Budd Coates “Running On Air” Marathon Training Plan: Who’s It Good For?

RunningOnAirWhile traveling last month I found a book by Budd Coates called Running On Air. The book details a new approach to rhythmic breathing during runs, the idea being that you learn the breathing technique in basic workouts, then train for races using it.

Again, I don’t do book reviews. But if you find yourself breathing hard on runs or otherwise struggling with your stamina, then this book is absolutely worth a look. It’s a somewhat easy read, easy to follow, and even if you don’t ultimately follow Coates’ approach to the letter your improved attention to your breathing patterns will in some way help your running. Consistent breathing helps your oxygen delivery, which allows you to run faster at easier intensities. Plus the book indicates that some natural breathing patterns can cause imbalances that lead to pain and injury; an improved breathing rhythm can help eliminate those imbalances.

However, that’s not why I’m writing this. The book of course has subsequent training plans from the 5K to the Marathon. And breathing principles aside, the book’s Marathon plan has some unique wrinkles that might make it worth a look.

The Budd Coates “Running On Air” Marathon Plan:

  • The plan is built around the book’s breathing technique. You are to learn the technique and then follow a basic training plan before proceeding to an actual training plan. While you could buy the book and follow the plan without learning the breathing technique… that defeats the purpose of buying the book.
  • The plan requires 19 weeks of training, plus extra scheduled rest days and workouts for the week after the marathon.
  • The book does not provide plans for specific races, but instead provides plans for a range of race distances. For example, there’s a “5K to 10K” plan that is to be used in training for any race from 5K to 10K. The marathon plan partially follows the “15K to Marathon” training plan, meaning you would start by doing the same training as you would for a Half Marathon or 10 Miler.
  • Notice I said “partially”. The book provides four sets of training schedules labeled A, B, C, and D. A is the easiest of the schedules and D is the hardest. A Marathon is its own schedule, the only one that is not blended. B, C, and D start as a 15K to Marathon schedule, but towards the end split off as its own Marathon schedule.
  • The schedule itself is the big wrinkle. Unlike most plans, this training plan follows a 14 day cycle rather than a 7 day week. You do the long run on the first day of the fortnight and only the first day. The last day is always a rest day.
  • All workouts are assigned in minutes. All workouts are run at a particular breathing intensity, and run by feel. There are five intensity levels, three levels at an eaiser breathing cadence (51, 52, up to 53) and two levels done at a quicker breathing cadence for faster running (31 up to 32).
  • Aside from the first and last day, the 14 day week workouts follow a general easy-medium-hard scheduling pattern. Some of the easy workouts are implied as optional, e.g. 0-30 minutes. The medium workouts are typically a bit longer. The hard workouts are typically some sort of interval or tempo speedwork.
  • The only workouts not run at the minimum 51 intensity are the ‘hard’ speed and tempo workouts. Every other workout is a continuous workout done at the lowest intensity.

Who does this plan not work for?

You don’t plan to work on the breathing technique. It’s possible to do this plan without the breathing technique. But you need to buy the book to use the plan (it’s generally not available online), and it seems wasteful to buy a book about changing your breathing during workouts if you’re not going to use the book’s breathing technique. You’d be better off creating your own plan following the book’s basic 14 day schedule template if you’re drawn to it but don’t want to change your breathing.

People who want to only run 2-4 days a week. The plan has you running most days, and while the book is permissive towards cross training it does strongly suggest you only cross train if injured or very tired. The implication is that you need to run most of the time. Plus, even taking every optional day off made available to you on the A/B/C plans (the highest D plan demands running almost every day), you’re still running 4-6 days each week. If you need more downtime between runs, or opportunities to cross train, find another plan that offers it.

Your running and form feels great. The book asks you to fundamentally work on your breathing. It’s possible your breathing could use improvement, but the risk of tinkering with your fundamental technique when things are going great is that you could throw your body out of whack and disrupt your training progress. Perhaps there can be a time to work on your breathing, but if you want to train for a goal marathon that may not be the time. Only if you’ve struggled fundamentally with your running may you want to utilize this plan while training for a goal marathon.

You need lots of quality workouts. You average two quality workouts per week, and they’re not terribly demanding compared to other plans. Most of the workouts are easy distance runs. If you need a dozen or more speed reps, or long tempo runs, or mixed tempo long runs… you’re going to need another plan.

You want a consistent weekly running schedule. The 14 day cycle and the consistent easy-medium-hard pattern means you’ll have a different pattern of scheduled workouts every week. That can mess with runners who like setting a Monday workout, a Thursday workout, knowing exactly what they plan to do every Saturday or Sunday. You will want to follow a more conventional training plan.

You need to run long every week. Following a 14 day cycle, the plan only schedules a true long run once every couple weeks. On the off weeks, you generally do a hard workout that Saturday and either an easy workout or a day off Sunday. Some prefer to use the weekend to max out their mileage, and they’ll want to follow another more conventional plan.

Who does this plan work for?

You prefer not to run long every weekend. On the flip side, some people get burned out running long every week, or to a lesser extent feel pressure trying to get one in every week. This plan’s fortnightly long run somewhat frees up those off weekends. You still need to do a quality workout on the opposite weekend, but that demands less time (even if it does demand more effort per minute).

You don’t want to cross train. You want to RUN. All workouts are running workouts. Cross training is only recommended as a stop-gap emergency substitute. And there’s no crazy wrinkles to the workouts. All you’re expected to do is get out there and run.

You want mostly easy training. 80/20 enthusiasts will really like this plan, because the vast majority of the workouts are done at an easy intensity. Only four of the 14 days ask for anything beyond easy 51 intensity, and those four quality workouts aren’t terribly long (60-75 minutes max, most of which have chunky recovery intervals). The easy runs are often long, so the lion’s share of your running will be at an easy aerobic intensity. The book expects you to feel relatively relaxed on these runs.

You want or need to improve your breathing and running economy. So again, the plan is from a book about working on your breathing. And like Run Better, the book’s training plan is more than anything a framework in which to work on the book’s principles. If you struggle with longer runs, chances are good your breathing during runs could use some improvement. And using the book’s technique could be a good opportunity to not just improve that but in turn improve your running. With improved breathing and oxygen delivery, you may find you get more out of regular workouts. This in turn will help you get more out of training.

You struggle with, or don’t care for, regimented speed workouts. Doing 400 meter repeats on a track or doing 5 mile tempo runs at a specific pace or heart rate is hard for some people. All of the quality workouts are scheduled in minutes and at a broad intensity rather than a specific pace. The idea is to adjust your pace up or down to meet the desired intensity, to run by feel. People who prefer to run by feel may well love this training plan, because every workout has to be done by feel.

You crave week over week variety. Now, the workouts themselves may not have much variety as most are easy distance runs. However, the 14 day cycle and the easy-medium-hard pattern of workouts gives each week a different look from the week prior. And some people could draw energy and motivation from the week over week change in workout pattern.

No verdict. I think a lot of runners could use help with their fundamental breathing pattern, and this book is probably worth a look if so. It’s probably worth a look even if your breathing feels generally fine, but you feel like you’re not getting the results you want from your running.

The plan itself is a neat, unique approach to training, following a 14 day cycle and an easy-medium-hard scheduling pattern somewhat similar to plans built by running coach Brad Hudson. That in itself may warrant a look at this book, if you don’t feel comfortable designing such a plan from scratch yourself.

While Coates, a Runners World author, does make his general plans available on Runners World, you do need to pay $10 for one of them. You may be better served buying Running On Air if you’re really curious, because then you get plans for all distances and skill levels rather than just one.


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3 thoughts on “Budd Coates “Running On Air” Marathon Training Plan: Who’s It Good For?

  1. […] I know from Budd Coates and others that this is often done intentionally as part of scheduled 10-14 day microcycles aka […]

  2. […] all that hard. I’m following Budd Coates’ basic 14 day training cycles as outlined in Running On Air, which has me currently running 2-3 miles, maybe one longer run, about 4-5 times per […]

  3. […] weekend allows for a week off after the Lake Mead Half, and then 19 weeks of training… making the Running On Air plan a perfect fit. After the relatively strict pacing demands of this current Half training cycle, the […]

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