Something that has always bugged me about the online "canned" marathon training plans, is they all seem to be built around "just getting you to the finish line". While it's obviously a great accomplishment to finish a marathon regardless of the finishing time, there's a huge void in the market for training plans or philosophy's that push you to grow faster and stronger as a marathoner. Ya know, tools that can really pull the best out of you on race day.
For a while now, I've spent a lot of time researching training techniques and practices of the pros and elites. Of course I'm not in their league ability-wise, but I figured if I could mimic their training principles at slower speeds, I would reap the benefits on race day. I've basically built my own training plans with specific workouts geared around what I felt like will accomplish my goals. But I recently ran across a professional coach who essentially has preached for years what I have believed since I started running marathons ... to run faster and longer in a race, you've got run faster and longer in training.
Last year Jill, from Run With Jill, forwarded me a great article from Running Times Magazine on running coach Renato Canova. Canova is an Italian distance coach who has led many of his athletes to world and national championships, as well as numerous Olympic medals. He recently made the new as Ryan Hall's new running coach. And the more reading I did on this guy, it was like he was inside my head, coaching professional athletes with the same theory I have found to be true in my marathon training.
As I talk with athletes and receive training questions and comments, it's fairly apparent that most runners wishing to achieve their own personal greatness, don't train anywhere near the capacity their bodies will allow. Let's face it, the online training plans have to keep a certain amount of liability in mind to prevent injury and keep people coming back for advice. If they publish a plan that's too difficult to get through, they'll lose the masses immediately. My two biggest problems with most of the online plans is their tempo and speed work is way too short in duration, and the longs runs are way too slow to accomplish a specific goal on race day.
Some plans I've seen only require tempo pace during a workout for 3-5 miles. In my opinion, only running 3-5 miles at tempo pace might prepare you for a quick 5K, but that's not gonna cut it in a marathon. Also, most long runs in these plans are notated as "slow runs". While there's a lot of merit to this approach by keeping the runner on their feet for long periods, and not over stressing the body during training - it is impossible to consistently train at a 10:00/mile pace for the entirety of long runs, and then magically flip a switch on race day and average an 8:30/mile. It's just not gonna happen.
While fairly detailed and complex when you really break it down, an over-simplified view of Canova's main philosophy is geared around running at your marathon pace or faster for longer periods during training. It has been referred to as Principles of Extending Specific Endurance. That's not to say he endorses more mileage, rather, the focus becomes more of running at race speed more often. The coach pushes his athletes to run faster, for much longer periods, with the idea called "high volume goal-paced training". Basically if you do most of your work at the specific and realistic pace in training, a fast run on race day won't just "magically happen", it will have been performed over and over in some way during practice.
Here is an excerpt from the article that illustrates this point ...
Perhaps no workout better represents Canova's system than 17-to 24-mile runs done at roughly 95 percent of marathon pace. These closely simulate the demands of the marathon race in terms of speed, distance and psychology. Without this type of work, Canova believes, "You haven't given yourself the support, therefore marathon pace becomes slower than it potentially could be because you're not strong enough."
There are, of course, detractors to this approach. If not done properly, there is a risk of over-training, and basically leaving your best on the training table. I've been guilty of this way too often in my own running career. At times I've called myself the "practice champion". It's a constant struggle to find that perfect balance of building during training, and then producing expected results on race day. To be honest, I've yet to run the race that I felt I've been ready for in my personal racing. Most of my training times indicate that I should be somewhere around a 3:05-3:10 marathon, but I've never broken 3:20. But I still fully endorse Canova's principles and believe this is way to get to where I want to go as a runner.
Of course anyone who runs at any speed is alright in my book. But if you're really want to propel yourself in your marathons and get the most out of your body, I would check out Renato Canova. His approach to running faster, longer has built many great champions. And you never know, you might just achieve personal greatness yourself!
... be great today!