Tag Archives: Marathon

The Mechanics and Mindset of the 3 Day Cycle

Within the 21 Day Cycle is a series of 3 day cycles. More than anything the best approach to each 3 day cycle is an approach, a mindset, towards each of the individual days.

At its core, the 3 day cycle is this:

Day 1 involves strength training and easy aerobic training.
Day 2 involves easy, slightly more demanding aerobic training.
Day 3 involves a longer and/or tougher aerobic training session.

Day 1

Of the three days, this day’s aerobic training should be easiest. If it needs to be a day off from aerobic training, then it should be a rest day from aerobic training, with only strength training.

Your primary focus on Day 1 is two things:

1) Get your strength training session done. Strength training can constitute whatever you individually need it to, though during base and race training I wouldn’t make it too tough. I do the Full Fourteen, which with efficient sets and 60 second rest breaks (longer as needed for transitions) takes me about 25 minutes.

You could can do a 20 minute strength routine, and rotate between different blocks of workouts. Since you’d strength train every three days, you could hit every muscle group in every single workout if desired.

2) This should be the easiest, shortest aerobic training of the next three days. I often take a rest day from running on these days. If marathon training, I probably do short easy recovery runs to build training volume. Generally, I often cross train on these days, though on weekends I’ll just strength train and rest completely from aerobic training on these days, since I typically train heavily during the workweek.

If you’re a workaholic, I’d recommend setting a Day 1 cap of 45 minutes on any aerobic training. This workout is setting the bar for Days 2 and 3, and if you set it too high you’re either not going to hit it or burn yourself out doing it. The idea of the 3 day cycle is to moderate your workload so you ebb and flow between challenging training and allowing for recovery.

Day 2

While this is also an ‘easy day’, Day 2’s aerobic training should be longer, more demanding than Day 1’s training. Three important points:

1) Keep this aerobic session to no more than 60-65 minutes. I saw that so if you’re cross training or running on a gym machine, it’s okay to get to 60 minutes and do the full 5 minute cooldown. Also, I don’t want anyone to freak out if e.g. they’re running outside and see their run has gone 1:00:23.

2) If you rested totally from aerobic training on Day 1, then any easy training on Day 2 will suffice. As a minimum, I recommend you train on Day 2 at least one minute longer than it took for you to strength train on Day 1. If I only strength trained 25 minutes on Day 1, I want to run or cross train for at least 26 minutes.

3) You however want to not train too much on Day 2, because Day 3’s training should be longer or tougher than Day 2’s. So you don’t want to set the bar so high that exceeding it on Day 3 is too difficult.

If you did aerobically train on Day 1, then you want Day 2’s training to last at least one minute longer than your aerobic training. So if I decided on Day 1 to do a super easy 20 minute run with my strength training, I’ll want to run or cross train no less than 21 minutes on Day 2.

If you want to do speedwork (tempo runs, track stuff, fartleks, a regular run with any sort of fast segments, etc.), or even a run on unfamiliar harder terrain like mountain trails, I’d pick either Day 2 or Day 3 for that.

But no matter what you do for Day 2 training, again keep it below 60-65 minutes. As I mentioned with Day 1, your mindset is to keep Day 1 short. Again, I’d recommend setting a Day 1 cap of 45 minutes on any aerobic training, so that this Day 2 workout builds on and proves tougher than Day 1.

Day 3

This is of course the longest of the three aerobic training days. On Day 3 you go longer, or you go harder, than Day 2.

When I originally wrote up the 21 Day Cycle, I recommended this aerobic workout be 60-90 minutes. That is generally true, and if you’re training for a race that will last longer than 90 minutes, you want your weekend Day 3 workouts to be sufficiently longer. Half marathoners should aim for closer to 2-3 hours. Marathons should build towards at least 2-3 hours, probably towards 4 hours if your goal time is that long or longer.

Otherwise, midweek, cap these workouts at 90 minutes. While you should aim for at least 60 minutes, if Days 1 and 2 were shorter, and anyting below 60 minutes would be longer than those two days, then you can go less than 60 minutes… e.g. Day 1 you rested from aerobic anything, Day 2 you went 30 minutes, Day 3 you could go as little as 30-35 minutes if desired or needed.

The general intention on Day 3 is to work on your aerobic endurance. But if you went 60 easy aerobic minutes on Day 2, you could on Day 3 work on speedwork. In this case, it’s okay to also do 60 minutes on Day 3, e.g. you ran easy for 60 minutes on Day 2, so on Day 3 you spent 60 minutes running repeats, or do a 60 minute tempo run, or an easy 60 minute run with a 15 minute fast finish, etc.

Otherwise, during midweek you can go up to 90 minutes on Day 3. This is where various research (that I won’t cite for now) shows your workout hits the peak of the bell curve on aerobic development. The only reason to go longer is to work on developing endurance for a longer race, and given the body’s recovery needs you generally want to avoid doing that more than once every 6-8 days. The sweet spot for aerobic fitness development in an easy workout is 60-90 minutes.

THE WEEKEND PIVOT

My original 21 Day Cycle recommends two long workouts within 6 days of each other, followed by two weeks off from any workouts longer than 90 minutes.

While this allows ample recovery from the long workouts, some may find this doesn’t allow them to sufficiently build up their long run in marathon training.

It also reduces one’s margin for error in marathon training, that if they have to miss one of their scheduled long runs, they’re now facing at least 3 weeks between long runs, which could lead to a loss or setback in fitness.

So maybe you want to schedule a long run every week, and want to schedule one during that odd 2nd weekend where Day 1 falls on a Saturday and Day 2 falls on a Sunday, leaving the longer Day 3 on a Monday. (And yes, the occasional Monday holiday makes a long run work there, but 95% of the time it doesn’t.)

If you want to run long every weekend, I propose an alternate 3 day cycle for those odd weekends:

Day 1: You strength train, and either take off from aerobic training or do an easy aerobic workout, as usual.

Day 2: Do your long run here.

Day 3: Either take this day completely off, or do the same sort of easy aerobic workout you would do on day 1 (but no more than 45 minutes).

Then the following day you go back to Day 1 as before and resume the normal cycle.

If your long run isn’t any longer than 2 hours, I would say this is not at all necessary, that you could follow the original 21 Day Cycle as usual. This Pivot is largely for marathoners and similar long distance athletes who find the scheduled weekend off from long training more concerning than rewarding, or otherwise feel they must be able to train long every weekend.

And of course, if you do need an easy weekend, you can always go back to the original 2nd weekend schedule as needed.

YOU CAN DO OTHER STUFF

I often cross train each morning throughout the week regardless of what other running or strength training I have scheduled each given day or week. I’ll do super easy, zone 1, 50-60% of max heart rate “wake me up” cross training a lot of mornings or afternoons on the spin bike or similar. I also take a lot of walks during breaks at work.

You will want to be careful not to overdo any of this, especially as you build serious training volume, but if comfortable for you it’s totally fine.

I often take it easy on the weekends. If I don’t have a strength session or long run on a given day, I’ll often take a total rest day.

IF LIFE INTERVENES, IT’S OKAY TO BAIL

You wake up on your Day 3 and you feel sick as a dog, or something hurts more than it should, etc? Just take the day off. Take a whole 3 day cycle off if you want.

None of this is legally binding! The cycle does make it easy to get back in the swing of things should you need to take a day off or an extended break. Obviously, if you need a long break during a trianing block, you still need to reconsider your race goal as usual. But live your life and make adjustments as needed.

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Bent Up And Motivated: First Look at My Runalyze Data (2016-2021)

I’d like to think I spent the last 2+ yeras hibernating from serious training, brifely coming out of the cave for some hard, extended training here and there, but eventually finding my way bcak to the cave for a while.

First, I had to change careers again in late 2019 after deciding to move back to Vegas.

Then, all that COVID mess started in March 2020, and there wasn’t any practical need to train for most of the year.

Then there was no Vancouver Marathon in 2021, so I just ran a lot on work breaks after starting my new job.

Then I actually got to train for a marathon in summer 2021, but then my lower body decided to implode about midway through, and I never quite got bcak on track before deciding to abandon ship on that in mid-October.


Now, after a couple years of sustained regular cross training, progress in mostly regular strength training, after having to learn a few more things about running to help stay injury-free and avoid past burnout mistakes… here we are at the doorstep to 2022, and just in time for that I discovered a neat run-data-tracking website called Runalyze.

After porting all my Garmin data over and seeing what they showed me, I was suitably impressed and paid for a Premium membership.

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Switching up the Vancouver 2022 Plan, Just In Time

While test driving the FIRST training plan as well as my other training in these preliminary weeks, it’s become clear to me I need to focus differently with Vancouver 2022 training and I need to change plans now while it’s early enough to do so.

First off, I realize I’m low on running volume, averaging less than 20 miles of weekly running plus significant cross training each week. Doing FIRST isn’t fully going to address that. Jonathan Savage has mentioned FIRST works better as a plan for someone fully trained to the marathon distance. If I maintained my fitness after Vancouver, FIRST would be a great plan.

But right now, I need to add consistent running volume and get comfortable running a lot again. Even though I handle long runs just fine, my heart rate’s been jumping high into zone 3 on the back end of these runs, and if I’m fit I should be able to stay at zone 2 through most of such a run. This indicates I need to add easy volume.

I also weigh more than I did in prior training cycles, and I realize one reason the extra weight has stayed on lately is because I’m not endurance training at the volume of past cycles. All that easy volume in the past (plus all that everyday walking in Chicago) kept much of the fat off. Losing about 5-10 pounds of fat would improve my current pace and projected time a great deal, even if somehow I gained no other fitness.

Running easy and frequently would not only improve neuromuscular fitness and aerobic comfort with longer runs, but would also ensure some of this extra fat gets burned off.

While my hamstring feels mostly better with some random light soreness here and there, that’s not as much a concern in a plan with frequent, mostly easy running.


So for the next two weeks (as, incidentally, this past Sunday marked 18 weeks from Vancouver), I’m test driving a modified version of Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 plan. As long as my body picks up the 5 days a week of running with little trouble, I likely will go with that plan this time around. It turns out what Higdon’s plans offer is what I need at the present time.

The base plan has you run Tuesday-Thursday, then a moderate or pace run Saturday followed by the Sunday long run. You cross train easy on Monday and rest on Friday.

I’m not concerned with Higdon’s plan asking for 26 miles right out the gate in week 1 then stepping up from there. Again, I’ve been running long up to 8 miles and doing a lot of cross training, plus have run hard in multiple recent races. I roughly have the fitness to run 20-25 miles a week right now. Easy running at 3-8 miles hasn’t been a problem, and in fact my longer runs have been run harder than desired. Since most of the scheduled runs are easy, it’ll actually be a relief.

Presuming the early week runs feel fine, I also plan to replace the Thursday easy run with a speed or tempo workout, somewhat matching Higdon’s Advanced plans (whose total volume was simply too high for where I’m at now). Higdon’s speed workouts aren’t super arduous, built around sets of 800 repeats, or 400 meter hill repeats, or his form of tempo runs which are just easy runs with a brief 10K-pace segment. The total mileage of these workouts match the original easy mileage on the intermediate plan, and they always come before a rest day.

I also have a couple of races on my schedule, a 10K next month and a 12K in March. Higdon’s plan as written only accounts for a single mid-plan race. So I strategically swapped some training weeks so the race weeks are easy (with no speedwork), no key long runs end up omitted, and the following midweek is also lighter. This does clump some heavier weeks together, but the race weeks means those weeks are in turn lighter and create a stepback week in each case. Each Saturday race is followed by a medium-long easy run on Sunday, which matches the lighter weeks I swapped into those race weeks.

As for strength and cross training, since I already strength train in brief workouts 2-5 times per week, I’ll continue strength training 3 times a week, probably with the midweek runs in the morning and strength training after work in the evening. Obviously I’m not going to chase any barbell PR’s and will lift conservatively in these strength workouts. The only lower body training will be overhead squats on Tuesdays, and I’ll keep the weight light on these.

I also got comfortable with my recent yoga routine, and will keep doing that at the gym on weekday evenings. I’ve noticed subtle improvements in running and general movement since starting this, so I want to keep it up. My routine though it has a copuple of challenges (Scorpion Pose, anyone? Cow Face?) isn’t terribly arduous so I do it in part as a post-workout stretch.

If I still decide to chase Garmin badges I might do some brief easy spin bike sessions at the gym on weeknights with the swolework and yoga, but we’ll see.

For the easy and long runs, unless I am just so beat-up tired that I just need to shuffle through them, I’m going to follow a Pfitzinger rule and run them as progressive easy runs, starting at 20% longer than marathon pace (e.g. my goal pace per mile times 1.2) and eventually finishing at 10% longer (goal pace times 1.1). Incidentally my current average pace is around 12-15% longer than goal pace, and I’ve run some long runs at a somewhat fast (and ultimately painful) 5%. In my experience 20% is usually rather easy, and 10% while sometimes challenging is easily reachable.

I feel pretty good about my capacity to handle this modified training plan. I’ll be heavily dialing back on the cross training, which should make available more energy to focus on the running. I will as a hedge swap out any midweek easy run for cross training if absolutely necessary, though I’m aiming to do all these runs.

I believe that if I accomplish this then I won’t fall into the trap of ‘run slow, race slow’ that can happen from marathon training. That plus the quality training of the Thursday workouts, the scattered Saturday pace runs, and of course my races should all help prepare me to run a decent, achievable marathon.

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Discussing the 1-1-2 Marathon Training Template and Who It’s Good For

Many marathon coaches and writers have similar, converging ideas. It’s impossible for every training plan to be unique, and it’s not that anyone’s necessarily stealing from anyone else. With so many minds, coaches, runners… many are eventually going to find similar approaches and follow very similar schedules.

I just ran into one such case, where Hal Higdon recently created a new marathon training schedule (Marathon 3), and its three day weekly structure is very similar to the FIRST Marathon training approach.

Another example is that, even though fundamentally they employ different approaches, IronFit and Hal Higdon in their marathon plans each gravitate to what I call a 3 and 2 schedule, where the week starts with three consecutive workouts, and after a day off the week concludes with back to back workouts ending with the long run, followed by a day off.

Those are examples of plans I’ve covered. However, many many other plans I have read and analyzed but not discussed here follow a four day a week approach I will call a 1-1-2 template. In large part, I haven’t discussed them because each of them follow the template in very similar fashion.

The 1-1-2 Template:

Whether it begins Monday, or Tuesday (with Monday off), the first workout of the week is a shorter/medium distance run, or a speed interval workout (400 meter repeats, 800m repeats, or similar).

After the following day is taken off, the 2nd workout on Wednesday/Thursday is a medium distance run, often a tempo or marathon pace run.

After that workout’s following day is taken off, a Friday/Saturday easy run of short/medium distance is followed the day after by the long run. Some may do the whole long run easy, some may insert a marathon pace segment in the run or at the end of the run. But that ends the week’s training.

Tom Holland, Dr. Jim, Jeff Gaudette’s Runners Connect, are some quick examples of writers/coaches who follow this basic template. They can vary in what strength training or cross training they ask you to do between workouts, as well as exactly what kind of workouts you do on the running days.

As a quick hit to the Who’s It Good For concept, and recognizing these plans are different between one another, I still think some general groups may or may not want to consider a plan with this structure:

Who Does This Not Work For?

Run streakers. Obviously you would not be running every day in these plans, and typically these plans ask for so much volume or intensity in the midweek workouts that running short/easy on the rest days is counterproductive. You may as well pick a plan not following this template.

High volume runners. The reasonable ceiling for weekly mileage on plans like these is about 50 miles per week, and that’s presuming you log double digit mileage on the weekday workouts as well as consistently get near that 20 mile mark on the long run.

You could double workout on the training days, but the main workouts are typically somewhat tough, and that could inhibit recovery.

Like the run streakers, you probably want a plan with more frequent, consecutive midweek runs.

Runners who don’t like speed or tempo work. On all these plans I’ve always seen some volume of at least marathon-pace work or tempo running, if not full speed interval workouts. If you’d rather not do any speedwork, Hal Higdon’s Intermediate plans are typically devoid of any speed or tempo running outside of marathon pace runs. If you just want to run easy, you probably need more frequent run workouts than 4 days a week anyway.

Who Does This Work For?

Runners who need breaks. There is a built in day off after three of the four key workouts. If you’ve burned out or worn down from plans with back to back to back runs, a plan like this could help you immensely, possibly more than FIRST or Higdon’s Marathon 3 (since they tend to ask for a lot of extra cross training outside of the workouts).

Runners who have other interests outside of training. The extra days off also give you more space for the rest of your life than most plans do. Some people need the days off to recover between workouts more than others, and plans like this are more accommodating than the other plans I’ve discussed before, while still providing suffient training volume and intensity to get you ready for the marathon.

Runners who struggle with tempo work. The thing with tempo workouts in this format compared to other day-off-rich training plans is that the day off before AND after the midweek speed/tempo sessions better allows you to load up for and recover from these workouts. Some people have a real hard time with executing tempo workouts, and much of that is having to do a workout the day before and/or after, leaving little time for recovery.

This schedule typically assures you have rest time before and after the tempo workouts, maximizing your energy on the workout itself and facilitating your recovery afterward before you tackle the back to back workouts to end the week.


The large number of 1-1-2 plans would be a redundant exercise to cover. But hopefully the above can help you determine if these styles of plans are worth pursuing, or if you’re better off moving along whenever you see them.

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Hal Higdon’s Marathon 3 training plan: Who’s It Good For?

You’ll notice I’ve never written a What’s It Good For feature on the somewhat famous Hal Higdon marathon training plans.

Part of that is they’re by and large recognized as a reliable starter-plan for runners unfamiliar with serious training for a race, or just seeking a straight-forward training plan. It’s often one of the first plans most aspiring runners find and turn to when they want to train for a race. It’s a more old school, traditional approach to run training, fairly straight forward and reliable.

So the audience for these plans is pretty clear. Why write a whole What’s It Good For piece on Higdon’s plans when many reading have already (most likely) gone to and possibly followed his plans before reading? There’s little confusion about whether or not these plans work for someone, and someone reading is typically looking for a different approach.


Now, that said, I’ve come back to Higdon’s work time and again. His writing helped me get back into running years ago and helped me build my ability to run for distance. In fact, for all the What’s It Good Fors I’ve written, if someone on the street asked me for advice on running regularly or doing races for the first time, I’d most likely send them to Hal’s website as a starting point. His basic advice and plans consistently work.

So while figuring out my intended training for the 2022 Vancouver Marathon, I also looked up Hal’s old marathon plans. Incidentally, I wanted more intel on how he’d schedule strength training (because obviously I want to continue strength training through Van training), and his incumbent marathon plans didn’t specifically discuss strength training.

I ran a search to see if I could find reference thereto on his website, and it led me to a plan of his I hadn’t found before: Marathon 3. This is a newer hybrid plan for recreational “gap” runners: Not quite a traditional intermediate marathoner, not really a novice.

The Marathon 3 program fits conveniently between Novice 2 and Intermediate 1, but its main feature (and appeal) is that it offers only three days of running and an extra dose of cross training for those of us who need a bit more rest between our running workouts.

Hal Higdon.

That said, I think more advanced runners may find value in the plan as well, especially if they’ve been burned out or injured on higher volume plans.

Marathon 3 (which I’ll also call M-3) looks decidedly different in schedule-pattern from Higdon’s other plans, which traditionally follow a 3 and 2 weekly cycle: Three early week workouts, rest, then a two workout block of a moderate effort run followed immediately by the long run and a rest/cross day. This one has no scheduled back to back runs.

So you know what? I think Higdon’s Marathon 3 is not only different enough from his other training plans to warrant a write-up, but the fact that it was a bit out of digital sight and I had to find it by accident tells me it’s worth linking and showing to readers.

Plus, you’ll get some insight into my thoughts on Higdon’s principles, and when/how they work well.

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Vancouver Strikes Back, 2022.

Run Van made the decision to open up 2022 Vancouver Marathon registration, offered me an early invite, and it did not take me much thought or deliberation to jump back in. I will be running the Vancouver Marathon on May 1, 2022.

I had actually in fact deferred my airfare and hotel, from my planned October Vancouver trip that couldn’t happen, to late April and early May as if I was already going to the marathon. So this isn’t exactly a sudden change of heart of any sort. This was penciled in, and now I’m tracing it over in pen. Plus, now I don’t have to find money to book the travel, because it’s already booked!

I do have plans to run other events and will still do those. I had plans to train for other stuff in 2022 and will still train for those.

If the Failed Indy Experiment of 2021 showed me anything it’s how I can cross train in lieu of running out a full schedule of marathon training. I gradually build a long run to the needed distance, work on tempo and speed training once a week or so, run when it’s most useful, but otherwise cross train for the bulk of my base aerobic work. Why take a pounding on treadmills or pavement when I can get the job done on an elliptical or spin bike?

The other training (and yes, at some point I’ll go into what all this is) can sit in for any speedwork I’d have otherwise done in dedicated marathon training, when applicable. Since some of it isn’t running, it can at times provide a break from run training.

I’m not terribly worried about injuries. At this point, I think I can trace this summer’s problems back to using the treadmill, and I’ll just stop using it for extended running from here on out. If I restrict my use to under 30 minutes and carefully manage pace, and if I don’t use it too often, it works when it works.

As I did before, I will “trickle in” training starting this month with built in rest days, slowly ramping up to a marathon training schedule that should be in swing by the start of next year. Let’s see how this goes.

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Am I Still A Marathoner?

Since withdrawing from Indy I have to consider the reality that I have not run a marathon in about 2.5 years, and that my most recent effort to prepare for one has (for whatever reasons incidental or as a direct result) failed.

I can’t help but ask, when it comes to the marathon, do I even still know what I’m talking about? Have I ever?

I try to be circumspect, to realize that Corona had a substantial role in the time away (there were no marathons for about a year, and many of the ones happening since have been limited), and that this recent effort was not only an unduly difficult task in the Vegas heat, but also one I mitigated and eventually ended out of a persistent abundance of caution. Every time I ran into pain problems beyond mere soreness, it was not that I couldn’t run. I just decided it was best not to.

However, people come to this site in part for advice on preparing for races like the marathon. What does it say when I myself have not and, for whatever reasons appear that I cannot?

Even if I retain confidence in myself, context aside, I have to be realistic about how all this looks. I know for sure my principles are by and large sound. I know I can train for and run marathons to a higher ability. I know this even though I went to train this summer and it all fell flat after never really getting going.

All that said, and I’ve alluded to this in past posts, I’m not sure if and when I’ll run the next marathon. I cannot imagine I won’t ever run one again. As I’ve also mentioned, there’s at least three I want to run once (or once more) before all is said and done.

I also understand the amount of work it takes to train for one, and how any other training ambitions or goals have to take a back seat when you do. It’s very hard to compromise marathon training to allow for other things, and still be at all ready to run one. If anything would keep me away, it’s knowing what I’d need to do to be ready for one, and not being sure if I’m willing to go that deep.

I’ve thought about generally training to run long, for example maintaining year-round the fitness to run 16 miles and also race a 10K or so as desired. And then if I do decide to run a marathon, I’m not terribly far off from being ready for it. That going forward is probably better for me than planning to run a marathon and then having to build up to it over months, as people tend to do.

I’ll admit I have penciled in Vancouver for May 2022. But that said, I mentioned I have other sports and races I want to work on, and will mainly focus on those for now. If they don’t pan out, then great I can pivot and focus on Vancouver. If they do, I can make a judgment call from there. I may be able to do both, even if I’m focusing on other sports, if at least generally conditioned to run long. Or I could just say forget it for now, to one or the other.

I don’t think any of the prior writing I’ve done on marathons is wrong. Those training methods aren’t wrong or bad or not effective. I also retain full faith I can train effectively for marathons. I just want to do some other stuff for a while, and it’ll for now take a back seat.

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