clearance of hydrogen, will remain relatively constant while running at an easy aerobic pace, which doesn’t require a huge demand for energy.
As you continue to run faster towards your aerobic threshold and demand more energy, the production of acid will slowly increase.
At some point, whether it be too fast a pace or holding a steady pace for too long, the production of acid will soar and your body will no longer be able to convert lactate back into energy. At this point, lactate can’t grab its hydrogen ion to reduce the concentration of hydrogen in the muscle cell.
Hydrogen ions lower the blood pH and make the muscles acidic.
This acidity irritates muscle nerve endings and causes that pain, heaviness, and burning mistakenly attributed to lactic acid.
For the marathon, this is really important to know because the faster we can train our body to reconvert lactate back into energy in the liver, the longer and faster we can run at a given pace.
Moreover, this can help with accidental pace surges (hills, getting around others, crowds) and help make sure you don’t fatigue prematurely.
Knowing this, we can get creative when it comes to teaching our body how to use it’s available energy sources more efficiently and clear waste products.
My favorite workout for this is called the alternating tempo. To execute, you’ll want to alternate between 10 second faster than marathon pace and 5-10 seconds slower than 10k pace.
For a 3:30 marathon runner, the workout would like this:
1-3 mile warm-up, 6 miles at (7:50, 7:25, 7:50, 7:25, 7:50, 7:25 – no rest), 1-2 mile cool down.
The faster paces miles flood the body with lactate by running at a fast pace. By then dropping back to marathon pace to “recover”, the body will respond by becoming more efficient at clearing lactate while running fast.
Simply speaking, we’re trying to adapt the body to clear lactate more efficiently while still running at race pace. For the marathon, this means that you can more effectively use lactate as a fuel source and run faster or farther with less corresponding fatigue.
Obviously, that’s only 4 marathon specific workouts. However, this combined with marathon specific long runs is enough to take your training to the next level.
If you repeat each of these workouts at least once during the marathon training cycle, that’s 8 weeks of marathon specific work.
The rest of the weeks and workouts are filled with more traditional tempo runs or tempo intervals. This is what we’re going to cover in the next lesson – how to structure everything together.
I am also going to talk about how to run the right paces. You can have the greatest workouts in the world, but if you’re not running them at the right effort level and therefore targeting the right systems, they are useless.
So, think about how you might want to incorporate these workouts and the knowledge you learned today and we’ll see you back soon!
We'll delve deep into how each week is structured so you can fine-tune your own plan.
Specifically, I'll address how we schedule the workouts and long runs to balance fatigue, when to include rest days and higher mileage, and how to set your training paces.
Hi fellow marathoners, welcome back to lesson 5. It’s what you’ve been waiting for – how to structure your training!
We’ve talked about the overall philosophy, the specific long runs and the specific workouts. But, how does that fit together?
What does a training week look like? Where does speed work fit in? What should your paces be?
Let’s get right to it.
I think the best place to start is looking at what a typical month of training might look like.
First, let’s look at a very generic plan and then we’ll fill in specifics.
Here’s what I think a typical month of training would look like a from 7 to 3 weeks out from a marathon. I like to work backwards from race day. If you were doing a 16 week plan, this would be weeks 9-13.
In essence what you have is alternating weeks. One week is focused on the long run, the next week is focused on marathon specific work.
In week one we have a moderate workout early in the week and then a steady, long run combo over the weekend.
The early week workout is moderate because we don’t want to accumulate too much fatigue heading into the weekend. Marathon training is a delicate balance and a tight rope walk.
The next week has two marathon specific workouts and you’ll notice the long run is relatively tame. Again, this is to balance the workload. This week the focus is on the workouts and running too long will likely lead to over training.
The cycle repeats itself the following two weeks.
Now, let’s look at the schedule with some specific workouts, mileage and training times.
Now, of course this schedule might not be for you. This isn’t designed to be copied, but to serve as visual for you to better understand how everything fits together.
The person I wrote this schedule for is a 3:45 marathoner looking to run 3:35 to qualify for Boston. She’s 45 and running about 45-50 miles per week.
What this plan is designed to illustrate is where the mileage and rest days fit in. As you can see, after the hard workout days, you should be running very easy or taking the day off to recover. The mileage is a little higher on the second day after a workout since you’re more recovered. The workout and long run volumes are designed to match her miles per week.
Now, after looking at this plan, you’re probably asking “where are the speed workouts?”
This brings us back to the discussion of the specific demands of the race distance.
If the race is 99% aerobic, relies primarily on aerobic threshold, is a challenge to your muscular endurance and requires energy conservation, how do 400 meter, 800 meter or even mile repeats help with this?
That’s why plans with 400 meter intervals or workouts like Yasso 800’s have what I call wasted training weeks.
They aren’t harmful workouts, but they sure aren’t going to get you better prepared to run the marathon. They don’t target the specific demands of the race.
So, when should you be doing speed workouts? I like to do them before you start the marathon specific segment, which I consider to be the last 10-12 weeks before the marathon.
Now, of course speed work does have some benefits. It helps improve your efficiency, running form and turnover.
But you don’t have to waste valuable workout days devoted to speed workouts to get the benefits.
As you can see from this schedule, you get speed 2-3 times per week in the form of strides, form drills and even “hidden” away in surge long run workout. Disguising your speed like this is a great way to maintain efficiency and turnover without sacrificing training days.
Now, on to what I believe is the most crucial element of the training plan. Getting your paces right.
Remember when we talked about aerobic threshold and fat utilization and compared it to driving a hybrid car?
You’ll recall that finding that perfect pace that blends enough glycogen and fat burning is essential to training those two systems.
If you don’t hit that zone, then the workout is not effective.
It’s the same for tempo runs, speed workouts, and easy/long run pace. If you’re not in the right zone, then you’re not targeting the right physiological systems and not getting the full benefit from the workout.
It’s wasted training
The primary issue is that most runners base their training off their goals.
The problem with this is that most runners choose an arbitrary goal that is based on a finishing time they would be happy with (like breaking a round number like 4, 3:45 or 3:30), which has no correlation to their current physiological fitness.
I’ll give you an example to illustrate.
Let’s say your goal is to break 3:45 for the marathon (8:35 per mile pace) and you base your training off this. But, your fitness currently is more like a 3:55 marathon (not far off really), which is 9:00 pace.
That means when you’re trying to run aerobic threshold runs at 8:35, you’re WAY too fast to target your aerobic threshold properly. At almost 30 seconds a mile quicker than your physiological reality, this is more an anaerobic threshold run.
Sure, it’s going to get you fitter overall, but it’s not going to help you improve in the marathon.
This is exactly why you keep getting fitter and maybe even PRing in shorter events but fall apart during the marathon.
In short, when you’re not training to your physiological reality, your paces are going to be off. That means you’ll be running all the wrong effort levels and negating the most important benefit of your harder workouts. You’ll be wasting your time training.
Now that you understand the pitfalls of training at the wrong paces, how the heck do you decide what pace you should shoot for?
The first thing you need to do is determine what your current fitness level is.
If you’ve run a race recently, you can use this time to extrapolate what you could run for a longer or shorter distance. The McMillan calculator is perhaps the most well-known of these calculators.
If you haven’t run a race recently that you feel reflects your fitness or a good effort you have two options:
- You can race a 5k. This is your best choice if your goal race is more than two months away. The race doesn’t have to be big or fancy. You just need a race effort.
- If you have no races available, you can do a one mile time trial. This option is recommended if you have 1-2 months between now and your goal race because it can be incorporated into training quickly and a mile won’t leave you too tired to pick up training where you left off.
Whichever method you choose, just enter your time in the calculator mentioned previously and you can extrapolate to the marathon.
This is the pace and the paces you should target in your training.
This is your physiological reality.
Now, you may ask, “how do I get faster if I don’t train faster”.
Remember, training and training paces are about executing workouts that target specific physiological systems. You get faster by hitting these physiological targets.
If you want to improve your aerobic threshold, you need to run at aerobic threshold pace.
Your aerobic threshold is a current physiological reality, not some goal time.
So, when you run at current aerobic threshold and not “goal pace” you actually hit the physiological targets you’re aiming for.
This gets you fitter. This helps you race faster on marathon day.
Of course, after 16-18 weeks of training you might be fitter at the end then you are at the start. This is where you can use tune-up races or the guidance of a coach to assess when you’ve gotten fitter and when your physiological reality has moved forward.
If there’s anything you take away from these videos, let it be this lesson on pacing. You’ll improve faster and reduce injury risk.
Now that you’ve put in the hard work, how do you make sure you don’t blow it by doing too much or too little in the final weeks?
That’s what we’re going to talk about in the next lesson. See you then!
How to execute in the final few weeks of training, what to watch our for, and how to be primed to run your best on race day.
I'll show you the exact percentages to reduce your mileage and weekly long runs by during the last three weeks, the exact workouts you should do, and how to avoid the common traps.
Welcome back to lesson 6 in our marathon training series. I hope you’ve been able to start tweaking your plan and adding the marathon specific work we’ve talked about so far.
Now it’s time to put the finishing pieces on the puzzle. It’s time to talk about the taper!
For most runners, the taper is a scary thing. The race is getting close so you’re getting nervous and you know there’s a fine line between doing too much and doing too little.
So, in this lesson we’re going to start with the theory so you understand the science and then I’m going to give you an actionable 3 week plan.
Let’s dive in!
When it comes to the marathon taper, I think there are 3 critical elements to consider or that runners commonly get wrong.
The first is challenging energy systems they haven’t used before
Next is not properly working on race rehearsal and pacing
And finally I think it’s reducing volume too quickly in the hopes of feeling more fresh.
Let’s start with the first item.
What do I mean about challenging energy systems you haven’t used before?
Let’s use a very popular plan, the Hal Higdon plan as an example.
If we examine the last 3 to 4 weeks of the plan, we can see there are quite a few speed workouts, even ending with a 4 x400 meter workout the week of the race.
The design here is to build confidence, make you feel faster, and play on your emotions because the thought of long workouts when they are supposed to be tapering scares most runners.
Along the same lines, I see many plans where you’re assigned Yasso 800′s to serve as a final race pace predictor, which I think is a mistake and I covered in-depth in our previous lesson.
The problem with this approach is two-fold.
First, by performing a type of workout and using an energy system you haven’t been utilizing in the last four to six weeks, you actually fatigue your muscles more because your body isn’t conditioned to it.
Think about it this way.
If you hadn’t performed squats for 6-8 weeks, how sore would you be if I asked you to go to the gym and perform 3-4 sets? I’m willing to bet pretty sore, even if you just went lightly.
It’s the same with speed workouts. If you haven’t performed them in 6-8 weeks in favor of marathon specific work (which I hope you have) then they are going to make you pretty sore and fatigue you much more than they should.
Moreover, how specific is speed work to the marathon? Not very. We’ll talk about this more in just a minute, but it’s a mistake to avoid working the same energy systems you’ll use during the race.
Third, and most importantly, one of the most critical components to race day success is being able to execute your race plan and run the correct pace, especially at the start of the race.
In the last two weeks, you should capitalize on the opportunity to practice marathon pace. Not only does this ensure you work the exact energy systems you need for race day, but it will provide that crucial, last minute pacing feedback you need to execute the perfect race plan.
The more you can hone in on your target pace, the better chance you have of hitting it on race day when the adrenaline is pumping.
We’re going to talk about this more in the next lesson, but the biggest race strategy mistake you can make is going out too fast. With adrenaline, crowds, feeling great, this can be hard to do.
The more you can practice it now, when the legs are getting fresh and you feel good, the better you’ll be on race day.
YOU CAN’T EXPECT TO HIT PACE ON RACE DAY IF YOU NEVER PRACTICE IN TRAINING
Another very common mistake I see is runners who over-taper in the last three weeks leading into the race.
This leads to feeling flat and sluggish on race day and increases the chance that you’ll come down with some type of sickness as your metabolism and immune system crash due to the sudden change in activity and demands on the body.
One reason I’ve found athletes to want to drop their mileage and/or intensity too much is that they don’t immediately feel good after a couple of extra easy days or a rest day.
Most runners expect immediate gratification and to suddenly feel a pep in their step with just a few easy days. Keep in mind that it can take up 10-12 days to full absorb and recover from a hard workout.
So, if your last hard long run was just last weekend, don’t expect to feel fresh for at least another week.
But, other than feeling good, why is it important to keep your mileage up in the final few weeks?
By design, easy running is supposed to help you recover. In fact, there was just a study that showed subjects were less sore when they performed an easy run after a hard workout.
That’s because an easy run increases blood flow to the muscles specific to running, helping to clear out waste products and deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients.
Most runners think that these easy runs will get them tired. But, the research shows it will actually help you recover. Plus, if you’re recovery runs during the hardest portion of your training cycle have enabled you to adequately recover between hard workouts, what would change the ten days before your race, when you’re not performing intense workouts?
Significantly reducing your mileage does not result in faster recovery or more rested legs if your current volume has allowed you to recover properly during training.
Furthermore, when we look the specific demands of long distance running, we clearly see a heavy reliance on aerobic respiration as a primary energy system:
Remember this chart and the lesson from video 1?
Since the aerobic contribution to the marathon is 99% and easy runs are the best way to target the aerobic system, significantly reducing the specific component of training that provides the most value to aerobic conditioning is flawed.
To perform your best, you need to continue to train your aerobic system without producing fatigue.
That’s not to say you don’t reduce volume at all, but it should not be a drastic cut. Here’s a step-by-step system with specific numbers.
1. Reduce weekly mileage to 85-90% of you maximum.
a. It’s actually not too difficult to reduce your mileage by 15%. For example, if you’re running 50 miles per week, you only need to cut out 7 miles from your weekly running routine. This can be done by giving yourself an extra rest day or by simply cutting out 2 or 3 miles from your regular recovery runs.
2. Maintain intensity
a. Some training plans begin to drastically cut workout volumes starting three weeks out from the race. I think this is a mistake to avoid if you’ve been training diligently for 16 to 20 weeks. Physiologically, your body takes 10 days to realize the benefits from a workout and completely recover. As an insurance policy, I suggest performing your last workout 13 days prior to the marathon; starting the taper too early robs you of another potentially great workout.
b. Make sure that your workout is specific to the marathon – you don’t need any V02max workouts or speed sessions at this point. The workout should be similar to what you’ve been doing the rest of your training plan (i.e. no need to get nervous and think you need to blast the best workout of your life).
3. Reduce long run volume by 10 to 20%
a. You don’t need to completely eliminate the long run yet, but you do want to avoid making yourself too tired. If your longest run so far was 20 miles, I suggest a run anywhere from 16 to 18 miles. However, listen to your body. If you feel sluggish and tired, have the confidence to cut the long run back.
1. Reduce weekly mileage to 70 to 75% of maximum.
a. Reducing the mileage this week is actually easier than last week. Your long run will be shorter and your intense workouts, which should be your biggest volume days, will also be reduced. For example, a 50-mile week will be reduced to 35 to 38 miles. With no long run and less intense workouts, your easy recovery miles should remain relatively stable or minus only a mile or two.
2. One medium intensity workout.
a. Your last workout of any real difficulty should be on Monday or Tuesday. The volume of this workout should be reduced by 60-70% of your normal hard day. For example, if your tempo intervals usually total 9 miles, this workout should be about 6 miles in total distance. Again, make sure the workout is marathon specific, so no VO2max workouts. This is a good opportunity for you to practice marathon pace.
3. Reduce long run by 50 to 60%
a. At this point in your training the “hay is in the barn”. You can’t gain any more fitness, but you can certainly tire yourself out. The distance of this run is more a psychological boost to keep you in a routine and to prevent you from feeling like you’re doing nothing. If you’re feeling fatigued, don’t hesitate to back off the mileage and opt for a shorter distance.
1. Significantly reduce mileage.
If you thought training was tough, wait until you try to reduce your mileage the week before a marathon. It takes discipline and confidence to give your body the rest it needs. You should consider giving yourself an extra rest day while reducing your daily runs by 50 to 60% of their normal volume. So, if you’re used to running 8 miles on your easy recovery days, you should target 5-6 miles instead.
2. One easy tempo session session
I advise doing one marathon paced workout to help alleviate nerves and to remind your body what marathon pace feels like. I suggest performing a workout like: 15-20 minute warm-up, 3-4 miles at marathon pace, 10-15 minute cool down. This workout won’t leave you fatigued, but it will give you a little bit of confidence and nice pop in your step.
3. Run the day before the marathon
I advocate running the day before the marathon. I suggest running anywhere from 1 to 3 miles very easy. Running will help promote blood flow your legs and will make you less nervous. Running the day before a race also stimulates the central nervous system, which will enable your legs to respond better the following morning.
Here is an example schedule.
Now that you’ve nailed the final three weeks, you need to start focusing on the race plan. All the great training in the world isn’t going to help you if you run like an idiot.
In fact, from the data I’ve gathered from runners I’ve consulted with, 35% of marathoners fail with their time goal because of their race plan, not because of training.
In the next lesson we’re going to talk about how to avoid these common mistakes and create the perfect race plan for you!
In this lesson I'll make sure you're ready for race day by providing you with the perfect plan.
I'll give you exact targets and also tell you how to avoid the common mistakes and prepare mentally for the tough spots during the race.
You’ve followed the training, then you’ve practiced your nutrition strategy, you’ve completed the long runs, you’ve put together the perfect taper, and you’re ready for success on race day.
The last missing piece is the marathon pacing and race strategy.
In this lesson, we’ll walk you through the entire marathon race process and provide you with a special bonus at the end of the video to help you create the perfect plan.
Let’s get right to the action...
If the recent financial crisis has showed us anything, it’s that banks are evil.
I’m just kidding, but in all seriousness, the theory of “putting time in the bank” during the first thirteen miles of a marathon race is critically flawed.
The bank will take your money and leave you crashing the last 10k just as it did the stock market.
I’m not sure where the “time in the bank” theory came from, but the strategy has lead to the demise of more marathon runners than any other source.
The proper race strategy that will give you the best chance to PR actually follows the exact opposite theory.
For a successful marathon race, you should target a pace that is 10 to 15 seconds per mile slower than your goal marathon pace for the first 3 or 4 miles.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s an interesting statistic: Every world record from 1500 meters to the marathon has been set running negative splits – running the first half of the race slightly slower than the second half. It’s true, look it up if you have the time.
This means that if you want to ensure that you run the fastest time possible, you have to be conservative during the early miles of the race. With the adrenaline and competition, this can be difficult and will require focus.
As I discussed in our last lesson on the taper, practice makes perfect, so hopefully you had plenty of practice the last three weeks.
So, why does running slower the first half of a marathon work?
Running a little slower than goal marathon pace for the first 3 or 4 miles works for two reasons:
(1) by running slower, you conserve critical fuel and energy you’ll need the last 10k;
remember, just like a car, the faster you run, the more fuel you burn.
When you run faster than your marathon pace (scientifically defined as your aerobic threshold), you start to burn significantly more carbohydrates. Similarly, as I’ll discuss more in a moment, weaving in and out of other runners the first few miles, which tends to happen more with runners who go out too fast, is like driving your car in the city.
We all know cars get significantly reduced miles per gallon while driving in the city. Your body is the same way.
(2) running slower gives your body a better chance to absorb and take on fuel and fluids.
Your body can store enough fuel to run about 2 hours at marathon pace. This means unless you’re running really fast, you’ll need to take on a lot of extra carbohydrates during you run.
Your body has a difficult time digesting the carbohydrates you take in while running. As your body becomes increasingly stressed, it begins to shut down non-essential functions such as the digestive system.
So, while you could be consuming enough energy gels to keep a small nation alive, they may not be getting processed by your body – it’s kind of like putting leaded fuel into your automobile.
The best way to combat this unfortunate bodily function (besides practicing taking gels and fluids in practice) is to take on carbohydrates in fluids early in the race when your body is feeling good and not stressed. If you started the race a little slower, you’ll have a chance to absorb more of the nutrition you take on board.
In addition to running the first 3 or 4 miles a bit slower than marathon pace, it is important that you stay relaxed while running in the big crowds and passing runners that you need to go around.
Surging past slower runners and getting uncomfortable in the tight crowds is an easy way to ruin your race. All the surges and stopping and starting requires a lot of energy. Energy = fuel, so the more energy and fuel you burn up during the first few miles, the less you’ll have over the last 10k.
Try your best to set yourself in the right corral and when the race starts, relax and go with the flow until a natural opening for running appears. As you’ve learned already, you should be planning on being a little slow for the first few miles anyway, so take a deep breath and focus on relaxing.
Now on to the mile-by mile race plan
Below this video I’ve included a nifty pacing chart so you can easily visualize exactly how you should plan out and pace your race.
One important thing to remember is that races can be kind of wild sometimes and everything might not go to plan.
It’s important to remember to stay relaxed and that these numbers are just a guideline. Focus on being as accurate to the average pace as possible, relaxing, and running as hard as you can the last few miles.
Now let’s examine the plan in detail, you can use the chart to follow along.
As noted earlier, you want to be about 10-15 seconds per mile slow of your goal marathon pace the first 3-4 miles (4 to 7 seconds slow per KM).
Remember that it will feel “slow” and you might be getting passed by people you want to beat. While it is mentally difficult, this is by the most effective way to run a race and you’ll tear by those people during the last few miles.
After the first 3 or 4 miles (5-6km), slowly creep your pace towards your goal marathon pace.
It’s still ok to be a little slow in these miles as your conserved energy will allow you to hold pace the last 10k and avoid the dreaded marathon fade and bonk.
You don’t have to sprint to get there, just ease up the pace, find the natural openings in the crowd and begin to lock in on your pace
During this time, you should concentrate on eating and drinking whenever possible and as much as you know your stomach can handle. You definitely want to put energy in the bank.
You should have already found a group that is running your pace or a little faster. Work with the people around you and latch on when you’re going through a rough spell. Try to relax and keep your focus on staying with the group, not your splits. Use the group and the people around you to help you relax and take your mind of the distance ahead.
This is one of the hardest parts of the race as it requires a lot of mental focus and fortitude. Be aware that you need to increase your effort to maintain the same pace or run faster as the race goes on.
As you get more tired, it gets more difficult to keep running faster, so you have to try harder.
Now, I’m not a coach that sugar coats training and racing. The last 6 miles or 10k of a marathon is tough.
Sorry folks, there is no way around it.
From a race strategy perspective, if you’ve done the training, were conservative over the first few miles, and taken adequate fluids and carbohydrates, you’re going run well the last 10k.
However, to help along the way, I suggest implementing simple mental tricks.
- Keep you mind and body relaxed. Look within yourself and focus on you. Think confident thoughts and repeat confident mantras to yourself; “I am fast, this feels good” or “I am strong, I’m running great”. Every time you feel tired or feel the pace slip, repeat to yourself that you need to refocus and concentrate and get back on pace.
- Often times, I’ll watch a video of fast marathon runners and when I start to hurt, I’ll imagine myself running like them. Good form – head straight, arms swinging forward and back slightly, powerful strides. Just having the mental imagery of good form helps me maintain my pace when the muscles become increasingly tired with each step.
- If the pace starts to slip, I’ll throw in a surge to get my legs fired up again. Sometimes all it takes is a small burst of speed to reinvigorate your legs and pace. If you’ve done surges during your long run, this will be just like practice for you.
- Finally, I try to break the remaining distance into bite size and easily digestible pieces. After doing lots of hard training runs, I’ll break the race up into one of my best previous workout sessions. For example, if I had a great 2 x 3 mile session, I’ll remember how it felt and think to myself, “hey, I did this workout before, let’s get back on pace and do it again”. Likewise, sometimes a mile can seem like a long distance, so I’ll break it down into a time instead. Thinking I only have 3-4 minutes until I hit the halfway point of a mile makes it seem a lot easier. 4 minutes is nothing!
Most of all, remember to have Fun!
I know this is the typical pre-race comment, but it’s true. Running and racing are about having fun and enjoying yourself, so remember that when you start getting nervous about the race.
If you’ve done the training and followed all our advice, you’re going to run well. Enjoy the challenge and the atmosphere!
Even though we’re finished with the race plan, we’re not done learning yet.
For me at least, I learn best by example. I see something in action, I can mentally and visually compare it to what I’ve done or plan to do and things start to come together.
In the next lesson I’m going to show you a case study. A marathon training plan breakdown of sorts.
I’ve done these before and my athletes love them. You get to see a plan in action, how it’s built, the thought process, etc.
So, stay tuned, it’s going to be one of the best lessons yet.
See the plan in action. Case studies to give you concrete examples of how the training works and how to put it together.
I'll introduce you to Peter, an athlete who was trying to qualify for Boston but just couldn't shave off those last 5 minutes and show you exactly how we helped him crush his PR
Welcome back to lesson 8 where we’re going to help you put all the awesome information you learned in lessons 1-7 to use and help you avoid many of the common mistakes we see.
My idea for this lesson came from my own experience learning about training theory, and some of the tactics I’ve learned that help me better understand and apply new lessons or information.
I really like case studies because they provide a very step-by-step system, a 30,000 foot and close up view of the lessons I’ve learned and I get to actually see a plan in action.
So, what we’re going to do in today’s video is what I call a breakdown. I am going to show you exactly how we tailored one runners training from the “traditional” training plan to a more innovative and science-based plan that we have been discussing for the last seven lessons.
Let’s get started.
In this video I want to introduce you to Peter.
Peter is an experience marathoner from Canada. He’s 50 and wants to qualify for Boston, so the standard Peter needs to break is 3:30.
His previous marathon PR is 3:39 and his half marathon is 1:44
Peter had tried a few times to get under 3:30 and break his 3:39 PR, but had really struggled his last few marathons.
He has a busy and often hectic schedule. He not only owned his own business, which requires him to be on his feet most of the day, but he also teaches at a local University.
Now that we have a little background on Peter, let’s dig into his previous marathon training and show you the schedule we created for him.
Peter was using the Hal Higdon Marathon Advanced program since he felt comfortable in the 50-55 mile per week range. Here is a look at the plan.
Specifically, I want to focus on weeks 6-15, since this is the real meat of the marathon training.
First, I want to highlight some of the items we discussed in the first seven lessons and then detail how and why we changed them for Peter.
Most obvious is the long runs. You can see the plan builds up to multiple 20 milers. Sadly, there are no miles at marathon pace, which means Peter wasn’t specifically preparing for the fatigue he would face on race day.
Here is a look at Peter’s new plan. You’ll see that while the long runs are shorter, only 18 miles, they are much more marathon specific. If you recall lesson 3, you’ll remember just how effective these fast finish and surge long runs can be.
The next problem for Peter was his paces.
Since Peter wanted to break 3:30 to qualify for Boston, he set his “pace” runs at 8:00 mile, 3:30 pace.
The problem is, Peter’s race results show he’s only in 3:36-3:39 shape. That means his aerobic threshold is really 8:20 per mile.
20 seconds might not seem like a lot, but it turned all those “pace” runs into lactate threshold runs. Targeting a different energy system and not preparing Peter to improve to the specific demands of the marathon.
Moreover, there was very little marathon specific work in Peter’s previous plan. The mid week Thursday workout was almost always a speed session. Either hills or a Yasso 800’s workout.
In fact, Peter repeated the Yasso 800 workout 3 times. You’ll recall from lesson 5 how ineffective and useless this workout can be.
In short, the workouts Peter was doing were not marathon specific. He relied too heavily on slow long runs and shorter speed sessions. Neither of these workouts specifically targeted Peter's weaknesses or the specific marathon fitness he needed to develop.
Let’s look again at Peter’s new plan.
First, we got Peter’s paces in line with his fitness level. His aerobic threshold runs were aerobic threshold runs and so forth. He was therefore able to better maximize the value of each run.
Peter's workouts became much more marathon specific. Every mile he ran was specifically designed to elicit a certain physiological benefit.
We implemented marathon specific long runs that increased fuel efficiency and targeted marathon endurance, and we added the hill to tempos, alternating tempos and other marathon specific workouts that improved Peter’s physiological marathon readiness.
Finally, one thing you’ll note with Peter’s plan is we tailored the days running for him. Given his business and teaching duties, running Thursday’s didn’t work, so we were able to adjust that for him.
We’ll zoom back out to the calendar view of Peter’s custom plan so you can see the marathon specific workouts we discussed in lesson 4 in action. Plus, you can see how the entire plan is laid out.
If you’d like, screenshots of this plan are available as a download under this video. Please do not just copy it unless you perfectly fit Peter’s description. Use the lessons we discussed in the previous 7 lessons to craft a plan that fits your mileage, injury history, strengths, weaknesses, age, goals and fitness. Of course, if you’d like our help, we do provide custom training plans and coaching support. You can find a link to our programs below this video as well.
So what were the results? How did it turn our for Peter?
Not surprisingly, Peter crushed it. He ran 3:28:40 and qualified for the Boston Marathon! He also PRd in the half marathon in his next training cycle, running 1:36:46, which was a near 8 minute PR.
I hope that has you inspired and showcases just how much applying what you learned these last 7 lessons can help!
With that said, we do have one more video for you. It’s a sneak peak inside our private coaching and training community so you can see just how we work, how a plan is created, and how it’s tailored to you. Plus, we’ll give you a special bonus for having made it through all 9 videos! Stay tuned and hope you enjoyed this case study!
I know I haven't answered some common questions to help you fill in the plan, so here goes.
I'll discuss how many mpw to run, how many days per week is optimal, and heart rate training. Plus, we'll give you an inside look into our members area and give you a special bonus!
Thanks for sticking around for our bonus video, it’s really appreciated.
In this video, I am going to give you a very quick preview of our Coaching and Training plans to show you exactly how we can build a customized training plan for you.
But, it’s not just a sales pitch. Along the way, I am going peel back the curtain a bit so you can see exactly how you can customize your own plan to factor in your strengths and weaknesses and avoid many of the common mistakes.
Plus, at the end of the video I’ll give you instructions on how to get your special bonus.
So, without further ado, let’s peel back the curtain!
So, the first thing I want to cover in this video is answering common questions that haven’t been covered in our previous videos.
These types of questions don’t have a specific right answer or aren’t complicated enough to require an entire lesson.
For example, a common question that I get asked is about using heart rate for training
Let me first start out by saying heart rate training is great
However, I don’t recommend using it
I know, kind of odd, but let me explain
Training by heart rate has a few downsides that I think are magnified or difficult to overcome unless you’re a very experienced runner. Here are three reasons why:
1. Many fluctuations in heart rate do not correspond to effort levels
Perhaps the biggest limitation to heart rate training is that many changes in your heart rate do not correlate to your fitness level. Sleep, stress, and dehydration can all raise or lower heart rate on any given day. As normal people with jobs, families, and otherwise busy lives, these outside influencers are common and can have a drastic affect on your heart rate readings.
Many studies have concluded that a lack of sleep, a reality that many runners are plagued with, will elevate your heart rate 5-10 beats per minute (bpm). While this may not seem like a big change, coupled with the other factors below, a lack of sleep could cause you to train at heart rate levels that are below your optimal training zones.
In addition, you naturally have a lower heart rate in the morning than you do at night. Even further, heart rate can vary by 2-4 bpm from one day to the next without any changes to fitness or fatigue. Therefore, you need to adjust your heart rate to accommodate for the time of day you’ll be attacking the roads and factor in daily variability.
Stress has the same affect on your heart rate as a lack of sleep. One study in particular showed that workplace stress raised heart rates by 4-6 bpm. This is an important statistic for runners who train after work.
Unlike sleep, an exact measurement of your stress level, and therefore the exact increase in your heart rate, is difficult to determine. While running is a great way to reduce the effects of stress, the elevated heart rates you experience while in a stressful state will change the heart rates at which you should be running.
As runners with busy lives, caffeine often becomes the fuel that runs our day – for better or worse. While staying awake at work is ideal, studies have shown that caffeine elevates heart rate for up to 24 hours after ingestion.
Like stress, it is difficult to measure the exact change in heart rate you’ll experience when consuming caffeine because we all react individually to its effects. Runners who are accustomed to caffeine will be less affected than those who only drink the occasional cup.
Weather also has a dramatic influence on heart rate. During hot days, your heart rate will increase as your body works to cool itself down. In hot and humid conditions, blood is sent to the skin to aid in the cooling process. This means there is less available blood and oxygen for your working muscles. Therefore, your heart has to work harder to maintain the same pace and effort during your run.
Conversely, heart rate will decrease (or more accurately underestimate the intensity of exercise) in response to training in cold environments. Researchers posit that training in cold temperatures results in an increase in stroke volume and thus a higher V02max, which will lower the perceived effort and reduce your heart rate.
Finally, dehydration has a profound affect on heart rate. In one study, researchers found that cyclists who exercised in a dehydrated state exhibited heart rate readings that were 5-7.5% higher than normal. Like the above factors, training in a dehydrated state can drastically influence your heart rate training zones.
While each of these factors in itself isn’t cause to throw your heart rate monitor out the window, when you combine their effects, you can easily be exercising outside your target heart rate zones on any given day. Likewise, the exact measurement of your stress levels, caffeine intake, and heart rate variability can be difficult to pinpoint, leaving you guessing at your actual heart rate levels.
2. Lack of concrete data needed to establish training zones
Another inherent drawback to heart rate training is how difficult it is to establish you max heart rate and accurate training zones. While a quick Google search reveals a myriad of formulas to help you find your max heart rate, the problem with formulas is that they are based on an average. What if you’re not average? Not only that, but is maximum heart rate really the best predictor of training zones?
In order to establish proper training zones, an athlete must first determine their maximum heart rate (MHR). Unfortunately, a majority of runners use simple heart rate formulas (does 220 minus age ring a bell), which have a high degree of error.
To get an accurate measure of your maximum heart rate, you should partake in a graded exercise test, but locating a facility that can accommodate this type of testing isn’t easily found. Likewise, a graded exercise test isn’t going to be appropriate for a beginner runner who can’t handle such a stressful workout.
Therefore, many runners who control their effort by heart rate may be doomed from the start by using faulty max heart rates.
Training with a heart rate monitor requires adherence to a specific set of heart rate zones, each of which is designed to elicit a particular exercise intensity. Unfortunately, maximum heart rate is not the ideal way to measure the bodies response to exercise. Rather, blood lactate levels are more accurate.
In fact, research has demonstrated that there is no predictable relationship between heart rate and lactate threshold. Lactate threshold tends to occur at around 90% of maximum heart rate in well-trained runners, but it can occur at 50% of maximum heart rate for beginners. Therefore, your optimal training zones could be far outside what traditional heart rate training advocates suggest.
Now, this doesn’t mean I never use heart rate or think it’s a terrible idea all together. Simply speaking, I don’t trust it and would rather develop a runner’s more fine-tuned internal sense of effort and pace. If you use a heart rate monitor currently, you don’t have to stop – just keep these three caveats in mind.
Now, there are also questions that don’t have a good answer. For example, the most common question is “how much mileage do I need to be running”.
The difficult thing with this question is that the answer will always be “it depends”. If anyone tells you that you “need” to run a certain mileage per week or pigeon holes your plan based on mileage isn’t maximizing your potential.
For example, let’s say we have Bob and Susie both training for their first marathon.
Bob is overweight and isn’t coming from a very athletic background.
Susie on the other hand has been doing yoga most her like and is pretty fit for her age.
Both runners are training for their first marathon and not running much right now. To think we’d progress both or assign both the same number of miles per week is silly.
Despite running the same now and both training for a marathon, Susie is going to be able to handle more miles more quickly than Bob.
It’s the same problem for experienced runners. You can have two runners with the same PRs and same goal, but due to injuries, time commitments and other factors, run very different mileage.
That said, let’s try to answer the question as best we can...
Most runners assume that running more miles per week is always better. But, rarely is the answer so simple. Yes, more miles will build your aerobic system faster and stronger, but if it comes at the expense of injury or overtraining, then it’s certainly not the best solution for you.
More specifically, there is no definitive mileage to performance correlation.
Therefore, rather than thinking in terms of how many miles you can or should run, focus instead on finding the optimal number of miles you can run.
Here’s how to do that.
If you’ve been training consistently and without injury for a number of months, try adding a few miles per week and see how your body reacts. If you notice an increase in fatigue, workouts not going as well, or the onset of injuries, bring the mileage back down.
If you feel just as healthy running more mileage, evaluate the impact it has on your race times and overall happiness. If you enjoy the extra mileage and your race performances respond favorably, try kicking it up another notch and repeat the process.
On the other hand, if you’re injury prone or struggling with overtraining and inconsistent results, reducing mileage may be the solution to running better.
Healthy, continuous training beats a few weeks of high mileage followed by injury and burnout every time.
The point is, don’t add miles for the sake of adding miles. There is no magic number. Find what works optimally for you – healthy, happy and improving – and keep it there.
Days per week
Another similar question with no “real answer” is how many days per week should I run.
There are both pros and cons to running more or less days per week.
The benefit to running a greater number of days per week helps you spread out your mileage. This can make it easier to increase your miles per week since each individual day is less mileage. This can sometimes facilitate better recovery since with less mileage on easy days, you fatigue your muscles less while increasing the number of times you deliver oxygen-rich blood to working muscles.
However, adding more days per week to your running schedule can often make it feel like you’re running all the time. If you have a tight schedule or enjoy activities outside running, this can make training feel like a burden and lead to burnout. Moreover, if you’re an injury-prone runner, running more times throughout the week offers less opportunity for the muscles and ligaments to fully recover and could increase your injury risk.
Most importantly, adding more days to your “running training” doesn’t mean you have to simply run. You can make yourself a stronger, more injury-resistant runner by performing running-specific strength training or including active-stretching and foam rolling.
The best answer is to analyze your current training, goals, and personal preferences to determine what is optimal for you. Like finding the optimal mileage, slowly experiment with adding or subtracting running days and measure the impact it has on your performance and enjoyment of the sport.
Now, obviously questions like days per week and best mileage leave a lot of room for interpretation and experimentation when it comes to finding the best plan for you.
And, I don’t meant to be vague purposefully, it truly is a very “one size does not fit all” type of question
That’s why template and generic plans don’t work as well – they aren’t customized to your strengths and weaknesses, training or injury history, and goals.
And that is the goal of this course. To help you create a better plan for yourself.
My hope is that you take all the information from this course, which I hope you found awesome and enlightening, and through trial and error write your own plan or find a plan online to help you train your best for your upcoming marathon.
But, I also want to offer you an easier, more fail-proof way.
See, because the problem with trial and error is that it can be expensive.
Add up the cost of your marathon entry (likely 50-100 dollars), travel (hotels and flights) plus all the time you spend training for the event and getting it wrong really sucks.
So, I want to share with you how our RunnersConnect plan can help guarantee a great marathon race for you.
In essence, we designed our membership site to solve 6 common training and coaching problems runners experience
- Not having a personalized plan
- Dealing with injuries
- Needing motivation to stay consistent and on track
- Struggling to understand how, when and what strength training, cross training ad injury prevention work to do
- Finding the time to fit everything in
- Not understanding workout/training terminology
To help explain how we can help with each of these common issues, I want to go through how our RunnersConnect plan works so you can see exactly how we build you a personalized schedule, help you avoid injuries while training harder, and get the support you need.
It all starts with our interview process. This is where you tell us about yourself – your training history, injuries, miles per week, etc.
It’s a 3-step process designed to gather as much info about you as necessary without taking you hours to create.
Now, I told you I had a special bonus at the end of this video, but I lied.
I actually have a few awesome bonuses for you.
First, it’s a limited-time discount on our runnersconnect membership.
Normally, the runnersconnect membership cost 49/month, or 39 month is paid annually. but as a special bonus as part of this course, you can get your custom training schedule and coaching support for 20% off for the life of your membership.
That means it’s just $39/month if paid monthly and 29 month is paid annually.
But, to make the deal even better, if you signup during this limited discount period, I’ll send you our revolutionary marathon wall calculator
The marathon wall calculator tells you exactly when you’ll hit the wall in a marathon based on your fitness and time goal and provides the exact number of calories and carbs you need to consume to avoid.
All you need to do is input your weight, 5k time and goal time and we do all the math for you. Plus, because the excel file is yours to keep, you can re-run the calculations for every marathon you run to help you adapt your nutrition needs to your changing fitness.
We normally sell the calculator alone for $19.95. But as a special thank you for signing up for our training plans, you’ll get the calculator absolutely free.
Now, if you’re not interested in signing up for RunnersConnect, that’s totally cool, I still have an awesome bonus for you.
If you look below this video you’ll see a link to download a free copy of our popular marathon recovery schedule.
In 2014, over 56 thousand runners used this exact schedule to properly recover from the marathon.
And, to get even better, it comes with a complete cross training guide with 17 of the most running-specific cross training workouts you’ll ever find to help you maintain fitness while you recover.
And it’s available for free right below this video.
Now, I know this video was a little longer than the previous 8, but I hope it helped answer some lingering questions you had about how to structure your training.
Congrats to you on finishing the course and taking action to become a better runner. I hope you’ve learned a lot and started to apply these lessons to your training already.
But, we’re also not done helping you.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be sending you some helpful and timely emails as you progress through your marathon training. I’ll teach you about nutrition, strength training, running form and all the other components that make up a great training cycle.
So, stay tuned to you inbox and best of luck at your race!