Friday, February 1, 2013

Train Faster = Race Faster

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!


  1. Totally agree. I will say, however, that the reason most canned programs are so successful is that the majority of the marathoning population these days only wants to complete, not compete. For those who want more, you've got to do more.

    Right now I am working w/ Coach Jeff Gaudette ( him out) and he has me doing mega tempo miles. It is kicking my butt but I can tell it is getting me to the point where marathon pace will be much more achievable come my next marathon in March. It's hard, but I think it has to be.

  2. Great post and I agree with you 100%. The Comrades Marathon (89km, 56miles) that I'm training for now has different medals you can earn for different times achieved. Gold for the top 10, a sub 6hour, sub, 7:30, sub 9hours, sub 11 and sub12. They have different programs for each medal which do exactly what you talk about. They push those that want really hard for a faster finishing time.

  3. great post and I agree! I have always trained harder than my plans have called for and worried if I was overdoing it, but now I feel better.

  4. Definitely agree with Canova's thoery. That said I think you have to be very careful of overtraining with this approach. Obviously running more miles at your goal marathon pace is going to make you more likely to comfortably hold that pace in a race. But overdoing it or doing a workout just because "it's on the schedule" is what I think gets most distance runners in trouble.

    Above all it is crucial to listen to your body and find the right balance without peaking too early. This is why I personally do not really believe in coaching, no coach can jump inside my body and feel what I'm feeling. So many runners do workouts because there training plan said they should but they forget that they should listen to what their bodies are telling them first. Hows that for a tangent! :-)

  5. I'm with Ms Zippy. Those canned training plans are for getting to the finish line. And generally they work since most people seem to make it to the finishing line uninjured.

    Once you finish your first marathon, maybe then you can keep picking a harder training plan, if your body can handle it. Main risk in choosing a too hard training plan is getting injured like you mention. And yea, the elite runners are always on the very thin edge/line of getting injured with how hard they train. I guess us recreational runners could do the same approach, though then you likely run a higher risk of getting injured. And is that worth it? I'm not sure.

    So the only thing I can suggest to you is to get a coach that modifies training plans every week based on how you are feeling. Brad Hudson's book Run Faster seems to talk about a lot of the things you seem to mention - modifying training plans constantly, etc.

    I'm assuming that you've already done the Pfitzinger 18/70 marathon plan? You might just want to try to find the hardest plan you can find out there, and go nuts if you don't want to hire a coach.

  6. Okay after reading my comment I wanted to expand a little more. You have ran tons of marathons and likely have enough experience to invent your own training plan based on your own experience. I've only ran 1 lol. Though if you say that you haven't achieved your perfect marathon race yet, maybe you are running too hard during training? I just know that for any race that you want to peak for, you should feel like you are ready to explode with energy at the start line.

    I guess my point is that maybe next training cycle you should follow a specific set training plan to a T with no exceptions, or hire a coach to make the plan completely flexible based on how you are doing each week. Seems like you are sort of doing a hybrid - creating your own plan and then modifying it based on how you feel each week. Maybe then you'll destroy the marathon on race day like we think you can.

  7. I don't know if I agree. My running bud trains hard but then gets to the marathon and slows at the end. I run a slower pace at training and seem to be able to turn it up race day. Everyone is different. By the way, Hansons here has trained many elites and their plan does not go over 16 on the long run. They concentrate on quality, not quantity. Get their book. It's a good read.

  8. I've found the Maffetone approach of running slow for a 3-6 month base period very effective in running fast, which would be the opposite of this theory. That being said, a good 3-6 month aerobic base period followed by a training period consisting of race specific endurance is probably the way to go, which means I both disagree and agree with this. Either way, you're much faster than I although I've cut considerable time off my "A" races by running slow more often.

  9. Trent - I don't think it's a matter of someone being faster or slower, just a different approach. You're right - Canova's method is basically opposite of the way many traditional coaches approach things - that's what fascinates about him.

  10. I agree. Cookie cutter plans don't work! I also think that as we age, it takes longer to recover, and we need to pay attention to signs of over tiredness and being sore, so we can recover properly to be able to train hard.

  11. Great post. As i am finding out for myself having a coach. Yeah i agree new runners think that if they wer to just get mileage in they can kill a race. i have workouts now where i am going 30 - 40 seconds faster than race pace for extended periods of time. 8 - 10 miles. Fast is a relative term but You cant expect to run fast if you only run slow. Again kick ass post. Loved it. How about those generic plans? lol


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