The scenario: After running a 1:20 half marathon PR this spring, I wanted to train for my first marathon and have a respectable result, but I didn’t have time for a long buildup due to some unavoidable travel and how races are scheduled in my region.
The athlete: male, late 40s, normal BMI. Four years of serious training as an adult with PRs around 36:30 for 10K and 1:20:30 for HM. High school PRs of 4:43/10:05 for 1600/3200. My spring HM buildup had a real average of 46 mpw, including days off for illness, travel, and tapering. Weeks without interruptions averaged 64, with a high of 73.
The challenge: Adapt Renato Canova’s elite marathon training, as described in a 2017 presentation, to my level and situation.
See more: http://www.serranoatletismo.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Marathon-Training.pdf
The approach: I wouldn’t try to reproduce Canova’s complex workouts for elite marathoners, but instead to implement his principles at my level. I had a lot of room to extend my endurance at marathon pace just with Canova’s basic workouts. The program is built around race pace, not energy systems, so I did no work intentionally targeted at lactate threshold or vO2max. My period of peak mileage involved holding an average of 75 mpw for 6 weeks (all singles on 6 days per week), with two workouts per week. In addition, I needed to figure out marathon fueling.
The paces: Theoretically, MP was around 6:30. So my 75% pace (using Canova’s math) was 8:10, 80% = 7:50. In practice, I didn’t need to think about these two paces. Most days ended up around 7:50, but sometimes I ran at 8:00 or 8:10 if I needed an easier pace. My 85% pace was 7:30, 87% = 7:20, 90% = 7:10, 93% = 6:45, 98% = 6:38, although my sustained runs ended up mostly between 7:00 and 6:38. 105% = 6:10 (HMP), 110% = 5:50 (10K), which I only hit in the lower-priority maintenance workouts.
The mileage: 69, 70, 49, 35, 8, 43 [traveling two weeks during this 3-week block], 71, 80, 69, 81, 71, 83, 64, 51, 19 + race.
The program: a 2-week cycle of 4 workouts.
Tuesday: Long intervals (“long continuous run alternating medium distances with short distances”; 2nd priority)
Saturday: Long sustained run (“long continuous run at even pace”; top priority)
Tuesday: Maintenance intervals/fartlek (“long run with variations of speed”; 4th priority)
Saturday: Long run (“long run at even pace run at 80% MP, lasting from 2 hr till 3 hr/duration training”; 3rd priority)
Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays. and Fridays: 8-14 miles (“long run at even pace”), usually at 7:50-8:10 pace, a few faster, a few slower.
The periodization: After taking a close look at the differences between Canova’s general/fundamental/specific periods, I realized that the similarities between the workouts I was doing meant that I could just progress smoothly from start to finish by progressing each workout type to longer distances and speeds closer to MP.
Long sustained runs: 8.5 miles @ 6:59; 10 @ 6:48; 11 @ 6:50; 13 @ 6:57; 11 @ 6:48 (aiming for 14 but crashed); 14 @ 6:38 (4 weeks out); 2 x 5 @ 6:35 (2 weeks out)
Long intervals: 4 x 2 miles @ 6:40; 4 x 2.25 @ 6:42; 4 x 2.5 @ 6:31; 4 x 2.75 @ 6:29 (accelerating for last .75, but this workout required longer recovery); 4 x 3 (6:37; 18 days out)
Fartlek, 3” MP/2” 80% - 2” MP/2” 80% - 1” HMP/1” 80%:
3 - 4 - 10 reps; 4 - 4 - 11 reps; 5 - 5 - 12 reps
3 x (1 mile, 1 mile, .5 miles) at MP/HMP/10K pace with long rest
10 x 1K (5:53/mile) with 600 jog rest
5 x 1K (5:54/mile; 11 days out)
Long run: 17.5 (7:52), 20 (8:07), 21 (7:51), 24.5 (7:41; 3 weeks out), the last two long runs finished with 1-2 miles of steady-pace running
The course: Mostly flat with some short hills, but a few sharp turns and a stretch on dirt road.
The weather: Cold (28 start/39 finish). Shorts, long sleeves, gloves, and an insulated cap. I ditched the cap at 10 miles but kept the gloves. Steady wind (8-10 mph) at my back from mile 4-18, but in my face from the start to mile 3, and from mile 18 to the finish.
The fueling: I discovered in training that I can only tolerate about half a gel packet at a time, so I planned to alternate slurping half a gel packet with drinking only water at aid stations. I carried 3 Cliff Shots with me and consumed them on schedule (5 and 8 miles, 12 and 14 miles, 17 and 20 miles).
The splits: 6:52 for mile 1; 6:44 average for miles 2-4; 6:35 for mile 5; 6:25 average for miles 6-18; 6:36 average for miles 19-21; 6:40 average for miles 22-23; 6:58 average for miles 24-25; 7:05 for mile 26; 7:25 pace for the last .2. The last 3.2 miles were painful and I was getting leg cramps, but I kept moving forward without falling over.
Final time: right around 2:53:30.
The verdict: I think this implementation of Canova for hobby joggers worked well for me. During the race, I felt strong up through mile 22 and in control the whole time. During the buildup, I didn’t feel ragged or on the edge of injury, even with all-time high mileage. A longer build-up would have been better, and it would have been sustainable. It will be a year or two until I try a marathon again, but I’ll probably take a similar approach.