Category Archives: Marathon

Run Better’s 42.2km Marathon Plan: Who’s It Good For?

RunBetterAlong with running the Vancouver Marathon, one of my favorite takeaways from my Vancouver trip this May was buying a copy of Canadian author Jean Francois Harvey’s book Run Better. Published in Canada and mostly unknown outside of the Maple North, the book focuses on helping runners improve their form and prevent or heal injuries with a ground-up approach to running mechanics.

I’m not going to review the book but will admit bias and say I love it, it’s simply and well written, and I recommend finding a copy if you struggle with your day to day running in any way.

Though it’s mostly a book of fundamentals, the book does have training schedules for races from the 5K to the Marathon. Each plan has two schedules arbitrary split between faster and slower times (with of course the faster plan asking for more speedwork, though the volume is mostly the same).

I want to go ahead and review the plan, if for no other reason than I am actually planning to follow it while training to run a marathon this fall.

The Plan:

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The less you run during marathon training, the more important strength training becomes

As a runner, your body can only handle so much mileage. Some runners can pile over 100 miles a week. Some runners can’t run more than 3-4 days a week.

A better more emcompassing way to put it is that you can only handle so much time on your feet. Sure, some runners are faster than others and that’s why they can rack up 100+ miles at an easy pace, whereas if most of us ran the same amount of time we’d probably max out at around 60-65.

Back to the main point: While it’d be ideal to have you log 50+ miles while training for a marathon, many can’t quite hit that number within their reasonable best efforts, or their plan doesn’t ask that much. Even if your plan does, maybe you struggle for understandable reasons to do it: Hal Higdon might ask for 20 milers and 7-10 mile midweek runs, and maybe you don’t have the time to put them in… or your body simply gives out after 15 miles. Maybe the Hansons want you to run 6-8 miles six times a week, but there’s no way you can run six times a week.

However, as Jonathan Savage says, everyone running a marathon has to run the same 26.22 mile distance. Whether your longest run was 15 miles or 18 miles or 22 miles, everyone’s got to run 26.22 on race day. It doesn’t matter if you can’t handle the distance, the pounding that volume requires, in training. You’ll have to handle it eventually just like everyone else.

This doesn’t mean you need to do 20-26 milers in training to be ready. Some runners certainly can do that, sure, and they’ll usually be ready on race day. But while I do think it’s important to develop the aerobic endurance to go no less than 2.5-3.0 hours without stopping… what you do on the other days of the week can be far more flexible.

With one key caveat.

Your body not only has to be aerobically prepared to run long, but it physically must be prepared to take the pounding of that much continuous running. No matter how much you run or how you run, you must develop the physical strength to handle the 3-6 hour pounding. And that simply will not happen on a lighter running schedule by itself.

I also don’t think speed and tempo work is anywhere close to enough by itself. You’ll develop solid ability to run a 10K or something, but that won’t fully prepare you to handle hours of pounding and aerobic demand.

The successful marathoners I know and see all tend to have one other common denominator aside from just running a lot, running regularly and eating/sleeping/recovering well.

They strength train.

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The Running Clinic’s 42.2KM Plans: Who’s It Good For?

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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?

The Plan:

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Finally Getting Back In The Gym

I finally got a membership at the nearby Planet Fitness. Despite having a gym within a block from home that only costs $10 a month and is open nearly all the time, I balked at getting a membership for a variety of practical reasons that now finally are no longer the case.

The gym itself has pretty much everything I’d need out of a gym. They have a ton of treadmills, several ARC Trainers and ellipticals, several spin and recumbent exercise bikes, and of course a wide variety of free weights and exercise machines. And because of the no-judgment motif of the Planet Fitness brand, everyone working out seems cool and goes about their business without any passive aggression or peacocking you see at other gyms.

I’m digressing a bit. As I ramp into official fall marathon training, the gym provides me with a ton of benefits it turns out I really need this time around. I’ve been admittedly struggling with several aspects of training over the last few months, and the gym’s going to help with several of them.

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Your goal pace has an easy run pace

Most runners train for a race with a goal pace in mind. Many will train for that goal pace by running it in varying distances and durations during their training.

Various authors, most recently and notably Matt Fitzgerald in 80/20 Running, advocate building a solid base of mostly easy running from which you can do a bit of tempo-specific running each week. This makes sense since your ability to run fast won’t matter much without the aerobic development to sustain a desired pace over your desired race distance.

Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect takes this a step farther. He actually posits that most runners already have the desired speed to run a goal pace, that what they lack and need to develop is the aerobic and neuromusucular fitness to sustain that pace for their desired race distance.

Gaudette has a good point. Whenever you are able, go outside and run as fast as you reasonably can (i.e. don’t hurt yourself). I imagine if your pace was measured you’d easily exceed your desired goal pace.

I also imagine you won’t be able to hold that fast-as-you-can pace for very long. Running at max speed, you’ll be winded and your muscles will be neurally screaming in seconds. I’ve done max speed reps for giggles a few times, and I find the longest I can reasonably go at that intensity is about 30-45 seconds.

When we do speedwork, we’re not really training ourselves to run faster. Most of us already can run pretty fast. What we’re training is the ability to hold a given speed over a desired distance, whether that distance is 400 meters, 5K, or a marathon. (Ultra distance runners by and large have other aerobic and endurance concerns during training aside from speed)

This is why many coaches say the goal of speedwork should be economy, i.e. refining your form and taking every step as efficiently as possible, so that when you run your races you’ve honed and improved the efficiency of every step.

I realize I’m digressing a bit. I mentioned easy pace for a reason. We focus a lot on speedwork, on our goal pace, while forgetting that every goal pace has a corresponding pace at other distances… as well as a corresponding regular and recovery run pace.

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Would I drop out of the 2019 Chicago Marathon?

Despite growing up in the hot Las Vegas desert, I actually don’t like hot weather. To this day I still struggle a lot in warm temperatures. This might have something to do with why I acclimate so well to cooler wet climates like Seattle and the extremely cold winters of Chicago.

I work hard year round to acclimate to rising or falling temperatures. Spring and summer not only are no exception but in my case it’s crucial to handling runs in summer heat. My forehead for some reason won’t sweat for some time when it warms up (it eventually will by mid/late summer) and that exacerbates how hot conditions feel for me.

Also, with a bigger frame than other runners, I absorb and retain heat a lot better than others. That’s great in winter, and not so great in summer.

I have a hard time with basic runs when it gets hotter than before. 65-70 degrees will probably feel okay in September, but right now it’s like a sauna of death for me to run in. I have a hard time going more than a couple miles without stopping, and in suitably hot conditions I may even have to stop for good after a couple miles.

If regular runs are hard, you can imagine what speedwork and races feel like. Speedwork at least usually allows you to stop and rest every few minutes. A race, however, demands a non-stop effort until you reach the finish line. Even a 5K may be too much if it’s warm enough.

Now consider the challenge of running a full marathon. By itself in ideal conditions it’s a monumentally difficult feat. Add in any warmth above 60 degrees and you’ve exponentially increased the difficulty. Once temperatures reach an otherwise mild 70 degrees you actually begin to put runners’ health in danger.

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Building hill workouts for your goal races

It’s nice when a goal race is on flat, normal terrain. A place like Chicago or New York City makes it easy, since all their races are on mostly flat ground.

Along with creating prime conditions for fast times (… well, weather permitting), training for the races is straightforward. Work on aerobic and neuromuscular fitness, work on tempo and speed, recover and feed yourself well, and you can crush it.

If a race has elevation shifts, things get a bit more complicated. We already see how weather and temperature impact races: If you train in clear and mild conditions, but then race in windy, hot/cold conditions, you’re not going to be trained to deal with the latter. Even when trained for warmer conditions, suitably hot races can negatively impact performance no matter what.

Likewise, if you train on flat ground, then try to run a race with hills (whether uphills or downhills or both), your performance and body will suffer as you likely have not trained at any length to handle hilly conditions. The longer the race, the greater the impact.

Runners who live in hilly locales face challenges with training speed, tempo or maximizing mileage because of the hills impacting speed. But this becomes an advantage when they run races featuring hills. Their bodies are well-trained to deal with the big elevation shifts. American runners in Seattle, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and mountainous regions like Colorado and Utah are better equipped to handle hills than runners in Chicago, Florida or New York City. (Plus, that never minds thinner air in higher altitude, also a key factor and a separate subject)

So, as a Chicago runner, I have to be mindful when I blow town for a race in a locale with hills. Vancouver is a clear example, with not only big elevation shifts early in the Vancouver Marathon course, but even the smaller elevation shifts later in the race are mountainous compared to the elevation changes in flatter Chicago.

One key reason these hills didn’t destroy me is that on multiple occasions I ran special workouts at nearby Cricket Hill. While Cricket Hill isn’t exactly a big hill (with only a 45 foot elevation climb), it does rise at a tough grade and when run on right, it can prepare you for running up and down hills.

So, how?

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Eating a good diet at destination marathons

With Vancouver I was fortunate that the coastal city had a wealth of sushi options. Sushi rolls were an almost perfect combination of carbohydrates (from the rice) and protein (from the fish, seaweed and soy sauce). Sure, they also had markets with lots of produce, which also helped.

But produce is easy to get in most locales. Rich healthy whole food carb and protein sources… not as much.

Running the Chicago Marathon in October makes this easy since it’s only a few miles down the street. I can cook and eat as typically desired right up to and after the race. To a lesser but still reasonable extent, the nearby Fox Valley Marathon and Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon are close enough that if I ran either of them I could eat normally up to race day.

So, what if I ran a marathon in a more remote locale, where there’s not a lot of stores and restaurants? Or even if it was a major market, what if pretty much every restaurant available served processed and otherwise unhealthy food that wasn’t going to help me stay ready to run?

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10 Things Worth Knowing About Running The Vancouver Marathon

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Outside of the Pacific Northwest, the Vancouver Marathon‘s not a huge deal, and a lot of people don’t know about it.

The marathon’s organizers are definitely are trying to grow out of that as evidenced by pushing hard to bring in 2018 Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi and other stars. As evidenced by the race selling out and setting an attendance record this year it appears the race’s popularity is indeed growing.

I’m among the few US outsiders outside of the PNW who made the trek to run the race. There were 17 of us from Chicago, all of probably surprised that the other 16 even knew about this race let alone were there. There were 4 runners from nearby Indiana. There were 3 runners from nearby Wisconsin, and two were a couple running together. The great state of New York only had 24 finishers.

It’s not a destination race yet. But as the secret gets out in the US about how challenging yet beautiful the race is, I think (to quote Jim Ross) business is about to pick up.

I’m going to throw out a few things to consider for people unfamiliar with but considering running the Vancouver Marathon.

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2019 Vancouver Marathon recap

59328125_10108992303573458_6159085142297018368_oI made it, guys. A long, brutal slog with a fast finish ended in 5:21:40, and the Vancouver Marathon Revenge Tour is complete.

Any amount of heat above 60 degrees makes running a challenge. Even at an otherwise mild 64 degrees, the temperature, extra humidity (it had been cloudy the previous week) and abundant sunshine made 42.3km (the Vancouver course is a hair longer than the required 42.195k distance) a brutal struggle.

I was not by any means racing for speed in this marathon. After the setbacks of the previous couple of marathons, I had two goals for this race….

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Finishing the Job

VancouverMarathonTomorrow morning I’ll wake up in Vancouver, probably eat a little something and have a shot of espresso, gear up and then head down to Queen Elizabeth Park to finish what I had hoped to do last year before everything caved in on itself.

Crossing the Vancouver Marathon start line shortly before 9am (the gun is at 8:30am but we go in waves and I’ll be among the middle wave) feeling ready to run will be a substantial improvement over last year’s sickly start and DNF.

Passing West 49th and Maple, where I had to drop out last year, will be a win in itself… let alone every other milestone I slowly (and, as the race progresses, more painfully) pass en route to circuiting Stanley Park and eventually crossing the uphill finish line on Pender near Coal Harbour.

I admit I came back this year in large part to close the book on unfinished business from last year. How exactly I do in this year’s race, other than finishing strong, is not at all a concern to me. It could take 5-6 hours for all I care (though I’d like to imagine I’m at least trained to run a bit better than that). Crossing the finish line is what matters.

Even if work and health hadn’t turned upside down at the worst possible time, I look back in hindsight and think it would not have gone well anyway. In fact, getting derailed might have saved me. The start of the race was a dreadfully warm 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I stumbled on my pre-race meal planning and execution, and probably ran around town a bit too much in the final two days before the race. I also was more aggressive in my overall race pace goal than I should have been.

Maybe it wouldn’t have worked out even if work was fine, I had slept okay on the trip, and I hadn’t gotten ill. Perhaps I’d have run out too hard, and that combined with the heat could have sunk me anymore.

So, never minding it’s in the past, I can’t preoccupy myself too much over what went wrong. Objectively I can see a variety of factors last year that would have worked against me given where I was at. It probably wasn’t meant to be either way.

This year, even without as much of the speed and tempo work as I would have liked, even losing the better part of two weeks late in training to illness… I feel a lot better prepared, even if I didn’t log any 50+ mile weeks or as many 20 milers as I’d like.

I focused more on developing aerobic endurance in longer regular runs, longer haul runs. I ran a lot stronger late in my long runs this time. And though I didn’t plan it, having to run some key later runs into the wind also helped develop extra neuromuscular fitness and hone my form.

There’s a lot I’ll still want to work on next time around, and I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. For now, the only bridge I plan to cross is the Burrard Bridge about 30km into tomorrow’s marathon.

Tomorrow, the goal is to finish the Revenge Tour, and the Vancouver Marathon. Talk again soon.

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Headwinds are a training blessing in disguise

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve spent a busy April mostly off the grid. I am running the Vancouver Marathon in 8 days. Since muscle damage takes about 14 days to fully repair and quality training’s benefits take about 10 days to manifest in your running, I am done with high volume quality training or any tough workouts. Now it’s about maintaining conditioning and resting up for the marathon.

After getting sick a few weeks ago I had to abbreviate peak training, and I ran a final 17 mile peak run last weekend. The 20 miler I ran in mid-March would be my only one this training cycle, and the 40-45 mile weeks I had that month would be as high as my volume would get.

So, that final long run. Due to weather forecasts and other needs, I had to run it on a Friday right after work. Even though it was the best possible weather of any time I could run that weekend, I had to do most of the run into a stiff 25-30 mph headwind.

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2019 Lakefront 10 Miler recap, and the Vancouver 2019 training end-game

LF10-finishYesterday I ran my final 2019 Vancouver tune-up race, the CARA Lakefront 10 Miler. The 1:36:24 was my slowest finish in a 10 Miler to date, but I had fun (the LF10 is my favorite Chicago race) and the race turned out well in other ways.

As mentioned, I got sick with the flu at the end of last month. While I bounced back quickly for such an illness, I did lose over a week of normal training (plus, likely in part because it was starting to get me, I had reduced my volume a bit the previous week due to fatigue).

I ran a lot less than usual while recovering. Once recovered, I had to ease back into my prior volume over the following week. In fact, I only got back to normal volume right before this race. I hadn’t done any speed or tempo work in several weeks. I was definitely not trained to race the 10 Miler. I wasn’t even sure if I could hold anything beyond an easy pace for 10 uninterrupted miles.

Alas, I settled into a (slower than most of the people around me) pace, and managed to comfortably hold it for the entire distance without any real distress (even powering past people on inclines, including the LF10’s infamous Cricket Hill finish, by merely maintaining tempo). The pace slid between 9:00-10:00 but mostly hung in the 9:30-9:40 range… which incidentally was my originally hoped for marathon pace! I even sped up without trouble and took the LF10’s final lap around the Wilson Track at 1:59.

While sore and tired like I ran a race, I didn’t feel as sore or tired as usual. Following an afternoon meal and nap, I went back out and ran a couple more miles (with some speed reps) to finish the day at 17.8 miles (between runs to/from the race, the race itself, and the evening run).

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A Better Long Run: The 55-5 Long Run Method

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As with a lot of training approaches, runners have a very polarized approach to how they handle long runs.

Either they do a simple easy run over a long distance, or they add in some tempo with the long run (either trying to run the whole thing at a tougher moderate pace, or mixing in tempo segments with easy running), turning it into a grueling exercise.

Both polarized approaches have substantial drawbacks.

The long easy paced run may develop long aerobic endurance, but it also accustoms you to only handling your longest distances at an easy pace. Any attempt to race longer distances thus becomes a huge struggle, because you haven’t practiced running faster at max distance.

The mixed tempo run may address that issue, but creates another issue: It asks you to work especially hard at points on a run that is already fairly difficult due to its duration. This increases the burnout and injury risks, and at the least makes long runs such a miserable experience that many just forego any sort of intermediate tempo work on those runs. (It’s the biggest issue with the Daniels Marathon Plans. Those quality long runs are super-demanding. Few outside of elites and hardened distance running vets can consistently handle them.)


Regular readers can probably sense where I’m going with this point: There is a vast and mostly-unexplored middle ground to long runs that will allow you to work on and develop aerobic strength (aka the ability to maintain faster paces over longer distances), without demanding so much from you.

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Training volume is about more than mileage

One runner does a 12 mile run on the weekend. The only other run he does is a 6 mile run on Wednesday night.

One runner runs 3 miles every day, except for a rest day on Sunday.

One runner does a 5 mile run Tuesday and Thursday, then she does a longer 8 mile run on Saturday.

A sprinter practices 3200 meters of reps plus 2 miles of warmup and cooldown jogging on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday she does an easy 3 mile run. She takes the weekend off.

All of these runners run the exact same mileage every week (18 miles). Would you consider their training equal? Do you think they’ll all develop their running ability the same way?

More importantly, is it accurate to cast a firm judgment on the quality of their training largely based on the fact that they run 18 miles a week?

I would say not. And yet that’s the pedestal on which so many runners and coaches put weekly mileage.

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Endurance is best built through your regular runs, rather than your long run

Runners understandably focus on their long runs while training for races from the 5K to marathons and ultras. Your ability to run long determines how well you run your longest races, and long runs help build the aerobic capability that carries you through races of all distances.

However, the long run also receives too much focus. I’m not going to call the long run overrated, because long runs definitely are not overrated. They’re important. But long runs are one component of a successful training plan, and building your aerobic endurance and performance requires more than getting your long run in every week.

And no, I don’t mean doing your speedwork. In fact, improving your aerobic capability requires no speedwork at all (though speedwork can certainly help your running economy, and is valuable for maximizing your race day speed).

We fixate on the length of our long runs. We fixate on the speed at which we run our speedwork. But we don’t pay much attention to the length of our regular runs, and it turns out the latter is as important (if not more important) to developing our aerobic endurance.

To briefly summarize and blow over a ton of science:

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