Tag Archives: 8020 endurance

The 80/20 Running marathon plan: What’s It Good For?

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Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running (2014)

Matt Fitzgerald’s written a lot of books, and a lot of them are good books. He’s one of this generation’s great minds when it comes to endurance training.

He is also one of the champions of 80/20 Endurance Training, the approach found by Dr. Stephen Seiler to be the most efficient mix of easy and hard training. In a nutshell, 80% of your training is done at easy intensity and 20% is done at harder intensity.

Fitzgerald’s aptly titled 2014 book 80/20 Running is an extended research guide on how he and everyone determined that 80/20 training was the optimal blend of easy and tough workouts.

And as you’d expect, the book includes a set of training plans broken out by difficulty for every major racing distance, from the 5K and 10K, to the Half Marathon and the full Marathon. I want take a look at the Marathon training plans.

As usual, I’m not writing this as a review of the book… though I will freely admit that I love the book and, however dated it might be, I highly recommend you read it if you’re a serious distance runner. Triathletes will get just as much from his more recent 80/20 Triathlon, which adapts the principles to training for the three-discipline endurance sport.

And I will offer this important caveat: Fitzgerald makes it clear that he believes you should take the listed workouts in his book combined with 80/20 principles and create your own training plans based on your needs. So to review this training plan is fundamentally undercut by the fact that they are merely written as templates or samples, something to follow if you just for some reason cannot or won’t make a training plan of your own.

However, given the plans do mirror many of Fitzgerald’s general principles regarding scheduling workout and training progression, I’ll go ahead and review the marathon training plan anyway.

Do note that the training plan, not to my knowledge available in the public domain, would either way require that you have the book 80/20 Running. The workouts are listed only by title, and the finer points are outlined elsewhere in the book. So, you need the book to follow the plan.

The Nuts and Bolts:

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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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