Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 27 Mar 2005 08:03:15 -0500

Putting Actions into Words


(Concluding a recent series of Commentaries on marathon training. This piece appeared in longer form as a Marathon & Beyond column for March-April 2005.)

One race didn't prove much. But I didn't settle for just the one Boston Marathon, my first and forever fastest.

Instead I raced marathons (as opposed to running them just to survive, which came later) another two dozen times over the next dozen years. These races taught me why the first one had gone so well, and why some others hadn't.

This one runner's experiences don't prove much, either. But I've published schedules in articles and then in books for more than 25 years. Readers who used these programs have both verified their value and helped refine them.

I never ran faster than that Boston time because I'd guessed just about right how to train for it. But because I didn't know what "right" was, I fumbled around in search of something better.

My long runs reached as far as 32 miles, and as little as 12. I raced almost every weekend, and ran no races besides the marathon. My easy runs averaged more than an hour a day, and little more than a half-hour.

Only when marathon racing was ending for me, in the late 1970s, did clear hindsight tell me how the training had and hadn't worked. Only then did I publish my first advice on the subject.

Time is a great editor. Years of further trials and errors had to come between me and my best marathon before I saw which parts of the training program to highlight and which to cross out.

A tidied-up version of the training done for Boston 1967 became the template for my first article on marathon training, written 10 years later. A more clarified version of that program was published 20 years after that as a book, simply titled Marathon Training. (Its second edition came out in 2004.) The key words to this plan are "long," "fast" and "easy."

-- Long runs. Success depends mostly on the long run, and everything else in the program is little more than filler. Move up to 20 miles or so, by two-mile steps taken every two to three weeks. Run a minute or two per mile slower than projected marathon pace, so the total time-on-the-feet will just about match that of the race.

-- Fast runs. Racing is the best speed training. Race on some of the weekends without long runs. Race no longer than 10K, so it's sure to be really fast, and so the race recovery won't interfere with the next long run.

(Another way to train faster is to run half the latest long-run distance, at the expected pace of the marathon. Again, make this the only hard run that week.)

-- Easy days. About nine in every 10 must be neither long nor fast. Keep these days easy -- no longer than one hour and at least one minute per mile slower than race pace for a similar distance, with one or more rest days each week.

Critics of my published programs might say it errs on the light side. Not enough total running, not enough long running in distance and number of runs, not enough speed, not enough months of training? I respond that I wouldn't ask you to do anything more or harder than I did myself.

With these writings I want to show that if I could train this way and race this well at Boston, why not you? I want to show you what is possible.


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