Friday, August 26, 2005

Marathon Training Guidelines

Taken from
By Nate Jenkins, approximately 1 year after running 2:14:56
November 30, 2008

Nate on....... figuring out marathon training paces
Bill Bowerman said “The magic is in the man not the miles” I think that may be the truest statement in coaching history. So this is what I believe is a good outline for marathon training. It is based heavily on what has worked for me, I hope it is helpful.I will base all the times off of a 2:11 marathon, just because I have memorized them. But to figure your own times out the easiest way to do it is to figure your marathon pace out in kilometers (there are plenty of online calculators to do this, I like the coolrunning one) then put the time in seconds 3 minutes equals 180 seconds then divide by 5 or multiply by .5 you get the same answer. That is 5% so then add that number to get what is 95%, 90%, 85%, 80% marathon pace and subtract it to get 105% and 110%. In our 2:11:00 we’ll go with 2:10:48 because that is exactly 3:06 kilometer pace. So 186 seconds, so 95% is 3:15.3, 90% 3:24.6, 85% 3:33.9, 80% 3:43.2. 105% is 2:57.4 roughly goal half marathon pace (hmp)though if you are an endurance guy like me 104 or 103% is really more like half marathon pace. 110% is 2:47.7 roughly goal 10k pace but again for me and other pure endurance runners it ends up being more like goal 5k pace.

Nate on.... splitting training phases for the marathon

Ok I break marathon training into two phases basically a base phase and a specific phase. But you need to be very fit to start training so if you are not very fit you need to add a third phase, a build-up phase. This starts by building up your mileage to the range you want to be running in. Next you hold that mileage and add some light workouts until you are fit enough to be comfortable at it.

Nate on ...weekly cycles of hard and medium efforts

As a general guideline I like to cycle things on a two week cycle doing 2 real hard efforts and 1 or 2 medium hard efforts the first week and then 1 hard effort and 2 or 3 medium hard efforts the next week and then repeat. This helps keep an even keal. But you need to find what works for you. First let me recommend caution and control. You need to train hard for a long time to get good. Training as hard as you can for a week will only ruin you because there will be nothing left for the next week. I like to suggest 90%. Each week during heavy training should be at 90% of what you could do if you were to go as hard as you could for the week. Now maybe once or twice during your season you may want a special week to go beyond this but do so only with great caution and extremely rarely. The most incredible training means nothing if you are not healthy on race day.

Nate on....general guidelines for the marathon

Mileage: I really feel that for most marathoners (male or female) that want to be elite they really should be running in the 130 mile a week plus range. That said there is a lot of variety in the mileage of successful marathoners some succeeding exceedingly well with as low as 90 miles a week or just below, Benji Durden comes to mind. So lets say for a general guideline range for the runner who truly wants to find their full potential in the marathon 90 to 210 miles a week. The bread and butter range where most should find themselves eventually is the 130 to 160 range.

Paces: we already covered most of these but I want to add easy and regeneration to the list easy is anything slower then 80% mp that isn’t a stupid slow jog. Regeneration is a stupid slow jog, for me right now its anything from 7:30 to 10 mins plus a mile.

Phase length: each phase should at the absolute shortest be 6 weeks and 8 to 10 is ideal. The specific phase includes a 2 week taper prior to the race.


(editor's note: Nate also calls this phase "fundamental phase") Here we try to build our overall fitness as much as possible and prepare ourselves to handle marathon training. I believe that in this phase our mileage should be at least as high as during our specific phase and can average as much as 10 or 15 miles a week more then during our specific phase. During this time I feel you should run as many different types of workouts and paces as possible to condition as many different systems as you can. I like the easy hard method.

Nate on...easy days during Phase 1

One day hard one day easy. Now you may need two easy days or three or you may be able to do just a medium day and recover(paris marathon champion and world champs runner up mbrack shami does this). How easy is easy. I like a nice 10 easy 10 regeneration double or a 9 easy 8 regeneration double. After extremely hard workouts I will do a 6 and 6 both regeneration pace double . But Kenny Moore who finished 4th at the Olympics in 72 and ran 2:11 liked to do only one run of 4 to 6 miles on most of his easy days. The point is find what works for you. But be honest with yourself. You are much better off getting good quality on your hard days and logging pathetic mileage on your easy days then working too hard on your easy days and having your quality suffer.

Now during the fundamental phase what is important is internal effort not the specific paces you run. So if the workout is 10k at half marathon goal pace(hmp) and for our 2:11 guy that its about 2:58pace or 29:40 and he runs all out and only manages a 30:20 that’s fine as long as he was running half marathon effort. During the specific phase the pace becomes important and if you can’t run the pace you are supposed to then you need to take another easy day and do the workout as intended at a later date.

Nate on ....what to work on during Phase 1

What to work on: Again variety is the key. In a given week hopefully you can get 3 or 4 solid efforts but if your recovery rate only allows one or two then that’s what you have to work with, although if this continues for a few years I would definitely try making your easy days easier.

Nate on....hard efforts during Phase 1

Hard efforts include 8 to 12k at half marathon goal pace, 20 to 30k runs at 95% marathon pace, 30 to 40k runs at 90% marathon pace 20 mile(32K) to 26 mile runs(42K) runs at 80% marathon pace, 12k progression runs in 4k at mp, 102%mp, 4k at hmp(105%mp), 20k alternating 1k or 2k at hmp and 1k slower (start at 40 seconds slower and try to work down to 20 to 25 seconds slower by the end of the fundamental phase). Another great workout that is more involved is 6k at the pace of your marathon pr, 5k at goal marthon pace, 4k 2 seconds per k faster, 3k 2seconds per k faster, 2k 2 seconds per k faster still, 1k all out(roughly 10k pace, do this with a k at roughly 30 seconds slower then mp for rest after each, so very quick jog. If you repeat the workout the paces stay the same but the jog rest gets faster. Finally you can do a super compensation day also called a special block during the base phase the second session should have intervals at hmp as the main focus. An example AM 10k at 80% mp rest 1 minute 10k at mp PM 10k at 80% mp rest 1 min. 10 to 12 x 1k at hmp w/ 2:30 rest. These should only be done a couple of times during the phase at the most and you should take an extra easy day before them and two extra easy days after at least.

Nate on....medium efforts during Phase 1

Medium hard efforts include 45 minute to 1½ hour progression runs, 10 to 12 x 1k at half marathon pace, 5 to 6x 2k at half marathon pace, 4x3k at half marathon pace. 4x3k cutdowns start at marathon pace cut down to half marathon pace, 3x4k cutdown, start at mp work down to hmp, rest on all of these workouts should be two or 3 minutes jogging. If you can run quicker and do something like at 3 flat 800m for the rest. Finally you can do long easy running 2 and ½ to 3 and ½ hours. Now when you are really fit that may work as an easy day but only after years of high mileage.

Nate on....what runners with slow twitch fibers should do during Phase 1

Finally if you tend to under perform at the short races or have had a muscle biopsy done that shows you have the slower of the two slow twitch fibers then you should do some aerobic work. So 300 to 500 meter repeats at 3k to 5k goal pace w/ short rest, minute or less. Or hill repeats of 100 to 200meters with jog down rest either way do a lot 10 to 30 in a session. This will teach your legs to burn lactic acid as fuel. Now if you are a good 5k/10k guy your body does this well enough naturally that you need not waste energy on in marathon prep because your base level of doing this is enough for a marathon.Finally in the second session after doing an am workout once or twice a week you should do short hills as steep as you can find for 8 to 10 seconds, if you are one of the slow people like me you can just do your 100 or 200meter hills here and kill two birds with one stone. These hills serve two (three if you are going anaerobic) purposes first they greatly improve your hearts stroke volume increase the amount of blood pumped out of your heart with each beat. Second they are great for the muscular development of quads, calves and ankles. Jog down and make sure your heart rate is below 140 for rest. It is the great and violent increase in heart rate that leads to increased stroke volume.


Like the title suggest specificity is the name of the game. Two major things to think about here, pace specific and time specific. Most of your workouts should meet one of those two requirements. Either you run hard, less then race pace but at least 80% mp for roughly the time you want to run your marathon in.

Nate on... Marathon race pace efforts during Phase 2

One extremely hard session 4 or 5 weeks prior to the goal race of running race goal time at 95% mp or 90% over very hilly terrain is a favorite of mine. I recommend more easy days during this phase, leaning towards two after most hard days.Try a special block, if you did them during the base phase and like it then do two. But this time both sessions should be mp based for example AM 10k at 80% 1 min rest 10k at mp PM repeat. If you do a second one try to do 10k at 80% 12k at mp Pm repeat.Race pace Race pace Race pace. More then any other distance race pace is of the utmost importance in marathon prep and yet it seems so few in the US use it and I think that is why so many under achieve at this distance. If you take only one thing from my growing manifesto here let it be this. Do a ton of marathon pace work for the marathon. These workouts can be very straight forward run 12 to 16 miles at mp. But I and others find that impossible to do alone in with the tiredness of mileage in our legs so I recommend doing intervals during which you cover 12 to 16 miles at mp. 4 to 5x5k, 4x6k, 3x7 or 8k. For rest take 800m to a mile but at a quick pace only 20 to 40 seconds a mile slower then mp. Another great mp workout is that 1k at half marathon pace 1k slower workout only now the rest has to be fast enough that you avg. marathon pace for the whole 20k so for our 2:11 guy he needs to run 2:58 on the on k’s and 3:14 on the rest k’s so he is recovering at 5:15 mile pace or better.

Nate on...Marathon pace tired efforts in Phase 2

Finally there is running marathon pace tired. These workouts specifically target the last 10k of the marathon. The special block is one. But others of note are 1 ½ hr progression runs with the last half hour at mp. Or run at an easy pace for 22 to 30 miles then do 10k at mp to finish up. This was a Kenny Moore classic. Canova likes varied pace runs of 30k to 40k. for example 10k at 80%, 5k at mp, 5k alternating 1min hard 1 min at 80%, 5k at 80%, 5k at mp. Then two or 3 weeks later 15k at 80%, 5k at mp, 5k alternating 1min hard 1 min at 80%, 5k at 80%, 10k at mp (or 5k at mp, 5k all out). These are great because they also serve as race simulations. If you are going to be running for the win or in a group of people where pace shifts or variations are possible then these type of runs, an the 20k alternating pace workouts are an absolute must.

Nate on...Peaking

Peaking ok I don’t feel I’m an expert on this and I am still experimenting. I like the 80 60 peak so two weeks out you to 80% of your normal volume and the week of you do 60%. Also during these weeks you cut back on the intensity of your average running days and you only do 1 or two workouts. These should be real light. I really like Pete Pfitzinger’s peaking from his book so if you can get it check it out. But I also like more canova styled workouts.Anyway some stuff they agree on is one workout the week before. One the week of, 7 days before a medium long run say 1:20 or so. Run it solid, not hard but solid, if you want you can go a bit easier and run the last two mile at mp.

Nate on...the last workouts before marathon

The last workout should be 2 miles to 6k at marathon pace. I like 4 days before the race, just how my body works but you may want to go 3 days before. But if you have been working on a hard easy hard easy schedule I really recommend going 4 days before. You can go harder on the workout the week before. I did a double workout before the trials (8 or 9 days out) I ran a 7 mile progression run in the morning and 7k at mp in the afternoon. I also like a long run 12 to 14 days before the race at a solid but not killer effort. I ran 22 miles with the first 19 at roughly 85% mp and the last 3 miles all out climbing 1000 feet 11 or 12 days prior to the trials. I ran 20 miles at 80% mp 13 days prior to my debut marathon.

Nate on...different marathon philosophies

Now as long as that is there is more stuff that you can add in and a million different ways to personalize what you are doing but that’s my philosophy in a big nutshell. It takes very heavily from the Italian/Kenyan marathon school.But if you cut back on the quicker stuff, eliminate the short hills and increase the volume to 1000 kilometers a month you have the Japanese school of marathoning. Also from what I know it is similar to what the Ethiopians are doing but they often do a bit less mileage and more quick stuff. The Moroccans are similar to that.