Developed by Canada’s Running Clinic, an organization of Canadian running and fitness experts, this 42.2km marathon training plan introduces a simple effort and time limited approach to training that manages to integrate high intensity running without demanding too much of runners.
Americans used to the speedwork/tempo/20-miler approach to marathons may find the Canadian approach to marathon training an interesting change of pace.
How useful is this plan to runners?
For simplicity I will reference the ‘Under 4:00 Plan’, which is closest to my fitness level and splits the plans right down the middle. A first timer plan and an advanced sub-3:30 plan is also available, and demands more/less than this plan accordingly.
– You run 5-6 days a week over 20 weeks. The plan as designed always has you take Monday off.
– The plan has distinctly separate itemized phases. WK 1-4 is the Initiation Phase, WK 5-16 is the Progression Phase, WK 17-18 is the Intensive Phase and the final WK 19-20 are the Tapering and Competition Phase.
– Akin to Hal Higdon, the plan actually includes a two week post-marathon schedule, with light cross training resuming after 2 days of rest and light running resuming the following week.
– All the workouts are measured in time and difficulty rating. No distances or paces.
– There are only two types of listed training: Continuous training and interval training. Continuous training is of course your typical distance run.
– The interval workouts are basically Fartlek workouts, timed instances of faster effort running (1-5 minutes) followed by timed instances of walking or easy jogging (1-2 minutes), repeated over a given time period (e.g. 30-45 minutes). There’s no specific number of repeats, and again no distance listed. Those workouts never get more complicated than that.
– The difficulty rating goes from 2-5 (easy), 6-7 (moderately difficult), 8 (difficult), 9 (very difficult) to 10 (exhausting, all out). The 42.2km plan never asks for a 10 effort, but does show the final long runs as a 9.
– The Continuous workouts show varying levels of difficulty ratings, and list the long runs as high effort… indicating they are not necessarily run faster but that they demand more due to their length.
– However, early long runs show a higher difficulty rating, implying (as many plans advise) that you should do the longest runs at a more moderate, even closer to marathon pace effort. However, again, no specific pace is provided.
– The intervals are shown from a 6 difficulty in early weeks to a 7 or 8 in some workouts. This indicates that these intervals should be fast but never run close to full-out. The 6 difficulty indicates those intervals should be more like marathon tempo than the 5K sort of tempo that other plans recommend in their speed workouts.
– The longest run is 160 minutes (2 hours 40 minutes) and shows a 9 difficulty.
– However, the 2nd to last long run shown at 120 minutes (2 hours) is also shown as a 9 difficulty… suggesting this run should be difficult because of a faster pace, probably marathon pace or close to it.
– The plan emphasizes that you see the schedule as flexible and adjust however necessary to allow you to run however you can within the vicinity of the scheduled runs as needed… even if it means bagging a scheduled workout and just running a few easy minutes on a given day if absolutely needed.
Who does this plan NOT work for?
– High volume marathoners. Runners who best prepare by running a ton of miles aren’t going to get as many miles as they desire out of a plan that sets specific time limits on every workout. And when you add up the total time per week, it comes out to around 4-6 hours per week, nowhere close to what many would consider a high volume.
– CAVEAT: High volume runners who want to swap in cross training as a big part of their aerobic training may still find this plan acceptable if they combine cross training with the listed workouts. They just run the prescribed times and then fill in extra volume with cross training. Those focused on building aerobic fitness while wanting to minimize wear and tear may get a lot out of combining this plan with extra quality time in the pool, on the bike, or on other low-impact fitness machines.
– Runners who run outdoors on specified non-loop running routes. Because all runs are measured by time rather than distance, a specific distance may not work out as planned for most workouts. You’ll want a plan that measures workouts by miles.
– Run commuters. Because of the specified time of each workout, your route home might not fit a given workout.
– Runners who love track workouts. All the speedwork is measured by time rather than distance, and is done Fartlek style.
– Runners who love tempo workouts. The only extended non-easy running in this plan is on some long runs towards the end. Trying to do all the long runs as tempo runs may be a recipe for injury. Find another plan.
– Runners whose easy pace is slower than 10 minutes a mile. Never minding that pace calculations indicate such a runner is unlikely to run the needed marathon pace to break 4 hours… the longest runs are 140-160 minutes. If you run an 11 minute mile, you’re not even going to cover the half marathon distance in any run outside of the longest 160′ run. You need to follow a mileage plan that gives you all the time you need to cover 15+ miles in a long run. Everyone has to run the same distance on marathon day. You need to build up your neuro-muscular fitness to handle the pounding and that’s not going to happen if you only top 14 miles once in training.
Who does this plan work well for?
– Runners who like the treadmill. The time based continuous runs, most of which are an hour or less, are perfect for the mill. Interval workouts are best done outside, but can be done on the treadmill with some settings negotiation.
– Runners training for a flat marathon. There’s no hill work in this training plan, and the only speedwork is interval based. The implication is that most of your running should be similar in scope… just as it would be running a full marathon on flat ground.
– Runners who develop best through frequency rather than volume. The plan has you running almost every day, usually at an easy intensity for reasonably short periods. The speed interval workouts aren’t terribly demanding. The idea with this plan is that running (almost) daily for some time will do as much for your development than the distance or pace.
– Busy runners lacking free time. Most of the workouts ask no more than an hour (only one Intensive Phase interval run asks more than that, and even that’s 70 minutes), and demand no more than running at a certain effort. This is very easy to fit into a busy schedule. The only run demanding a lot of time is the long run, which can easily be done on a weekend or similar day off.
– Runners who aren’t into hard speedwork. Again, the intervals aren’t too demanding, done Fartlek style and usually at an in-specific “moderately difficult” intensity. The pace can be adjusted day over day to match the needed effort. Runners who aren’t into running hard and fast will get more out of this than other plans.
– Runners who prefer to cross train a lot. This plan’s relatively light perceived-effort-based running demands can allow for extra cross training with little trouble. A good idea for extra aerobic development may be to spend extra time cross training after long runs and at least one other weekly run.
– Runners who want a short peak phase. This plan spends a solid 80% of the time in a lower intensity base-building phase, its peak only lasting two weeks, and the subsequent taper only lasting two weeks. Many plans ask a lot of runners for several weeks before backing off in the final 2-3 weeks. This plan doesn’t crack the whip until about a month before the marathon, and even then for only a couple weeks. The risk of peaking early is basically gone here.
– Runners who want to get back to training soon after the marathon. As one of the only plans with a post-marathon training schedule, this fits those who want to bounce back and get back to running in a few weeks, especially those with plans to run another race in the months following the marathon.
As usual, no verdict.
My recent Canadian travels exposed me to a variety of Canadian-style running approaches, and this Running Clinic plan is a quality one. Accessible, low pressure, and all about simple consistency, this plan can be a good fit for a variety of runners.