Analyzing training plans with a Marathon Shape workbook

Based upon Runalyze‘s Marathon Shape metric, I created a workbook for myself to analyze the projected Marathon Shape for a runner with a given Estimated VO2max, based on the projected mileage from a given training schedule.

Realizing I’ve briefly and vaguely brought this up before, I should first go into some detail on Marathon Shape and why I care about it:

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Few Things I’m Working On (Nov 2023)

It’s been a little while. I’ve kept my work close to the vest, just auto-regulating my training and lifestyle while working on different approaches.

  • Many tired mornings, I’ve opted for long morning walks near work instead of going for coffee. As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a long cross town commute that I’d rather not take during rush hour. So I make the commute early and either train or have coffee closer to work until it’s time for work. Lately I’ve just driven to work, parked, and then walked easy around the quiet office complex until around time for me to walk into the office. This not only has a modest training effect but also better prepared my body for all the walking I do on Vancouver trips than before.
  • Speaking of Vancouver, I took a couple trips this month to run a couple 10Ks I had interest in. I ran Granville Island on Canadian Thanksgiving (10/9) and the Great Trek at the UBC campus (10/28). I wasn’t at all specifically trained to race 10K so these were fun runs. I basically just jogged out Granville Island and the Great Trek was a long fitness test.

I really liked the Granville Island race, which goes around scenic False Creek (a misnomer as it’s basically a small bay). Though I probably won’t do it next year, I’ll certainly do it again.

I had been intrigued at the idea of eventually doing the full Great Trek: They hold a half marathon at 8:30, the 10K at 10:30, and a 5K at noon. They not only allow you to do all three but give out separate medals to people who do. (Of course, I only did the 10K this year)

However, while UBC is a nice campus, most of the Great Trek route isn’t that interesting. Most of it was just roadway through a lot of bland forest and open space. And their half marathon course is basically just the 10K course twice, so if one go-around feels like a boring grind, doing three would get pretty bad. And then to do the whole Trek you’d have to do a 5K after (which granted is a separate course). While running 37K is an accomplishment, doing it in a bunch of loops isn’t worth the effort to me as much as just doing a scenic marathon somewhere else. So, maybe not this one again.

For finishing the Run Van Grand Slam (I ran the First Half in February, the marathon in May, and these two races)… they gave you a plastic water bottle. They had mentioned giving Grand Slammers a medal, but I guess they changed their minds! Maybe too many people were eligible? I don’t know.

  • My Garmin Forerunner 945’s hinges broke in early October while removing it from my wrist. I was using an aftermarket fabric wristband, which means you have to pull the watch off like a wristband and the band width can only be adjusted while off your wrist. Unfortunately one day, pulling it off created too much torque on the hinges and they gave out.

So, I quickly replaced it with a new FR955 Solar (the 945 was starting to crap out in various ways and wasn’t a great watch for Garmin anyway).

The 955 tracks a bunch of extra metrics the 945 did not, like heart rate variability and training readiness. This 1-100 score every morning is based on your training load, your sleep, your aforementioned HRV, and Garmin’s stress score. Though certainly more useful for planning than the old Garmin Body Battery, the latter is still tracked for some reason.

Also, HRV itself is a superior metric to (still useful) resting heart rate, since RHR can be good and low when you need rest, whereas your HRV being low (higher is better) tells the actual story.

I expected the Solar recapture to be more useful than it’s actually been. Though Garmin claims it actively recharges the watch, I haven’t noticed an actual battery increase from extended inactive sun exposure. I’ve found its capability closer to the power recapture on a hybrid car, supplemental power that is then used in lieu of the battery and thus extending the latter.

  • I’ve let the Readiness score effectively dictate how much or how little training I’ve done each day. When the score’s lower, I’ve taken it easier than planned. After two back to back workouts last weekend, my score was so low over the next three days that I went ahead and took those days easy (just walking and yoga). I’ve found following its lead has helped a lot with keeping my overall training monotony low, a good sign. Workouts have also been consistently improving when I’ve done them thanks to the advised rest.
  • I mentioned yoga. I decided to seriously experiment with the Garmin Yoga routines, mostly the easier-to-intermediate ones I can do in the 20-30 minute range. I tried some of the longer intermediate ones, but once you introduce poses like the one-legged Warrior Three it’s a bit too much 20 minutes into a demanding yoga routine. I can do most of the poses with reasonable difficulty. The hardest ones I can manage right now are a sequence with the Boat, and the Wheel.

I had actually done yoga almost every weekday afternoon I’ve been home for the last three weeks (weekends off, and none during the Vancouver trips). I noticed in the last week my plantar fascia in the right foot started bothering me here and there, and just this weekend my left shoulder started squawking. So that’s my signal to dial the yoga back for a bit.

  • Now within the 26 week window Runalyze Marathon Shape window for Vancouver 2024, I started comparing different marathon plans with my own ideas. I created a low-frills Excel workbook template to show the marathon shape for a plan by inputting the daily mileage and my estimated VO2max to get a score. With this, I reviewed about two dozen plans.

For the weeks prior to the plan (since Shape calculates 26 weeks of training), I put in a reasonable amount of base mileage loosely matching the plan format (30-35 mpw).

I also put in a composite mileage total for any aerobic cross training (usually around 4-5 mph) to account for its role in marathon fitness.

I also capped any midweek speed/tempo workouts at 10 miles in a day regardless of what’s scheduled, as that’s the most I could reasonably do before I have to finish and go to work.

I found that most conventional plans, as well as the plans I’ve read and written about, would only get someone in my fitness range (36-38 EVO2max) about 80% marathon ready. At that shape, you can certainly complete the race. But forget about hitting a calculated goal time, and the last few miles will probably be a miserable experience. Many writers will just say that misery is just part of the marathon. As with many of their outdated ideas, I would beg to differ.

Some of the plans were dismissed due to having clear deficiencies (e.g. Coates’ Running On Air, whose long runs were capped at 3 hours and too short… even shorter than the Hansons plans, which I did leave on my list), or being unreasonably demanding for someone at my fitness level (e.g. Pfitzinger, which would certainly get you over 100% Shape but the midweek workouts are simply too long to get done). I did leave plans in even if their training monotony would clearly be too high (e.g. Hansons), which would lead me to personally disqualify it if I were personally picking a plan from this list.

There will be a longer write-up later, but: Most plans scored at least 80%. A small handful scored above 90%, with a couple actually making it above 100%. Among the few that didn’t make 80% and scored in the 70’s were: Hal Higdon’s Marathon 3 (his newer long novice-intermediate plan that integrates cross training… FWIW his intermediate 1 plan got to 82%), IronFit (whose workouts are time based, and thus limit the amount of needed mileage I could complete… plus the 3 week taper is rather aggressive, reducing it further), and all of the Hansons plans (obviously the 16 mile max long run reduces the Shape score quite a bit, as at 36-38 EVO2 the expected average weekly long run is 17 miles).

Galloway’s run walk plans with their long 26-28 mile long runs got to 92%. The midweek runs being rather short killed it from getting 100%, but then again when you’re going 26-28 miles every 3 weeks, the midweeks probably have to be short!

The two 100% unicorns: One is a reasonable adaption of Tom Osler’s Conditioning For Distance Runners template, which starts low mileage and just builds easy mileage over the duration, and peaking the long run at 22-25 miles (I stopped at 22), with no stepback weeks other than reducing the long run 25% during final sharpening. I even broke template and made the final two weeks lower volume. It still finished a bit over 100%.

The other… I will keep a surprise for now, in large part because I’ve never reviewed this author’s plan, and he’s not well known nor is his book and training method known much at all. The book’s not hard to find on Amazon; in fact, I think (here’s a clue) the book is currently available on Kindle Unlimited, so with Unlimited you could read it for free right now. I’ll write about it in a bit, before the end of the year.

That’s all for now. I’ll have more in a bit.

Forty Five.

Forty-five trips around the sun are complete. Trip #46 is now in progress. A few things:

  • I have decided that my approach to getting older is to make consistently healthy life decisions, continue training sustainably and consistently, and keep moving until my body gives me a compelling reason to do things differently.
  • The good news is, aside from training less overall than I did before, I don’t notice too much of a difference energy or fitness wise between 45 and 40, or even 45 and 35, aside from now living in a moderate altitude desert valley with dry dusty air and plenty of hills having an accordant effect on my aerobic performance.
  • I finally got comfortable with doing nothing on my days off, actually resting. This has made a profound difference in my overall well-being, my training, etc. Whether I’m totally resting or I trained that morning, I eat and spend the rest of the day sitting or sleeping. If I stay up I’ll read or do some research, or mess with Out of the Park Baseball or something. But if I’m tired, I lay down, and often I’ll nap.
  • My off-season is basically May (after the Vancouver Marathon) until around September when I begin ramping towards shorter fall races in Vegas (the desert’s racing season). Unlike past summers, I avoided hammering to rebuild volume after Vancouver as well as outright taking it easy. I found a middle ground of training regularly, but not too much.
  • The work of Alan Couzens has shaped how I train now (even though he specializes in training Ironman triathletes, much of it cross applies to simple running). Day to day training with principles like his has gotten a lot easier, yet more productive. I see continuous fitness improvements with consistent work. Longer or tougher workouts done consistently get easier with time.
  • If you don’t already take 3+ days off per week, make a point to take more easy/off days per week. Chicago made it hard for me to do this because all the walking living in that city required. Nowadays I take anywhere from 1 to 3 days off per week depending on biofeedback.
  • Really pump a lot of time and volume on the busier days, not just the long run/workout day. Hours, plural, on a couple weekdays. Work out twice a day if you can. Go for a walk whenever you can outside of that.
  • Split those busy weekdays up, get a lot done in the morning (starting early enough I can get a good 90-105 minutes), get some more in later in the day. Once I realized I didn’t have to cram all 2-3 hours or 10+ miles into one day, days like this became easily do-able.
  • Two or three big days per week, a couple easier hour-ish days per week, take it super easy or even rest entirely a couple days per week. Once I started doing this I bounced back so well between workouts while still building fitness that there was no real going back.
  • Figure out what your training monotony is and get it below 1.50. If you can get it closer to 1.00 or less, that’s terrific. Hitting the latter number made a noticeable difference for me. Get the hell away from any coach or runner who says it doesn’t matter (even last year I ignored it, and now see that’s the wrong move). Coaches who ignore training monotony are behind the times or defiant of where endurance training is heading, and ignoring this will only hurt your health and fitness in the long run.
  • I’ve since discovered that most marathon training plans get you no more than 75-85% ready for the race, and that’s if you diligently trained regularly on your own with no setbacks in the 2-3 months before you started the training plan. Whatever goal time a calculator says you can run, you need to add at least half an hour if you’re following one of these plans. And their training monotony is rather high on top of it.
  • I moved back to Vegas largely to pay down debt that just wouldn’t go away over my years in Seattle and Chicago. Four years later, even while saving and being able to travel, my revolving credit card debt is basically gone (anything I add and don’t pay off within the month is paid off in a couple months). The only debt I’ll have left after this year are my student loans, and if I lay low another year I’ll have those paid off by the end of next year. I’ll be debt free. This was a pipe dream 10 years ago. I never ever fell behind on my debt, but the payments were always an albatross on my budget.
  • While I made sure to travel a lot to Vancouver this past year… next year I’m gonna take it easier on travel after the next Vancouver Marathon. I might go again in the fall but otherwise probably will stay home.
  • The optimal run-walk workout: Run until your heart rate hits 75% of max, then slow to a brisk walk. Once your heart rate drops to 65% or less of max, start running again. Repeat ad nauseum until done. It matches your current fitness level perfectly. P.S. If you can run easy and stay the entire time under 75%, that’s even better! But most can’t. Until recently, I couldn’t.
  • TRIMP (training stress) is a vastly underrated metric. It’s like WAR in baseball (wins above replacement), a catch-all stat for how much work you did in a workout that cross-applies all types of walking, running and workouts. I focus on TRIMP more than mileage, and you probably should too.
  • If nothing else, paying for premium access to Runalyze may be worth it just to have a full-view dashboard of all your training (about $110ish USD, paid in Euro). It’s probably the most effective big-picture way to look at your TRIMP, plus your training monotony, and gauge how much work you’ve done or ought to do. However, the estimated VO2max and marathon shape metrics still have some fundamental issues and should be taken with a grain of salt. (I still use them but with quite a few modifications a bit too complex to share for now)
  • During the summer I actually considered weaning off and giving up coffee, but I just can’t. I can ebb and flow how much caffeine I take in by watering it down so it’s no addiction to that, but I simply enjoy drinking black coffee too much. I can’t imagine not getting to do that. And decaf BTW is literally toxic; don’t drink it. Also, tea isn’t close to the same experience or flavor.
  • I really cleaned up my diet this summer, though I still have phases where I make a point to consume more processed food to keep my gut microbiome honest. I find if I’m not sleeping well going back to it helps me get back to normal sleep. Just this past couple week I had frozen pizza for dinner most of the week, and errant sleep got back to normal.
  • Mostly, I’ve settled on dinners with steak or chicken, a bit of roasted potatoes that bake with the meat, and white or brown rice, all lightly seasoned with garlic salt. At work, I eat twice, having tuna or sardines with peas and occasionally an avocado. I usually don’t eat breakfast. I’ll mix in collagen peptides with coffee or hot water in the morning, plus some coconut oil. Some of the above I’ve been doing for a while, but this past year it’s settled consistently into the above.
  • After a couple of fitful years with sleep, my sleep has gotten markedly better this past few months. I still have rough patches where I wake up during the night for a few days, but I’ve slept solidly through the night a lot more consistently than the last few years. The above diet certainly helped, but so did supplementing more aggressively with magnesium glycinate, which helps more with sleep than other forms.
  • I finally weaned off any supplements containing stearates, which as I’ve mentioned could possibly cause some secondary health issues (though we don’t yet have any formal data to confirm). Basically, you want to avoid hard pills and look for supplements in capsules, which are just simple collagen shells. Stearates are used to form and hold pills together. Has this had an effect on my health? Possibly, possibly not, but I’ve noticed an improvement since switching off them.
  • As I hit the mid-forties, athletically I’m still sharp, not having really slowed down. If I can’t run a race as fast as I did before, either I’m not peaked to run that distance, or the Vegas air/altitude is a factor as most of my best efforts were in Chicago with an easier climate at lower altitude.

A 30 Day (Swolework) Challenge

This past month I decided to do, and completed, a 30 Day Swolework Challenge.

Why? I like doing research, so in late June I acquired and read AJAC’s Shred30 program. Shred30’s premise is for bodybuilders to train one muscle group every single day for a month (typically in final prep for a bodybuilding competition). While tough for even serious bodybuilders to do, the extra work improves the strength, definition and density of muscles.

Obviously, I’m no bodybuilder, not even close. I’m an endurance athlete, and usually strength train with a 15-20 minute whole body workout maybe twice a week. I sampled some of the Shred30 workouts, and even the couple workouts I did were rather tough for me. At this stage, I couldn’t imagine doing 30 days of these nor did I fit the workout’s target audience, so for now I certainly wasn’t going to do Shred30.

However, I was drawn to the idea of 30 straight days of strength training. I haven’t done more than maintenance-volume strength training in a long while. And the idea of a 30 day trial or challenge is hardly new. You adopt a habit for 30 days and see how you evolve with it. After 30 days you’re free to dump it, and if it works really well for you it’s likely to stick once you’ve built the habit.

As I mentioned last month, I backed out of the Chicago Marathon. I have no intention of running a marathon this fall, so I have no serious need to endurance train until late summer (I have no planned races before October). This means I could back off endurance training and strength train as a 30 day challenge if I wanted. So I decided to do so through July 1-30.

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The Red Swolework Suit

Off the heels of developing my Full Fourteen workout, I gradually condensed this to 12 exercises, one set a-piece. Each major muscle group works as a primary mover in at least one exercise.

When you track strength training workouts in Garmin Connect, it shows a heat-map of muscle groups worked. Any muscle not worked is gray. Any muscle working as a primary mover is red, and any muscle working as a secondary mover is yellow.


When I do this workout, every muscle group turns red. When I first posted the Garmin heat-maps of these workouts on social media, I’d claim in jest that I had put on a Red Swolework Suit. Eventually, I just called this workout the Red Swolework Suit.


The Red Swolework Suit is 12 exercises, each 1 set of 8 reps, at a suitably challenging weight when applicable. If trying any of these exercises for the first time, I’d recommend wasting a workout sampling unknown exercises at different weights until you find a weight heavy enough to be challenging but do-able for 8-12 reps. You don’t want to finish the 8th rep with shaking arms and not able to do another rep. If you need numbers, I’d say aim for 60% of your 1-rep max to start. You can always increase the weight next time if an exercise turns out way too easy.

Also, when using weight, I use dumbbells or machines. You can use a barbell if that’s what you have or prefer. Also, there’s a million diagrams of most of these exercises, so if you’re not sure what I’m talking about below then just web search the listed exercise for diagrams and instructions.

The Exercises, in rough order:

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No Chicago Marathon. Change of plans.

I have decided to withdraw from the Chicago Marathon, and do not plan on running a marathon this fall. This is despite having paid a pricey entry fee that I obviously will forfeit. Rather than go into a long screed on what became an increasingly simple, straight-forward decision, I’ll write in brief bullet points. I can always add detail later if requested. Reasons:

Too many signs pointed to this Chicago trip being a bad idea.

– Early Canadian wildfires have already covered the city in consistent smoke, and they should continue throughout the rest of summer into fall. There’s a good chance it will persist into October for the marathon. That’s not good air to run in.

– The crime situation in Chicago has gotten worse. While it’s better than the Covid riots, it’s still by accounts of people I know there markedly more dangerous than it was while I lived there. CPD’s understaffed and not really addressing problems. And it goes hand in hand with the next problem, but there’s a lot more vagrants on the trains and at the stations than there used to be.

– The transit situation is unreliable now. CTA while I lived in Chicago was for the most part reliable. But after Covid CTA also lost workers and the train/bus service got more sporadic and unreliable. It still hasn’t improved much, and I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I need to rely on an unreliable system to get around at all.

I wasn’t really excited about running this marathon anyway.

– Frank Shorter famously said you should not plan your next marathon until you’ve forgotten about your last one. Though I’ve long since recovered from Vancouver, I’m admittedly not quite invested in the idea of building towards another marathon.

– It is notoriously difficult to train for marathons in Las Vegas during summer due to the heat. Even indoors, gyms minimize the use of their A/C, and indoor temperatures (which I regularly measure during workouts) are closer to 80°F, uncomfortably warm for endurance workouts, especially long ones. And it doesn’t cool off until mid-October… after this marathon would have completed. It’s not a given I’d successfully get ready for a fall marathon in those conditions.

– Marathon training is very demanding, and there’s so much else I wanted to work on this summer instead:

– I want to dedicate a block of time to serious strength training. When marathon training, I only have enough bandwidth to do some lighter whole body strength training a couple times a week, if that. If not for marathon training, I could strength train more often and work on building strength if not muscle.

– Marathon training doesn’t realistically allow for speedwork and 5k/10K/Half-specific training. Sure, you can do speedwork, threshold tempo work and such while marathon training, but its benefit on your marathon fitness is ancillary at best and you should carefully avoid overdoing it, especially when you’ve got to build around longer easy workouts. If not for marathon training, I could build to some of the 10K workouts that worked very well for me in 2018-2019. I haven’t had much chance to work on them since moving back to Vegas.

– I want to work more on running in this extreme heat, without having to worry about running suitable marathon volume. When marathon training I pretty much have to do all my work indoors, as the 100°F+ temperatures take a lot out of you at short distances, let alone the longer duration workouts you need for marathon training. Many in town go ahead and do it, and most of them burn out on training after a few years. I would like to avoid that and take the pressure off outdoor sessions by not needing to run long for more than a couple hours if that.

That’s all I’ll say on that for now. I’m working this month on a project involving some different training, and will go into more detail on this once the month is completed.

Vancouver Round 5 confirmed for 2024

I had considered not doing Vancouver next year. But, after weighing it over the last three weeks, including during my final few days in Vancouver this year, I decided Round 5 will happen once again on schedule next May.

I had other spring marathons I had been thinking about doing, especially overseas. I also had considered staying close to home next year and doing closer, local marathons in Utah and similar. Depending on how my fitness develops this next 6-12 months, I may still consider doing them as long training runs, or perhaps their half marathons if I really want to.

I’m also mindful that we lucked out with some mild, cloudy weather in Vancouver the last couple years, and that the other shoe could drop next year with sunnier, more difficult conditions a la 2018 (which I DNF’d for different reasons, but most finishers struggled badly with the warmer weather). Of course, you can never really tell until the race approaches what kind of weather you’re going to get, but the course is hard enough without it being hotter and sunnier. In fact, just the brief instance of sun we got this year really knocked a lot of runners over in mid-race. It’s been better than usual the last couple years: Is it nice and cool again in 2024, or do we get the heat lamp?

However, the expense to go overseas is rather great. I’m on schedule to pay off remaining debt by next year, and then I’ll have a lot more disposable income to work with. As it stands, I’m able to work with finances to make Vancouver happen and perhaps another trip or two, but that’s about as far as I feel comfortable going with them. Even just the airfare and hotel for Vancouver is around $3K USD, just for a non-stop flight at a decent hour and a decent hotel near the places I frequent.

As for staying home and running local, the Utah marathons have the added challenge of being higher altitude than where I train. Most are about 4000-5000′, and that would create an aerobic challenge on top of running the actual marathon. While I could be swayed to do one or more anyway as a training tune-up, I’d like for that to not be Plan A.

Plus, I really enjoy the fresh nutritious food in Vancouver, and am quite familiar with it. Going somewhere new, I’ll have to figure out my entire diet for the trip from scratch, and running a marathon in a new land and different time zone is hard enough. Never mind how long and uncomfortable a transoceanic flight is. Maybe some other time.

I certainly have no problem with going back to Vancouver. I’ll probably go a day earlier than I did this time, as the Friday afternoon arrival made the logistics a bit tight before race day. I’ll probably still stay several days afterward, and fly back Friday instead of Saturday so I can have the full weekend at home before resuming work.