Training Explanation

Better make that training plan make a little more sense.

There is plenty of method to the madness. There are many different training theories out there. Some with plenty of weight behind them, some are just simply popular. Science on marathon training is a bit of mixed bag too, offering only snippets of good insight hidden in a sea of poorly designed or interpreted studies. For myself, I have put down a plan that I believe offers me the best chance of going under 3 hours given my current fitness and constraints imposed by the rest of my life.


I am not a professional athlete. Some would say running is my hobby, but I do think it goes a bit beyond that. It is part of who I am. Therefore it takes up a lot of time in my world. Of course there are plenty of other things in my life, including family, friends, work and the miscellaneous that comes up. With rotating shift work, a 6 month old, and my wife now back at work, my training schedule has to fit around all of this. As a result I have to find some creative ways of getting in the training. There could be plenty of better training options, like twice a day runs, or different spacing out of my key sessions. In the bigger scheme of things, they really aren't better options if they impose on the rest of my life.

As a result of the what else I have chosen to do in life, my training plan incorporates the following:

  • Single run per day (in most cases).
  • Variable length of training week (7-9 days)
  • Plan for the key sessions and the rest is just what I can get in


There are plenty of arguments about the importance of the volume of training required to successfully tackle the marathon. In my view, there is no escaping the fact that the number of kilometres you run has a significant influence on how you perform on race day. It isn't the only factor, but it is a very important one.

During twelve weeks of specific training, Billat (2001) found marathoners with a time faster than 2:11 covered 206 (+/- 26) km per week. This is well above the 168 (+/-20) km per week of those with marathon time between 2:12-2:16. There are also a number of studies supporting an almost linear relationship between marathon time and training mileage amongst the runners of with slower race results when applied to largish samples. Of course this doesn't take into account other individual factors, the data is similar to predicting your maximum heart rate based on 220-age. It is very accurate when average over 1000 people, but can be long way out when applied to only one person. As long as the athlete can handle the training, and other important aspect do not suffer, then generally the more kilometres covered in training, the more likely a better marathon time will result.

For myself, the limits on my mileage are more as a result of time constraints. Not running twice a day will make it almost impossible to reach really high mileage targets. Further I see running really long runs most days will negatively effect other training aspects and risk leading to injury. As a result of my key sessions (two of which are long runs), plus a commitment to run each and every day will result in the highest possible mileage I can fit in and adapt well too. At no point am I setting any target weekly for kilometres. If I cannot reach that target the added stress is likely to make me to try and catch up those kilometres. Essentially my weekly mileage could be considered a result (or symptom) of focusing on other aspects of my training.

As a prediction I see my weekly kilometres ranging between 70-130km. Usually up around the 100km mark.

Polarised Training

At first glance at my training plan, it would appear there are no marathon pace runs until week 17 (of 22 weeks). This doesn't mean I won't be running at my predicted marathon pace (MP) until then. Since I expect to see an improvement in training paces over the next few months, the intensity zone of MP will initially be relatively high for me and will hopefully become much more manageable. The initial Intense key sessions will be at an aerobic threshold conditioning level, which over the first few weeks will be at my MP. As the weeks go by, my Long and especially my Medium runs will get much closer towards MP.

The majority of my training, filler runs, medium and long distance will be at an aerobic conditioning pace (70-81%HRmax). Quite simply this is about building endurance across all domains including, musculoskeletal, connective tissue, cardiovascular and enhancing substrate utilisation.

Beyond this I will incorporate a maximal steady-state run of lengthening duration each week before switching to higher intensity longer intervals and finally VO2max style intervals closer to race day. On top of this I will also be doing a so-called speed session each cycle. Typically this will incorporate drills, strides, and intervals at 3000-800m paces. Plenty of people may argue about the point of including so much faster running in marathon preparation. I see it is an integral part of preparing to run a quick marathon. Yes you can safely get to a certain level without the faster running. There is a large body of evidence supporting the requirement of fast running (10,000m, 3000m and faster) as a necessary part of complete marathon preparation. It calls for a post just to address this element. It does come down to those who race fast also train fast.

The large range of paces falls nicely into the system of Multipace Training, which is likely to allow for more complete development. The variety moves away from the large amount of monotony of paces often encountered in marathon programs. That monotony has been established to be a high risk for injury. The incorporation of multipace training throughout the months of training will allow for more gradual adaptation, instead of suddenly going from high but low intensity mileage to a large dose of fast running. A time also well established as high injury risk.

The Extras

Obviously running is the most important element, but there are a few others that need consideration. First it some strength work. I'll be performing a strength/weights session twice a week. The exercises will focus on full body, large range of motion for the most part. The session won't be overly taxing, but will be progressive non-the-less. I'll incorporate any remedial work as needed. The main reason for including strength training is to enhance the connective tissue strength and resilience to injury. Second is I have certain strength requirements in my job.

I won't be eliminating other physical activity because I have to be fresh for running. In fact I hope to get in a reasonable amount of other training during the Base phases just to add to my workload tolerance. Mostly this will be some cycling as a commute to and from work, but I'll dip into anything else that presents. During the Specific and Peak phases I'll have curtail the extras.

The Essence

Up until the last few weeks, the challenge of the training won't be any particular training session or day. Each training run should be quite doable at each stage of development. Recovery should never take more than a couple of easy days. The challenge comes from the relentless nature of the training plan. It is a gradual, but always increasing workload. The improvements will come from being consistent and the consistency will build the marathon strength required. It is a Trial of Miles.

ref: Billat VL, Demarle A, Slawinski J, Paiva M, Koralsztein J-P, Physical and training characteristices of top-class marathon runners. Med Sci. Sports. Exerc. Vol 33(12) 2001


  1. Jason,
    First of all, I love the new header. That's a great picture.

    Next, about your strength training regime: Are you looking at circuit training, higher reps (initially) and then move to increasing muscular strength by incorporating lower reps and higher weight?

    Finally, I really don't enjoy marathon training and have almost given up on that distance. However, I've been reading more about training for the marathon with fewer running days and fewer overall miles. I'm a 4:00-4:30 marathoner. Do you have any experience with those types of programs?

  2. Thanks Jason - that's easier to follow than a chart of training sessions.

    It all makes sense, and I agree that improving the short distance speed will be of great assistance when the overall volume is limited - although I don't consider 100k/week all that limiting.


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