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Marathon Nation: How We Train

25 March

Courtesy MikeBaird on Flickr

With the release of our recent blog post on Rethinking the Long Run, there have been a lot of questions about exactly how we structure our training to make sure that we actually do get fitter by training smarter. After all, pretty much anyone will agree with the desire to get more for the same inputs, but it’s another thing to really do it. As we’ll see, training less overall time and training smarter both have very little to do with taking it easy!

If you like our approach, please consider signing up for a free beta invitation
to check out the members portion of the Marathon Nation site in April 2010.
You can do that here.

Macro Level Training

Starting with the big picture, it’s important to note that everything we do inside Marathon Nation is geared around preparing you to race your event at 100%. There are no junk miles; there is minimal attention paid to training for training’s sake…you are (presumably) here to get ready for your next marathon or half-marathon and you want to do well, period.

The Training Phases
We have two distinct, twelve week phases to our training. The General Preparation phase is all about laying the ground work for your push to race day. We test and build your fitness to an intermediary event; some athletes choose to stay here for two (or more) cycles. As race day approaches, athletes transition over to the Race Preparation phase where the volume of long runs increases and the overall training schedule is adjusted accordingly to build race-specific fitness. Both phases are built with equal parts work and recovery to ensure that progress is consistent and effective.

Return On Investment (ROI)
There are no runs inside Marathon Nation that can be considered “filler.” You might want to add your own runs, even customize your plan to add the fun and cool stuff that make training fun and exciting. But at the very basic level we are focused on making sure that every workout has a purpose and positively affects your race day preparation.

Quality vs Quantity
The number one way we maintain the focus on high ROI is by leveraging quality workouts over simply stacking up the quantity. This is more about meaning, not mileage. Our basic training week has an interval session and a tempo session, with a long run on the weekend. All of these sessions are run at percentage of your tested fitness, ensuring focused training that will challenge your body without putting you over the edge.

Data Driven Training
While you don’t need to put the latest super computer on your wrist, we do encourage you to monitor a few pieces of critical data. In our world, this is primarily your 5k test time and commensurate vDOT score (more on that later). Using these personalized numbers, you can not only implement an effective workout schedule, but you can do a much better job of understanding just how every individual workout is affecting your fitness. Take what you need or dive right in and really get to know your data; it’s up to you!

Race Execution
All of that great fitness doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t actually put it into action on race day. Conversely, you can have sub-par fitness and still manage a solid result as compared to the competition because you executed properly. Despite all the work we have you doing, we strongly encourage you to be conservative at the beginning of your race, building your effort so that when the going gets tough, you can get going and have a great race. Our motto is Run to the Line, Race to the Finish.

We have specific guidance on how to race your marathon (and half marathon) and you can download the basics here.

Micro Level Training
Still reading? Great! Let’s dig a little deeper into what it means to run the Marathon Nation way. It might get a little confusing and if so, refer to the macro level stuff above or start asking us questions on Facebook [link] or via Twitter [link].

It’s About Time, not Distance
Your body doesn’t speak miles, it speaks time. We don’t force you do train to specific mileage totals for any run as an innocent long run of 20 miles for a 12:00/mile runner will take four hours. The amount of damage done in such a run will significantly outweigh any possible fitness gains, and subsequent days of training will be severely compromised.

Think about it. If you are a 10:00 miler, and your buddy is an 8:00 miler, and you both go out and run five mile race exactly at your optimal pace, you will have both run five miles at 100%. But if you look more closely at time, your will have run 50 minutes at 100% while your buddy las “only” run 40 minutes. You have, in no uncertain terms, done more work than your faster buddy.

Alphabet Soup
Training with data means learning a to speak a new language. It’s not as hard as it might seem, but there is a learning curve. Inside Marathon Nation you’ll find us talking about Training Stress Scores (a calculation of how hard your body has worked), about vDOT (a score for your 5k test as based off of Daniels’ Running Formula), about Intensity Factor and much more. Rest assured that these concepts and numbers are all here to help you get better, not confuse you. Our coaches and members will be more than happy to walk you through the paces once you are on the Team.

Lots of WORK
The short answer to “Can you do more with less time?” is Yes. The real answer involves a training week built around Tempo and Threshold Pace runs. You will get very comfortable with running fast (whatever that is for you) and you will need to learn how to recover properly. This is the exact opposite of training programs that preach multiple long runs and tons of long slow distance.

Even our long runs are focused, with intervals and specific guidance to challenge your fitness. It’s not uncommon to find our athletes running PR half marathon times without doing any runs longer than 9 miles.

Race Simulations
The way we look at it, nothing about your big day needs to be a mystery. Not only do we have your vDOT from multiple test points during your season, but we also ask you to do two race simulation runs. Instead of the classic “long run” that’s just about surveying for 18, 20, or 22 miles, a race simulation run is a workout that prepares you to execute your best possible day. You fuel for it as though it were a race, and even run the paces you’d like to see. By the end of your Race Prep cycle, you will be as ready as humanly possible for you event!


If you like our approach, please consider signing up for a free beta invitation
to check out the members portion of the Marathon Nation site in April 2010.
You can do that here.

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4 Responses to “Marathon Nation: How We Train”

  1. Patrick April 13, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    @Christi – Great call, I can write something up later today and post to the Blog, so stay tuned. Ultimately, it’s the power of the MN community to help you modify your plan to fit your life…that’s what we are best at. If you really want a sneak peek, please consider signing up for the Wait List here. We’ll open the doors next Monday, 4/19, for just one day. Folks who get in will have a full two weeks to play around for free.

  2. Christi April 13, 2010 at 2:20 am #

    Patrick, I have already signed up on the waitlist and am eager to learn more about your training philosophy. Would you be willing to share a glimps into what a typical week in your marathon training plan looks like? I have completed one marathon and really enjoyed it. Now I want to do it again but the plan I was on was a five day a week plan with one rest day and one cross training day. No matter how much I like working out and running, I just cannot commit to six days every week for 22 weeks. I am curious as to how many days a week your plan includes and what the length of time each run is. I would suspect the runs start out shorter in the beggining of the plan and gradually get longer bit could you give me an idea of a typical week?

  3. Patrick April 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    @donna — thanks for the note and for giving this a try. Most of our guidance is for members, and our beta is closed. You can join the waitlist via the widget on our homepage (here) and get access to the learning materials and plans for a free 14-day trial when we open on 4/19. We do plan to have much more detailed free information available as we progress, but for now we are building out the team resources. Note: in general, with your vDOT information you can now train at goal Marathon pace (using guide like attackpoint) and threshold as well. Sorry this isn’t nearly comprehensive enough (yet).

  4. donnakelly68 April 10, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    I am currently training for my first marathon (Chicamauga Battlefield Marathon) in November and am very interested in this method of training, though am still uncertain about how training for time will work out in the end, rather than training for distance. I found my vDOT, but now need further instruction as to how to use that information

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