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

Sun, 26 Mar 2006 05:41:52 -0500

Final Five


You can't believe everything you hear. During a run last year I overheard two runners discussing, and dismissing, a marathon program I'd designed (see "How Much Is Enough?" 2/20/05 RC).

They stated, accurately, "They only run long every other week," and, "They only go over 20 miles once, peaking at 21." They concluded, "That's not enough training."

I didn't agree on that last point then, as my first Marathon Team began its training. One year and three completed Team cycles later, I have results from more than 60 runners to show that their distances were long enough, and run often enough.

The schedule of biweekly long runs -- just six of them spread across a three-month program, stepping up by two miles at a time from 11 to 21 -- fit with my longtime approach to marathon training. That's to do the least you can get by with, not the most you can tolerate.

The "least" is more likely to take you to the starting line healthy. But runners, especially first-time marathoners, are left to wonder where they'll find the final five miles. Here's what I told the latest Marathon Team in the worry-filled final weeks before their run at Napa Valley:

Your training peaked at 21 miles. You might be asking yourself, if you haven't already asked me, or haven't found out for yourself in an earlier marathon: How can I now take the big leap from 21 to 26?

I understand your concerns. Had them myself a hundred years ago when facing my first marathon, off a longest training run a mile shorter than yours.

That marathon would be faster than any that followed, when training often was longer. Based on experience since then -- as a runner, writer, speaker and coach of marathoners -- I offer these ways that you'll find those extra miles.

-- You trusted me to help you get this far. Trust me not to have left you unprepared for your finish.

-- You get an extra week's recovery (three in all) between the last long run and the race. Use it wisely, and don't try to do any "cramming" for this final exam. Your assignment now is to taper down the training.

-- You will go new places. Enjoy escaping the "home course," which has become too familiar these past few months, and exploring the race course that will be new to all of you.

-- You will get a major boost from the magic of raceday -- the crowd running with you and watching you run. Expect the increased adrenaline to give you another hour of strong running.

-- You won't succumb to adrenaline poisoning, will you? Keep your head in the early miles while almost everyone around you is losing theirs.

-- You will start slower, or at least no faster (please), than on your longest training run. Look forward to passing people in the late miles, which is much more fun than being passed.

-- You will have more help. Don't worry about getting a drink or finding a bathroom. They'll be available every couple of miles.

-- You will see new faces. Appreciate how you're part of something much bigger, 100 times bigger in this race, than your Sunday training runs. You'll never run alone.

-- You will have trained as long or longer than most of the runners near you. Look around and think, I feel better than that person looks.

-- You won't face another long run, two miles longer, in two weeks. Don't hold anything back, as you can take as much time as you want to recover from this big effort. You'll never forget all that what went into it.


Rains fell and headwinds blew during the Napa Valley Marathon. Some 500 runners either didn't show up, didn't finish or didn't make the 5:30 cutoff time. Our Team of Oregonians lined up all 16 of its entrants, and all finished with at least a half-hour to spare.

The previous two Marathon Teams had trained the same way as this latest group. Of the 49 starters, all but one finished.

That one stepped off the course with two blocks to go so a time that disappointed him wouldn't be recorded. He'd still gone five miles past his training peak.

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