Tag Archives: Marathon

Volume: The key to base training

Most training plans, whether or not they map it out, follow at least three general phases.

  1. There is a base training phase, where you establish the volume and habits you will generally follow throughout the training cycle.
  2. There is a fundamental phase, where you develop speed and aerobic endurance.
  3. And then there is the final sharpening phase, where you work more specifically on preparing for your goal race as well as taper to heal up in the days/weeks before that race.

(Some split that 2nd phase into separate development phases, one where the 1st part is speedwork-centered, and the 2nd is built around tempo and endurance with that tempo.)

Most people follow a pre-written training plan, which usually starts with a minimal weekly mileage that gradually builds throughout the plan. The base training may establish an initial pattern of speed/tempo workouts, but the volume typically is low and increases during the life of the training plan.

I do think we get it backwards.

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The Race Eve pasta dinner: Is pre-race carb loading a good idea?

I may or may not have touched on the folly of carb loading, that your diet and glycogen stores are a body of work, and not something you can fix in the 48 hours before your race (though your glycogen stores and physical condition are certainly something you can break in the preceding 48 hours).

Still, the Race Eve Pasta Gorge is a favorite runner ritual, and while you may not substantially improve your glycogen reserves, you at least won’t go to bed hungry.

This leads me to two questions.

  1. Can there be a situation where a Race Eve carb-load can be beneficial?
  2. Is the Race Eve carb-load beenficial for races shorter than the marathon? If so, when so, and when not so?

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Practicing fueling during marathon training

A lot of people struggle with fueling during a marathon because they aren’t used to running with food or drink (beyond water or maybe Gatorade) in their stomach.

I have a fairly strong running stomach. I’ve even gone as far as to eat pizza before heading out on a speedwork workout, and done well (in no small part thanks to having a bunch of fat and carbohydrates at the ready thanks to the pizza). I obviously wouldn’t recommend going that far, but I have on many occasions eaten a full meal and then gone out on a run without trouble.


Yesterday I segmented 11 miles into three separate runs, as I ran to the Loyola women’s hoops game, then back towards home.

After the game, before my 2nd run to Montrose Beach, I stopped at Raising Canes and treated myself to a Box Combo with some lemonade, because why not.

But instead of waiting a bit for the meal to digest, I immediately crossed the street onto the LUC campus and took off for Lincoln Park.

I bring this up because, while I didn’t feel sick running with such a disgusting meal in my stomach… the inevitable gas you’d expect from your stomach led to a realization.

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Final thoughts on Vancouver 2018

StanleyPark

Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC Canada

I didn’t go on a lot about what happened with the 2018 Vancouver Marathon, which I had to DNF at around 5K due to heat exhaustion.

There was a lot going on in my personal life right when that race occurred, which undoubtedly impacted my health leading up to the race.

My work situation had been stable until about a month before the race (for various reasons, mostly beyond my control), to the point where I decided to resign shortly after I returned from Vancouver due to how bad the situation had gotten. It felt like, and still feels like, exactly the right decision. My working life even without the full-time salaried stability got a lot better since (EDIT: And I’ve since been hired on full time in a new career that’s much better in too many ways).

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12 things I want to do more in my next marathon training program

No intros. Let’s get to it.

1. More hill running. Brad Hudson swears by hill runs as an easy form of strength training, as well as a recovery aid after long runs. Jonathan Savage also swears by downhill running as a way to develop quad strength and endurance.

I want to try and do both during training… regular uphill running after long runs, and downhill runs as a harder workout early in the training cycle.

2. Sunday long runs instead of Saturday long runs. Previously I did my long run Saturday to give myself Sunday to recover before the workweek.

But this was during my previous career, which required a lot more walk commuting and where I used a standing desk. While that had many benefits, my new conventional sit-down career and its quicker, easier commute allows me much more physical downtime. Plus, I’ve improved my ability to get sleep after long runs, another factor in why I previously ran long on Saturday.

The hurdles to running Sunday have been eliminated, and since my next marathon will likely fall on a Sunday, it’s best to do the long runs on those days.

3. Greater emphasis on maintaining pace through consistent quick cadence. I’ve already been working on this as I’ve resumed running. But, in prioritizing volume during my last training cycle, I think I ran a low slower than I needed to.

This is hindsight being 20/20, but I realize I have better speed than my 11 minute mile long runs indicate. Plus, as I saw in tapering and the marathon, I have no trouble maintaining a faster cadence (and pace) on long runs.

I need to take a page from the Hanson Brothers and do all my distance running at as quick of a cadence as I can reasonably maintain.

4. Mini-sharpening period for tune up races. My speedwork was either a bit scattered or a bit flat in how I applied it during the last cycle. I didn’t follow a concrete progression for my speedwork, and the workouts I did late in the training cycle were not substantially different from the workouts I did early in training.

I plan to stage it out a bit more this time around, not focusing hard on marathon level effort until the final few weeks. As most recommend, I plan to focus more on maximizing speed during the early training stage, which will allow me to focusĀ  on tune-up races.

If I train for specific endurance in the 3-4 weeks leading up to those races, to maximize performance in those races, it could have substantial long term benefits as I move on to more marathon endurance training post race.

5. Tune up races! I didn’t run many tune-up races in my previous cycle, and to be honest I do miss shorter races. I almost decided to take a year off from marathons not because of how tough training is, but so I could run more shorter races instead.

I don’t think I need to go that far, though. It’s entirely reasonable to do several races during an 18 week training cycle as tune-up races. And it’s reasonable to run them with a serious effort, as doing so provides secondary training benefits. Most of them can double as a long, quality tempo training session.

6. More multi-pace workouts, especially during long runs. Time to time I’ve mixed in fast-finish moderate runs, plus I dabbled with Daniels-style multi-pace long runs last year during an extended test run of a marathon training cycle (I didn’t actually plan to run a marathon that fall, but did want to practice stretching out).

The Daniels paced-long-runs are tough, and it may have been a little early in my development to do them. But now, having developed my ability to manage moderate pace in longer runs, I think it may benefit me to incorporate multi-pace long runs.

I probably won’t go full Daniels 2Q and devote two days a week to killer 12-16 mile runs with extended threshold and marathon pace segments, at least not right off the bat. To avoid burnout it’s best to do those closer to the race, as my training peaks.

I may not need to run a 20 miler next time around, but I can definitely benefit from running a 16 miler where, say, 10+ of the miles are at marathon pace.

7. Varying the pace and intensity of regular distance runs. Over the last year I’ve run nearly all of my regular runs at around the same pace. That pace was somewhat faster during the Vancouver cycle than during the recent Chicago cycle. Lately, as I’ve resumed running, all of my regular and long runs have been substantially quicker than either.

As I ramp up to training mileage it would be a good idea to take a standard hard/easy approach to those regular runs. Perhaps one day I can sustain a moderate 8:30-9:15 pace… and the next give myself total permission to take it easy and go as slow as I’d like. This can allow me to add maximum mileage as well as push myself some.

8. Run every single day, even if just a little bit. Running every single day for 2+ months worked very well for me during my last couple months of training.

It happened basically by accident: When I discovered I had run for 10 straight days, I decided to try and keep the run streak going since I still felt good despite no days off. I ran for 70 straight days right up to the Chicago Marathon, and felt great at the end.

My body seems to respond better to quick, easy runs as recovery instead of taking a full rest day. Many good runners run every day. I think it might work out (barring an actual injury) to run 7 days a week, and when feeling particularly tired to just run a couple easy miles that day instead of outright resting.

9. Train to optimize high-moderate pace, for optimal aerobic support. Like many, I’d previously opt to slow down on longer runs to preserve stamina. While this allowed me to run 20-milers and other long runs, it didn’t help translate my speed to longer runs. My speed at shorter distances indicates I can run faster at longer distances.

Again, I want to take a page from the Hansons and do my long runs at more of a moderate pace, rather than the easy pace most recommend. I obviously don’t plan to race these long runs, or even do them at marathon pace just yet. But I want to go out at a fast cadence and try to hold that cadence as long as reasonably possible.

I’m no longer concerned about whether or not I can run long, since I clearly can. Now I want to translate my speed to longer distances by working on the specific endurance of running faster over longer distances.

10. Don’t emphasize marathon-pace until the final six weeks before the next marathon. While it’s important to run at marathon pace periodically throughout the training cycle, I also don’t want to peak too early. It’s not as important to emphasize marathon-pace running until the final few weeks before the race.

As I did before Chicago, I plan to taper the last 14 days by heavily reducing my volume while doing virtually all of the my running at marathon pace. The pace not only feels surprisingly comfortable, but feels ingrained once you get to the start line. However, if I were to run a lot at that pace for six weeks, I would either risk burning out, overdoing easier runs due to prematurely ingraining the pace, or stagnating development in some other way.

I’m no fan of the muscle confusion fallacy, but development is best served by altering elements of your training every few weeks.

Prior to the final few weeks, I won’t run marathon pace for more than 25% of any speedwork in a week. A few miles once a week are fine in the early going, but running at that pace isn’t necessary.

11. Use accordant tune up races as goal pace benchmarks. Pace prediction calculators use results from your other races as estimators of how you can do in other races, including the marathon.

If I have a goal pace in mind, I can review the Daniels or Hanson equivalent pace in a tune up race, like a 5K or 10K, and see if I can run that pace.

Or, if I don’t have a goal pace in mind, I can use the pace I run as a gauge of what I can do, and adjust my workout pacing going forward.

12. Peak early… with training volume. I don’t want to peak early overall, but I do have a lot of things I want to work on: Speed over longer runs, mixed workouts, racing other race distances.

It’s hard to work on all those things and increase your mileage during training. So, my plan is to focus during off-season and base training on building up to running higher mileage and to try and peak mileage before I get to foundational training.

I want my max weekly mileage by the 6th week of training to be my absolute max. As I scale back to lesser training mileage I can easily slide into the other kinds of training and racing I want to do.

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Can the 5K help predict a marathon time in lieu of Yasso 800’s?

Recently I floated the value of using an 8K as a marathon time predictor shortly before your marathon, in lieu of the popular Yasso 800’s workout.

While the 8K/10 can cut out a middleman and give you the same result as the Yasso’s, possibly more accurate since the breaks are removed… as I mentioned, it can be difficult to find an 8K to race.

I’ve done some more research based on Daniels’ pace recommendations, and I realize that a 5K may provide a similar prediction. This may work better for most people, because 5K races are a lot more common and easier to find, register for and complete.

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The Yasso 800’s marathon predictor workout: An idea for a simple (and not so simple) improvement on the workout

The Yasso 800’s are a classic marathon predictor workout, where the average/median/whatever of your ten 800 meter reps should correspond to your likely marathon time, e.g. averaging 3:45 per rep indicates you’ll run the marathon in 3 hours 45 minutes. (I’ve previously written some tips and thoughts on handling the workout.)

The workout’s accuracy can depend on a lot of things…

  • How easy the reps are
  • How much rest you’re taking between reps
  • How closely your reps are to your average rep time, whether all your reps are the same or if they’re all over the place
  • Whether you hold steady throughout the workout or get slower as it progresses
  • And of course how adequately trained you are to run the marathon distance

Of course, it’s a bit crude as a predictor. From common sense, how can a series of 800 meter repeats predict how you will run for 42,195 uninterrupted meters, 3-4 weeks later? The workout doesn’t match the race in any way. You certainly won’t run the 800’s at the same pace you plan to run the marathon (BTW if you did, and manage to match your prediction at the marathon… then you certainly could have run the marathon faster). You will likely run the Yasso 800’s at something close to 5K pace, while your marathon pace will be closer to a sustained moderate effort.

But let’s be real: It’s very difficult to predict how your training has prepared you to run your upcoming marathon. There’s no real adequate predictor workout for the distance, because the distance itself is beyond most human capabilities. You can easily run the distance of a 5K in a workout. You can’t reasonably run a 26 mile workout unless it’s a long run, and few will run that far in their longest runs. It’s very hard to do.

Bart Yasso‘s workout is a somewhat reliable approximation of what runners can do. It’s based on his vast experience, and how the relative effort in the 800’s indicates the corresponding pace at which you can run a marathon when adequately trained. His workout came about from finding a clear correlation that proved largely true for most trained marathoners who successfully attempted the workout. It does match up for many, even when for various reasons it doesn’t match up for others.


I think there’s a better, more accurate form of this predictor workout. But it requires more discipline and is of course more difficult… even though the format is a lot simpler:

  • Run an 8K with your best even-paced effort.
  • Divide the time by 10.

That’s the marathon prediction.

The premise: The Yasso 800 workout consists of 10 reps of 800 meters. 10 multiplied by 800 is 8000 meters, aka the exact distance of an 8K.

The key difference in this 8K workout is that you’re removing all of the rest breaks, and running every inch in one uninterrupted go.

The hard part of course is that maintaining a steady pace in an 8K becomes a lot harder. It’s important that, like running a good workout rep, you don’t necessarily race the 8K as you normally would. You focus on maintaining a steady effort that at the finish line you could theoretically continue running for a few more miles.

In effect, it’s like an 8K run at 10K pace. Or, to brutally simplify it, it’s one 8000 meter rep at 10K pace.

The Yassos are broken into 10 more easily manageable reps. It’s a lot easier to maintain your pace for 3-5 minute bursts than to figure out and hold a suitable pace for 30-50 minutes. You have to know how fast you intend to go, start at that pace, and then ensure you hold it until you cross the finish.

But you’re already planning to do that at the marathon, right? Ideally (though many best laid plans get laid to waste on a marathon race day), your plan is to run at your chosen pace for all 26.2 miles. If you can hold a pace for 26.2 miles, why should a slightly faster pace over 4.971 miles be all that tough?

 


I realize 8K pace is substantially tougher than marathon pace, and that’s one reason I suggest running an 8K test at something closer to 10K pace… along with bearing in mind that you may have a tune-up coming up or having just passed, and that you are after all in the final phase of training for a marathon. You don’t want to kill yourself trying to run a baller 8K that’s not your goal race.

I realize a key element to the Yassos is that you get to stop and rest, minimizing the strain of running those 8000 meters at a fast pace. I realize that if you run an 8K, you’re possibly going to run a slower pace than you ideally would for Yasso’s, which typically can be done at 5K pace.

But here’s the key, stated as a rhetorical question: Wouldn’t that make an 8K time divided by 10 a more accurate prediction? Many say that Yassos tend to predict about 5-10 minutes fast. Many say the Yasso prediction tends to be too optimistic. If you are forced to maintain a slightly slower pace for 5 straight miles… won’t that offer a more possible prediction for your race?

Also, even though it’s not a race specific workout to run an 8K at 8K pace… neither is running 10 reps of 800 meters at 5K-10K pace. What does that have to do with finding and sustaining marathon pace? At least an 8K’s uninterrupted effort is more specific to what you need to do in a marathon (run somewhat hard, without stopping).

And in the Yasso’s, with those shorter reps, it falls into the same trap as most interval speedwork: It’s easy to outrun the workout, and run the reps harder than you would run in a longer race. Give yourself enough rest, or take in enough energy, and you could race 10 really good reps that aren’t at all indicative of what you could do in a 5K, let alone predict how you’d run the marathon.

It’s no wonder so many people find Yasso 800 predictions fast.


I would recommend trying an 8K Divided By 10 (8K/10) test in lieu of Yasso 800’s. In fact, I wish I had thought to do it in past training cycles. I definitely will do it next time.

If you’re doing speedwork, an 8K/10 can replace a speed session for that week, which would still allow you to do a tune-up half marathon the week before or after if desired.

8K races are not easy to find, I realize, like 5K’s, 10K’s and Half Marathons. While reasonably popular, it’s a somewhat odd distance. They come and they go.

Those in Chicago running a spring marathon (like Boston!) could use the Shamrock Shuffle for this. Barring that, a late August or early September 8K could work for the peak fall marathon season (some Illinois towns outside of Chicagoland do offer late September 8K’s).

Outside of that, scour Running In The USA and see if any are available nearby within 3-5 weeks of your goal race. If not, I challenge the RAM Racings of the world to put one up if there isn’t one available in a given area.

Of course, the easiest way to make an 8K test happen is the hardest one to find the discipline to do: Map out 5 miles, and run it out yourself… or go find a full size track and knock out 20 laps in one go. I’ll be frank: If you have the discipline to train for and run a marathon, you should be able to find the discipline to make yourself run an 8K on your own at 10Kish pace. If that’s what it takes and you want to try this, I have faith in you.

No matter how you do it if you dare… run at 8K, divide your finish time by 10, and that’s probably as good a prediction of your marathon time as any Yasso 800’s workout could give you.

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Ideas for marathon recovery

My only expertise with this, aside from cobbling together ancedotal evidence and glancing at research, is the fact that I’m feeling alarmingly well for two days after a marathon, and based on my experience recovering from other races and hard workouts.

This is aside from the obvious advice to take extended time off and to rest when in doubt.

Eat a lot of protein everyday

Eat more protein than you typically would. Eat as if you just did a hard workout, even though clearly you haven’t worked out today, and shouldn’t.

I’m eating around 150-180g a day. I usually eat closer to 130-150g.

Walk as much as you can get away with

Yes, generally you should rest as much as you can, and I’m not suggesting you go on a massive hike. But generating blood circulation and some (slight) added stress can help kickstart recovery processes in your body. A 10-30 minute walk, even multiple times a day if you can stand it, can help accelerate the rebuilding process.

Take it easy on the caffeine

Maybe you drink coffee or tea. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you used it in training or the race, and maybe you didn’t. Ideally, you took it a bit easy leading up to the race, and probably didn’t have a whole lot on race day.

If you like it, don’t give it up, but stick to your cut-back volume for now, while you’re not planning on being particularly active. It can interfere with sleep if you re-up your intake while your body’s not burning as many calories as usual. And this is a time where sleep is very valuable for you.

The more you’re on your feet, the better your soreness will feel

The worst your soreness will feel is if you’ve been stationary for a while, and then decide to get up. As you’re on your feet for some time, the soreness will not be as present and noticeable. Again, circulation helps. And so does warming up those damaged muscles a bit. Also, the more activity you can manage during the day, the easier it will be to get to sleep, which again is important to recoery.

So make sure to get up and move around with some regularity, soreness or injuries permitting.

Once your 1-2 week rest period has passed, consider another form of fitness training in the short run.

While you could certainly get back to running once you’re ready, and perhaps you even have a race to train for right away… if you’ve got time before your next training cycle has to start, it may be beneficial to switch things up and train in something different, whether it’s weight training, circuit training, yoga or Pilates, a squats or push up challenge, playing a sport, etc…

Giving your body a different kind of workout not only promotes overall fitness and perhaps develops your running ability in different ways, but it also strengthens your core, a valuable asset once you return to training primarily as a runner.


I’m starting to feel better already, and I’m thinking in part it’s from having done a few of the pre-training ideas.

If you’re on the mend following a marathon, some of these ideas may be worth trying. Consider them.

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On how the body uses energy during a race, why runners hit the wall in a marathon, and what can be done about it

A key fundamental issue with the marathon is that the distance is farther than the human body can capably race in one go without consuming fuel during the race.

Long story short, aka I’m about to paraphrase a ton of science without citing any sources:

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On marathon cheaters, the Boston Marathon, and the importance of Derek Murphy’s Marathon Investigation

Every year, following applications, the famous Boston Marathon (which requires non-charity-runners to run a tough qualifying time to automatically qualify for their race) amends their quaifying time after the fact as a cutoff. They simply cannot accept every submission that Boston-Qualified (BQ’d).

This year the Boston Marathon’s amended cutoff for the 2019 race was close to 5 minutes faster than their posted 2018 standard at 4:52, a full 91 seconds higher than last year’s cutoff.

5 minutes may not seem like much to an observer: “Just run a bit faster next time”.

  • There’s nothing you can do about your application this year. You can only try to qualify for next year’s race, whose benchmark has yet to be set (and will likely be even more difficult)
  • When you run a 26.2 mile race as fast as you can, finding a way to run that whole race just a minute faster, let alone 5+ minutes faster, is for many impossibly difficult.
  • Preparing for and running a 26.2 mile race is extremely tough. It’s not like a 5K where you bounce back in a couple days and could run one again right away. Most runners require 2-4 weeks or more to recover from the physical damage of running a marathon, which the human body was not designed to do. (In fact, in the historical origin story of the race the guy who ran the distance to warn generals of an impending battle… dropped dead at the end)
  • Anyone who has run anything close to a marathon, let alone the actual race, would understand how insane the idea of lopping 5 minutes off a well-executed PR can be.

Okay, that sucks, you say. A lot of people want to run Boston, and the Boston Marathon has got to cap who gets in. That’s tough, but fair.

There’s one big problem: Many of the people who got in this year… cheated to get in. And every year, countless runners who BQ in another marathon did not do so legitimately. That wouldn’t be a big deal… if by illegitmately getting in they did not deprive another runner who legitimately BQ’d.

How do people cheat?

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Some thoughts on why I believe it’s perfectly acceptable to do nothing but short runs during a 14 day marathon taper

According to the Hanson Brothers, it takes approximately 10 days to see adaptive results from a hard training session. So any challenging training within 10 days of a marathon will not produce any new benefit by race day.

Because non-injury muscle damage from harder workouts can take up to 14 days to heal, working out hard or long enough to cause that damage within 14 days of a marathon only hurts your performance since the damage may not heal in time.

Therefore you want to avoid any challenging workouts within 1.5 weeks of a marathon, and want to avoid any lengthy, damaging workouts within 2 weeks of said marathon. Basically, no long runs or max intensity speedwork within 14 days, and no speedwork within 10 days.


The big mistake most make with a taper is to take more days off than before and to reduce intensity along with reducing volume. They go too far with tapering by tapering everything about their training, instead of just the volume.

By various accounts, most who actively taper get to the line practically rusty from sudden, extreme undertraining or lack of training. You still want to train as regularly as before, just without all of the volume or any high intensity.

Of course, you don’t want the shorter runs to be TOO intense, or else you’ll do damage that won’t be repaired by race day. So the key is to do less volume, but at a greater (albeit minimally damaging) intensity than before.

Ideally, your easy running has been at a truly easy pace. If you do your regular runs at too hard of an intensity, it’s harder to to taper at a higher intensity without entering a danger zone. But then again, if your regular runs were indeed too intense, you probably have gotten injured or burned out, or been forced to take many days off, between week 1 and the taper.

The ideal intensity middle ground? Marathon pace! The Daniels’ theory is that during a single workout you can handle M-pace at up to 20% of your weekly training load. It should be a challenging but easily sustainable pace, what some would call medium or moderate intensity, and during a shorter taper run there’s no way you should get anywhere near the Daniels’ recommended 20% volume max.

If you’ve done marathon tempo runs during your training, none of your shorter M-pace taper runs should be any longer than the shortest sustained tempo run. Otherwise, a good imposed limit for any M-pace taper runs is 30 minutes.

If I have a planned mileage for a day that would take longer than 30 minutes at M-pace, I just do most of that run at an easy pace and then do 5-15 minutes of M-pace running at the end.

Jonathan Savage goes as far as to recommend that during a taper all running should be at marathon pace. That can work, though I find that approach a bit restrictive. For this taper I started by running easy with a little bit of M-pace running early in the taper as volume was still close to my typical training. Then I increased M-pace running as the race draws closer and my volume tapers to its lowest.

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What’s a good middle ground for a marathon training taper?

After today’s 20 miler, I’m officially tapering from here to Chicago.

That’s probably not a big deal to most experienced marathon runners, who were traditionally taught to do their longest run three weeks out from their goal race, and then taper from there.

But Jonathan Savage has found from various research that 3 weeks may actually be too long. The Hanson Brothers seem to back this up in their methodology, with a 2 week taper that’s so light that many muse that the Hanson Method doesn’t have a taper at all.

Of course, many also claim that a 20 miler is unnecessary, yet even knowing the arguments here I am beating my legs into the ground over 4 hours on a Saturday morning, logic be damned.

Still, the logic behind a shorter taper is sound.

  • You may end up peaking too early and losing fitness from the extended draw-down in volume and intensity during that final 3 weeks of training.
  • You want to peak at a time where you get to the start line with the maximal benefit from that training.

The Hansons’ program specifically has you do your last quality workout 10 days out because they posit you see benefits from a key workout after 10 days, and to push yourself anytime in the last 9 days before the goal race needlessly damages and tires you out ahead of your goal race.

That said, for many the 3 week taper seems to work anyway in part because:

  • Remember the old adage that it’s better to get to the start line undertrained than overtrained. It just works out well for most that they get to the line rested, even having lost some fitness.
  • A marathon is such a brutal experience anyway that most don’t notice during the race any fitness they may have incidentally lost from peaking too early.

Does that mean a 3 week taper is the best approach before a marathon? Possibly not.

Still, some say it’s akin to debating what kind of protein shake you’re gonna put in the bottle for the end of your upcoming workout. The workout is ultimately the more important thing, while the contents of your bottle are relatively trivial.

Likewise, debating which day to begin your taper doesn’t seem nearly as important as how you’ve trained overall the first 15-29 weeks, how consistently you’ve run, what kind of training you’ve done, how you’ve recovered, etc.

Tapering perfectly isn’t going to substantially improve a subpar training cycle. And while there is some chance a poorly done taper could damage your effort on race day, it’s not necessarily going to undo a very good training cycle (… unless your actions get you injured or sick).


However, especially after a variety of unfortunate unforeseen setbacks derailed my effort at Vancouver this May, I would like to give myself the best possible opportunity to have a good experience at the Chicago Marathon. So I don’t terribly mind putting some effort into tapering well.

I decided to meet all this conflicting advice in the middle with the following general plan:

Week ending September 16 (this one):

  • Peak mileage (53 miles).
  • High intensity (2 tempo/speed workouts, plus 2 strength training sessions).
  • Peak long run (20 miles).
  • Eat a ton of protein rich food.

Week ending September 23:

  • Slightly lower but still fairly high mileage (42-45 miles).
  • Peak intensity (3 tempo/speed workouts, 2 strength training sessions).
  • Sizable but not peak long run (13-16 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Eat another ton of protein rich food.

Week Ending September 30:

  • Substantial draw down of mileage (25-30 miles)
  • Draw down of intensity (only one strength training session, plus caving to the Hansons’ recommendation and doing the last tempo workout 10 days out).
  • Even shorter long run to stay honest (10-13 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Don’t eat a ton of protein rich food but maybe 0.75 tons.

Marathon Week, ending October 7:

  • Nothing but easier, shorter runs. Make sure they’re still regularish runs (3-5 miles).
  • Include either some brief tempo segments or do the runs at a moderate intensity.
  • The key to this week is to maintain running chops and not lose substantial fitness.
  • Runs done the final 3 days will not exceed 5 miles, and will likely be more like 2-4.
  • And, of course, run the actual marathon that Sunday.

The idea:

  • I think everyone across the board has the same idea when it comes to overall volume. You want to peak your weekly mileage about 3 weeks out (and most people focus on the long run or the quality workouts, without focusing on the volume of all the runs done during the week) because after that you want your body’s now accelerated ability to handle and recover from that level of pounding… to catch up at an accelerated scale, against less overall volume.
  • You do still want to get in strength training, speed sessions, tempo work, etc., because your body is still netting benefits from this work, and to eliminate or reduce it would lead to a dulling of the anaerobic/moderate caliber fitness you have developed during the last few months. I have seen for myself a performance dropoff when I cut down on intensity for a few weeks, whether or not I cut down on volume.
  • I think, along with getting scared of an upcoming race when they’ve neglected training, people training for a marathon get scared of overtraining in the final taper weeks, and thus they go overboard on the taper: Too many days off, lots of too-short runs, frequently cutting off workouts early. That as much as anything is what leads to a preliminary loss of fitness ahead of any race, let alone a marathon. I like the idea of still running everyday if you’ve already been doing it for months… just at somewhat less distance while still at enough distance to be more than a recovery run, and like Savage recommends making sure to maintain intensity as you draw down mileage and to not cut that out too soon.
  • That said, I do think the Hansons have the right idea in cutting all that out at 10 days out, and focusing just on easy running, since at that point you have done all you can do to get ready. Just keep your chops over the final 10 days, allow your body to catch up to all that training, and get to the start line ready to go.
  • If anything, the one new stimulus I’d add and practice is working on in-race fueling. One mistake I think I made in previous training cycles is to start practicing fueling during runs way too soon, and not giving myself the chance to do long runs with no water or nutrition to experience full depletion. This time around, I’ve kept in-run fueling to a minimum: Today’s 20 was probably the first time this cycle I brought any nutrition with me (two Larabars and water), and on half my long runs I didn’t bring any water. Now, with the volume and intensity having been ingrained, I can practice here and there with taking water, Gatorade, chews or whatever else every 1.5 miles or so, instead of trying that at the same time as trying to develo aerobic fitness or hit tempo. I have the space to find something that suits a rhythm.

As always, this is just one view, and I’m not saying any of this is the perfect answer to tapering. But I do think this approach may work better than the alternatives.

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Some Keys to the Yasso 800’s

The basics of the Yasso 800’s:

The Yasso 800’s is used as a marathon predictor workout, about 3-4 weeks before your goal marathon.
You run 10 reps of 800 meters all as close to the same pace as possible. The average pace of the reps should correspond with your potential marathon time.
For example, if you can consistently run the 800 meter reps in 4:05, that indicates you can run the marathon in about 4 hours 5 minutes max.
Some experienced marathoners find this estimate is fast by a few minutes, which is why I refer to the estimate as a max.

The standard caveat regarding runner ability:

A lot of what I’m about to say below assumes you’re not a hardcore runner logging elite-like volume (70+ miles per week).
When you’re pumping out 70+ miles a week, you probably already run high-volume speed workouts like this on a regular basis, and can probably run the Yasso’s at a strong pace, such as your 5K pace or better.

For experienced runners relatively new to the marathon:

The more volume you run per week, and/or the fewer marathons you’ve done, the more you should scale back the Yasso projection.
e.g. if you run 100 miles a week and can run 800’s in 3:05, maybe estimate something closer to 3:20 for your marathon. Or if your 20 mile long run is the first time you’ve ever run 20+ miles, scale those 4:15 Yassos back to a 4:30 projection.

You should already be running a lot of miles.

If you’re training for marathon, you should be logging more than 20-30 miles a week during training. Probably way more.
40-50 miles is probably the minimum during marathon training that will produce a good marathon effort, assuming you don’t already do several marathons a year.
Personally, I feel a lot of self doubt having run 30-50 miles per week, even though many would say I’m in pretty good shape to run my next marathon (while many experienced runners would say I’m not even close).

Speedwork is not a race. Don’t run the reps like a race.

As with any interval workout, you should not race these reps: Don’t do them hard. Don’t pick up the pace and “kick” at the end of the rep.
Run every rep with a steady effort wire to wire, where once you finish you could run another few miles at that exact pace if you had to.
The reps in the Yasso workout are supposed to be a barometer of your capabilities. Running closer to your max effort will not give an accurate picture of those capabilities.

These Yasso paces should be easier than running a 5K

According to most reliable pace charts (Daniels, McMillan, etc)… you should be able to hit a desired Yasso goal at about your 10K pace or slower.
If you give more like an 8K or 5K effort to hit your pace on these reps, not only may the workout be inaccurate, but (unless you run 100+ miles a week and do workouts like this all the time) you probably won’t maintain the stamina to nail that Yasso 800 pace consistently for all 10 reps.

How easy is your active recovery period between reps? That matters.

If your inter-rep recovery is a jog instead of a full rest, the following is a good barometer of whether or not you’re going too hard: If you need to walk or stop, you went too fast.
If your version of the workout allows a full stop to rest, then a good barometer of whether you went out too hard: You cross the line not feeling like you could have kept going another 800+ meters at your pace.
Again, you never want to race to the finish of these reps, reaching the line needing to stop for a total rest. Run wire to wire at a pace you’d expect to maintain in a race, meaning you should cross the line able to keep running at that pace if you had to.
If at first you can jog your recoveries… but then you need to walk or stop at later recovery intervals, it’s not only possible your intervals are too fast… but also possible that your recovery jog was too fast.
Many runners mistakenly pace their recovery jogs at more of a normal running pace. This is too fast. These recovery jogs should be super easy and casual. Imagine you’re working yourself back from a leg injury and you’re doing a test run just to get back in the swing of things. That’s the pace and effort you should put into recovery jogs.
Another analogy I find accurate is to observe a baseball hitter’s home run trot: That’s the effort you want to be putting into a recovery jog.

The key reps are the reps BEFORE the last one.

Pay close attention to the results of reps 7, 8 and 9. In fact, you could average just those three reps and may get a more accurate Yasso 800 estimate than estimating the average of all your reps.
It’s your performance while tired in the later reps that paints the most accurate picture of your capability. Bear in mind the tendency many runners have to do the final rep hard in an effort to finish the workout strong. Rep 10 will probably look stronger than the other later reps.
Pay closer attention to how reps 7, 8 and 9 look, where you’re tired but not emptying the tank with a final flourish because you know you still have more reps to do.

Another effective estimate: Take the average of your 5 slowest reps.

Few can fake 6-10 good, accurate reps.

If the pace of your individual reps varies substantially:

(let’s say by more than 15 seconds between your fastest and slowest rep):
  1. Most likely, you went out too hard. For most runners their reps in a speed workout typically vary like this: The first reps are very fast, then later reps are much slower.
  2. In some cases you may start your reps super easy, realize you have more in the tank than expected, then pick up the pace in later reps (like a negative split in a race). Along with being a psychological tendency among runners… this can indicate you didn’t warm up effectively beforehand.
  3. If your rep times consistently bounce back and forth by 12+ seconds per rep, you are either trying (at least on some reps) to hit a pace you’re not totally capable of running in a race… or you’re not taking full rest periods. If you’re in the middle of a Yasso workout and you see your times bouncing around, focus going forward on running a comfortably brisk pace that’s a tick slower than you want to run (whatever that means to you), and try to hit the same pace on the remaining reps.
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