Sub 3 Hour Marathon Training: How to Join the Elite Sub 3 Club

So, you want to run a fast marathon? But not any fast time… a sub 3 hour marathon! Here’s how to make it a reality.

Jason sub 3 hour marathon

Jason winning the 2013 Potomac River Run Marathon

There’s something magical about running a fast marathon. Because of its length, the race is notoriously difficult.

That’s because at marathon-intensity, beyond 20 miles is like the Wild West. You just never know what might happen out there on the race course. The options for disaster seem limitless:

Most races are too short for these problems to make a meaningful impact on your performance. But over 26.2 miles, problems can compound.

And the faster you run, the worse these problems can become.

That’s why putting together a fast marathon – especially a sub 3 hour marathon finish – is particularly exciting. That fast finish time underscores successful preparation, fueling, and execution for the marathon.

Let’s not also forget that marathoners often put all their eggs in one basket: their singular marathon race. If it goes well, great! But if not, they have to recover, wait, and start the training process all over again.

In other words, there are rarely any “do overs” in marathoning.

For those of you with bold and ambitious marathon goals, this article will help you discover what is actually important when it comes to running a fast marathon.

And if you’d like to set your sights on joining the “2:XX Marathon Club,” this is your 3-step process for becoming a sub 3 hour marathon-caliber runner.

Sub 3 Ingredient #1: Competitive Mileage Levels

Jason Boston

The 2014 Boston Marathon. Ouch.

If you have a bold and ambitious race goal – like a sub 3 hour marathon – you’ll need bold and ambitious training.

While most runners are typically training between 20 – 35 miles per week, you’ll need to step up your game.

Not only will higher mileage levels be necessary during your marathon training, but also during the rest of the year. High mileage running is a lifestyle, not something you do occasionally!

And when it comes to your aerobic base, bigger is better.

To make your sub 3 marathon a reality, first make higher mileage running a priority. When you’re comfortable running 40-50 miles per week regularly, you’ll be far more prepared for the rigors of marathon training.

Tempo runs become easier. And long runs – the keystone of marathon preparation – become more manageable as you build endurance and aerobic strength.

Over time, runners who build the capability to run 50+ miles per week (at the minimum) have a better chance of running a sub 3 hour marathon time.

In fact, Strava published data a few years ago demonstrating that those who qualify for the Boston Marathon run more miles. And while a sub-3 is more competitive than a BQ, it shows that higher mileage is even more important for this bolder goal!

Sub 3 Ingredient #2: Consistent Long Runs

Philadelphia Marathon

Running my PR of 2:39:32 at the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon

To get faster at racing long distances, long distances must be made easy. And that’s done through repetition.

See here to discover what long runs do to the body (you’ll want to do them way more regularly!).

While most marathoners spend their training time gradually building their long run to about 20 miles, more competitive marathoners can’t waste that time building their long run distance. They must spend time practicing it and making those runs more challenging (by incorporating marathon-specific pace work).

The final 6 weeks of marathon training for many runners might include these long run distances:

  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 14
  • 19
  • 20

This progression is fairly aggressive; besides one cutback week, the long run distance increases every week. That could very well cause an injury.

Besides being risky, this long run progression doesn’t include any marathon-specific work and is only 104 miles.

A runner gearing up for a sub 3 hour marathon needs a more ambitious series of long runs:

  • 19
  • 18: last 4mi @ Goal Marathon Pace
  • 20
  • 20
  • 21
  • 20: last 5mi @ Goal Marathon Pace

Over 6 runs, this progression includes 14 more miles and two runs that include goal pace work.

For the runner shooting for a 2:59 marathon, a more substantial progression of long runs is needed to reach their goal. And that’s only possible for runners who have built their capacity for long distances over years.

Sub 3 Ingredient #3: Equivalent Race Performances

NYC Marathon

My debut at the 2008 NYC Marathon (not so pretty)

A sub 3 hour marathon is quite competitive. If you want to have a shot at achieving this milestone, your other race times must also be quite competitive.

That’s because running is running. Fitness is fitness. And fast runners are fast runners (no matter the distance).

You’ll never run a standout marathon if your other Personal Bests don’t… stand out, too.

This is where the idea of equivalent performances is critical.

To have any shot at breaking 3 in the marathon, you’ll need to run race times in the 5k, 10k, and half marathon that are similar to how competitive a 2:59 marathon is.

Here’s my approximation of the equivalent performances of a sub 3 hour marathon:

TABLE

It’s ideal to set PR’s in the shorter distances and get as close to these equivalent times as possible before you start running a lot of marathons.

Why? Well, because marathons are hard and shorter races are less so!

  • You can run more short races (since the recovery is easier), giving you more opportunities to improve
  • The training is more beginner-friendly than high-volume marathon training
  • Speed is a skill and should be developed first

Everywhere around the world, beginner runners are introduced to the sport of running through cross country and track and field – not the marathon.

That’s very instructive: it shows us that we should develop the skills of power, coordination, speed, agility, and overall athleticism before focusing exclusively on high-level endurance.

Case Study: How I Broke 3 in My Debut Marathon

Looking back, I debuted at the marathon distance with a 2:44:38 finish. But I had already been running for over a decade with experience running 90 miles per week, regular long runs of 15-18 miles, and a slew of personal bests more competitive than a 2:44 marathon:

  • 4:33 in the mile
  • 54:50 for 10 miles
  • 1:13:39 for the half marathon

In hindsight, of course I was ready to run a sub 3 hour marathon! Anybody who has run these times has the ability to run a sub-3. It just takes a bit more training.

And that’s exactly where you want to get yourself: to a position where it’s virtually guaranteed to run a marathon that fast. Get the training on track first and then focus on getting faster in the 5k, 10k, HM, and other distances.

This is more effective than only running marathons, which is riskier (the injury potential is much higher) and less effective (you’ll never get equivalent performances and why limit yourself only to marathon training?).

A Sub 3 Hour Marathon Requires Caution

Breaking the 3 hour mark in the marathon is an audacious, highly competitive goal for any runner. If successful, you’ll join an elite club with many perks:

  • Automatic entry to the first corral at any major marathon
  • Confetti, a live band, and a champagne toast at the finish line
  • High-fives from every other sub 3 marathoner at the race

Actually, none of that is true. Nobody will really notice except your die-hard friends and family – but that doesn’t mean it’s a goal not worthy of pursuing!

It just takes a long-term approach, patience, and a focus on the process of training. These lofty marathon goals aren’t achieved in a few months but rather years and years. Don’t rush your development!

In our new sub 3 marathon video, I summarize many of the key points in this article:

To help you achieve your heroic marathon goals – whether that’s a sub 3 hour attempt or any other time goal – we have a lot of resources available.

If you have a history of injuries, getting healthy is the first step. Start here!

If you’re healthy, running well, and ready to take a big step forward, start here!

Or if you’re not sure where to start, start here. I’m happy to help.

The results from the Strength Running community are powerful:

“Since following your methods, I am now running injury free with volume of around 50 miles/week with long runs in the 16 mile range. My pace is now slowly increasing. I know that as long as I stay patient and take the time to work on strength, I will be able to progress toward my goal of running my first marathon at age 60 (with a goal of a sub 4 hour time). Thanks again.” – Charles

““Hi Jason, only 2 months ago I could not run 2k. Bad episode of acute ITBS that has been with me for as long as I can remember. This weekend I ran 18k in a balmy 0 degrees without any issues. Your program made it possible. Thanks to you I’m back on track for my Boston Marathon 2018!” – Remko

“I was at the end of my rope after suffering from ongoing ITBS, runner’s knee, hip pain, ankle pain… I love running but I couldn’t do more with risking more injury.

Then I purchased the program and OMG – the injuries have stopped. Even though it’s been almost 4 months now, I’m almost afraid to say it out loud. I simply expect to have knee pain all of time. But I don’t.

Get this! I’m am now running 30-35 miles per week and training for a marathon. And I’m not only running more miles and longer distances, I’m actually running faster. I ran 16 miles on Sunday in 2:16:21 – or 8:31/mi pace. Just five months ago I was running 5 miles at a 9:30/mi pace. Unbelievable. Thanks so much. I look forward to doing more with you in the coming year.” – Tim

No matter what time you run in the marathon, you deserve to train appropriately and achieve your best. Prepare intelligently, stay patient, and always prioritize the process.

See what we can do for you here.

Sooner or later, you might just surprise yourself at what you’re capable of over 26.2 miles.

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Build Confidence, Intrinsic Motivation, and Drive with Matt Pendola

After over 20 years of training and coaching, the hardest thing about running isn’t the running itself. It’s how you think about running.

inner psychology

Do you think that you have to do a workout? Or do you think that you get to do a workout?

Are you frustrated when your alarm goes off to run? Or are you excited about another opportunity to get closer to your goals?

Do you dread your upcoming long run? Or do you feel privileged to be able to test your limits?

These questions might make you uncomfortable because you may find yourself answering yes to the wrong question! I know I’m not always excited to run and I know that I’m not alone…

Our mental relationship with running defines our experiences. By focusing more on mental training, we can:

  • Boost our confidence before our key races so we believe in our abilities
  • Reduce anxiety and pre-race jitters so we can focus on the right things
  • Build intrinsic motivation so we’re running for the right reasons

These mental skills are harder to develop than endurance, running economy, or a high VO² Max. They take years and diligent practice to fully master.

That means there’s no better time to start building your toolbox of psychological skills than today.

To help us think more clearly about our mental skillset, I’d like to introduce you to Matt Pendola.

Matt Pendola: How to Create Lasting Motivation to Run

Matt Pendola

Matt Pendola is a polymath and exactly the type of person I love bringing on the podcast. His diverse background includes success in not just coaching, but his education and his athletic career.

Athletically, he’s posted quite a few major accomplishments:

  • He Won the Elite Spartan World Championships Masters Division (2015)
  • Age group runner up Duathlon Nationals (2015)
  • Qualified for Duathlon World Championships 3x
  • 4th Overall at the Northface Trail Championships and 3rd in his division (2014)

He’s also a Road Runner Club of America certified running coach, massage therapist, creator of Pendola Training, and has a host of continuing education certifications in strength training, performance, and even Jack Daniels’ coaching program.

In this interview, Matt and I are discussing the mental factors that contribute to our success in running. Because after you get your training right, the next big avenue for improvement is mastering your mindset and improving your confidence, drive to train, willingness to suffer, and finding the intrinsic motivation to always run consistently.

BTW, I haven’t explored this topic on Strength Running at length. We have programs for injury prevention, strength training, dialing in your nutrition and fueling, coaching, and for beginner runners. But not for fine-tuning our mental fitness.

So if you have any questions, or suggestions, or ideas that you’d love for me to cover, find me on Instagram and send me a message (my direct messages are always open and I want to hear from you).

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Show Links & Resources:

Thank you SteadyMD for sponsoring this episode of the podcast! Learn more about their medical services for runners and how you can benefit from a physician who understands runners.

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Tina Muir Takes Your Strength Training Questions

Strength training is like broccoli: we know it’s good for us, we understand it has to get done, but we don’t always want to do it.

strength training questions

Are jazz hands effective strength training for runners?

And because it’s a necessary evil (I’m showing my bias here – I don’t love strength training but it can be fun), runners don’t always get very good at it.

I understand. After all, we’re runners right?!

So when it comes to the finer details of weightlifting, endurance runners are often in the dark when it comes to:

  • lifting heavy vs. lifting light
  • long vs. short workouts
  • lifting for endurance, strength, hypertrophy, or power
  • Full rest vs. partial rest
  • Upper body vs. lower body strength training

And I used to be one of those runners!

Early in my running career, I didn’t think runners needed to start lifting weights. We got enough strength from running, right?

No. Bad Jason! This is a very simple, incorrect, and limiting belief.

I probably would have been a much better runner if I didn’t mistakenly believe that strength training would not help runners.

In fact, strength training exercises have so many benefits for runners like faster finish times, better injury resilience, improved body composition (yeah, you’ll look better naked), and enhanced running economy.

Here’s some of the research:

  • Strength training helps cure IT Band Syndrome (source)
  • Women with runner’s knee have weaker hips than healthy runners (source – confirmed here)
  • Resistance training improves trained runner’s economy by up to 8% (source)
  • Explosive strength training makes your 5k faster by improved economy and muscle power (source)
  • Weight lifting improves performance (speed), running economy, and muscle power (source)

So to help clear up any lingering confusion and get your specific questions answered, I’ve invited Tina Muir onto the podcast.

Tina Muir on Your Strength Training Questions

Tina Muir

Tina and I teamed up to collect your burning strength training questions about:

  • How often to get in the weight room
  • What to do about excessive soreness from lifting
  • Circuit workouts for strength training
  • Upper body lifting
  • Progressive overload vs. injury prevention

Tina is a former professional runner and the host of the Running for Real podcast (which recently surpassed 2 million downloads)! She’s also the author of Overcoming Amenorrehea. Get Your Period Back. Get Your Life Back.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Resources & Links:

Thank You Inside Tracker!

This episode would not have been possible without Inside Tracker, who is offering a 10% discount on any of their tests with code strengthrunning.

They test over 40 biomarkers, like various stress hormones, to determine if you’re training too hard, too little, or have any physiological weaknesses that can be remedied by either diet, exercise, or lifestyle changes.

In other words, you learn about problems that have actionable solutions.

After getting your results, they communicate what you can do to lift or lower your results into the optimal range. For any runner who wants every advantage, to see what they’re truly capable of achieving, I highly recommend Inside Tracker. I’ve personally used their ‘Ultimate Package’ tier and loved the process and results.

Don’t forget to use code strengthrunning to save 10% on any test (including their affordable DIY and Essentials)!

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Sprints to Endurance: How Riley is Planning to Race his First Half Marathon

Learning a new sport can be thrilling. But it can also be intimidating, especially when all you know is its polar opposite…

Half Marathon Race

That’s the case with Riley, a runner in our Team Strength Running coaching program.

He was a triple-jumper and sprinter in high school and never focused on distance running. Instead, he was a speed and power athlete who never ran more than a few miles at a time (that was considered a “long” run!).

After college, he started getting interested in endurance running. So he signed up for a half marathon and hoped his talent and background as a sprinter would propel him over the finish line.

Alas, injury struck and he still has never raced anything longer than a 5k.

But where he failed last year, he’s determined to succeed this year. He knows that he struggles with long runs and endurance. And he’s willing to put in the work to make his first half marathon happen.

I recently sat down with Riley and had a long conversation about how he can accomplish his big goal.

You can listen to our discussion on the Strength Running Podcast.

Riley’s Revenge on the Half Marathon

After earning a ‘DNS’ (Did Not Start) at his first half marathon, Riley is adamant about training right to not only finish his first go at 13.1 miles, but to race it well.

Even without any experience racing over 5,000m, Riley has an ambitious stretch goal of running under 85:00 for the half later this fall. And based on his past performances and ability, I think he can get there… IF he stays healthy and trains smart.

Here’s how he described himself to me:

I want to experiment with longer distances, starting with the half marathon. But since a recent 5k race, I’ve struggled with a hip injury that’s made it tough to get back to running consistently (this is when I discovered Team SR).

I had to drop out of the Brooklyn half marathon because I knew I wouldn’t be in safe, healthy racing shape.

Now, for the first time in months, I’m healthy again and ready to hit the road better armed with the knowledge and training to prevent injury. I’m eyeing the Seattle Half Marathon this December (about 18 weeks away). It’s the 50th anniversary of the race – I really don’t want to miss out on this one!

My goal is to break 90 minutes, with a best-case-scenario being to run under 85 minutes.

What you’re about to listen to is a coaching call where we talk about:

  • Riley’s running background and how he started distance running
  • The enviable position he finds himself in right now
  • The types of training he has experience with in his short endurance career
  • Long runs and workouts that are appropriate for the half marathon distance
  • How he can structure the next 4 months of his running to run a fast half marathon

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Links & Resources From the Show:

Riley is a member of Team Strength Running, the most affordable virtual coaching group you can join. These behind the scenes coaching call opportunities are only available to team members so if you’d like to learn more about the team, just sign up at the link above and I’ll send you more details. I think you’re really going to like it.

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District Track’s Tom Brumlik on How to Train for the 800m

The District Track Club is an elite running group in Washington, DC. And coach Tom Brumlik is here to help demystify 800m training.

District Track Club

The 800-meter distance is a magical race: it’s a terrifying journey into the heart of middle distance running.

Us distance runners are used to metering out our effort, cautiously sipping fuel to conserve energy, and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

We’re creatures of patience, willing to grind for miles and execute a well-planned pacing strategy over the course of a race.

But none of that happens in the 800m.

In the half mile – possibly the “perfect” middle distance event – caution and patience are liabilities. Sipping fuel would be competitive suicide; blasting the after-burners is the only way to race it.

And such a fast, aggressive race demands training that’s very different from what distance runners are used to.

In fact, 800m training looks like a blend of sprint and distance work: long runs and speed training, traditional track workouts with more strides, drills, and top-end speed reps.

During my track days, I certainly didn’t do any 800m training. But I raced a lot of 800’s in a few situations:

  • As a second race during a track meet (the 1500m / 800m double is particularly taxing)
  • At the end of a season if you haven’t qualified for the championship meets
  • During a 4x800m relay (putting four distance runners in a relay and watching them struggle with a mid-distance race is especially hilarious)

And while I’m firmly a distance runner (and distance coach), I love the 800m race. It’s a beautiful expression of speed.

So I brought a middle-distance coach on the podcast to discuss this distance, 800m training, and how adult runners can get started with shorter, faster races.

Please welcome Tom Brumlik to the Strength Running Podcast (this is an excerpt from Team Strength Running).

Tom Brumlik on 800m Training

Tom is an 800m specialist coach for the District Track Club in Washington, DC. He used to hold the General Manager role as well but is now working exclusively in a coaching capacity.

The DTC was started (and is still directed) by Matt Centrowitz, Sr. (father to Olympic Gold Medalist Matt Centrowitz) and features a range of elite middle distance runners.

Tom is on the podcast today to discuss how an elite running club like the DTC works (its funding, how it recruits members, and its origin) and the intricacies of 800m training.

He’ll be answering questions like:

  • What kind of mileage levels do 800m runners run?
  • How long do these mid-distance runners go for their long runs?
  • What speed development workouts are required for 800m training?
  • Do runners from sprint or endurance backgrounds fair better in the 800?

We also discuss how to find all-comers track meets (there needs to be more of these!) so you can test yourself at the 800m distance.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play.

Show Links & Resources:

Thank you, Tom! Learning about different events is instructive and can help distance runners break out of a rut or performance plateau.

I hope all of us can experiment with some middle-distance training and racing at some point in our running careers!

This interview is an excerpt from the full conversation available to Team Strength Running members.

Team SR is an affordable coaching program that gives you access to:Team Strength Running

  • A network of other runners to share stories, get support, and lean on during training
  • Me as your coach! Ask me anything and get the guidance you need to succeed
  • A comprehensive training plan library with 30+ programs to choose from
  • More strength workouts, core routines, and dynamic flexibility warm-ups
  • In-depth conversations like these every month to continue your running education

I like to say that knowledge is a competitive advantage. Sign up here to learn more about the team, our affordable rate, and how we can help you accomplish your next big running goal.

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Katy Sherratt on the Power of Running to Combat Homelessness

Katy Sherratt is the CEO and former COO of the national nonprofit Back on My Feet. They’ve used running to help 7,000 homeless members turn their lives around!

Katy Sherratt Back on My Feet

Anybody who has pursued running understands its immense benefit to not just your physical fitness, but your psyche and self-image.

The act of training helps us:

  • Build confidence in our abilities
  • Create medium and long-term goals
  • Plan for the future
  • Assess our weaknesses, strengths, and tackle them head-on
  • Develop drive and motivation to improve

Clearly, these skills go far beyond increasing VO² Max, lactate threshold, or muscular strength!

Running is often a metaphor for life: you get out of it what you put into it.

And Katy Sherratt understands this concept. She is the CEO of Back on My Feet, an organization that uses running as a tool to help those experiencing homeless.

Getting up at 5:30 in the morning to run requires commitment. And for those who can commit, they’ll be rewarded with a supportive community, housing and employment resources, and other tools that will help them achieve more of their goals – both on and off the road.

The Power of Running to Combat Homelessness

Katy joins us on the podcast today to discuss the mission of Back on My Feet and the power of running to combat homelessness.

And it is quite powerful! The organization has helped more than 7,000 and every dollar invested into Back on My Feet returns $2.50 to the local community. Talk about a positive return on investment!

In this conversation, we’re discussing:

  • Why she initially chose to work at Back on My Feet
  • What lessons she’s learned from using running to combat homelessness
  • How running works so well as a platform for self-improvement
  • The power of community to help members escape homelessness
  • Her history as a runner and what the organization is doing next

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, Stitcher, or Google Play.

Show Resources & Links:

A big thanks to Katy for taking time out of her day to speak with us about her organization, the good work they’re doing, and the transformative power of running!

Please give her a wave on Twitter or Instagram to thank her for coming on the Strength Running Podcast!

Thanks Inside Tracker

This episode would not have been possible without Inside Tracker, who is offering a 10% discount on any of their tests with code strengthrunning.

They test over 40 biomarkers, like various stress hormones, to determine if you’re training too hard, too little, or have any physiological weaknesses that can be remedied by either diet, exercise, or lifestyle changes.

In other words, you learn about problems that have actionable solutions.

After getting your results, they communicate what you can do to lift or lower your results into the optimal range. For any runner who wants every advantage, to see what they’re truly capable of achieving, I highly recommend Inside Tracker. I’ve personally used their ‘Ultimate Package’ tier and loved the process and results.

Don’t forget to use code strengthrunning to save 10% on any test (including their affordable DIY and Essentials)!

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Why Periodization Matters for Your Training (and how to make it work for you)

A few years into my running career, I noticed a consistent pattern: every year had the same training rhythm. I later learned about periodization – and how helpful it is for runners.

Principle of Progression

Cyclical training progresses over time

About 15 years ago, when my obsession with training theory, coaching, and exercise science was in full bloom, I recognized that every year followed a similar pattern:

  • Summer was reserved for base training (building mileage and the long run without too much speed work)
  • That led into cross country in the fall, climaxing in November
  • A period of rest and easy running followed
  • January – May was the track season, with a small break sometime in March
  • After a short break in May or early June, the cycle repeated itself

That cycle demonstrates periodization – the ebb and flow of hard work that helps runners reach their potential.

And as a college athlete, we were inserted into a schedule that lent itself to being periodized with cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter, outdoor track in the spring, and base training in the summer.

After a few years, I started intuitively understanding the concept of periodization and learned a lot of valuable lessons:

  • A big base phase in the summer was required for a successful cross country season
  • The workouts in July look very different from the workouts in February (or October)
  • Total volume and long run distance changed throughout the year based on the season

The term “periodization” first entered my brain when I started reading books about running. And even more descriptive words like mesocycle, macrocycle, and session became ingrained in my vocabulary after getting my USATF coaching education.

But not all of us need advanced training in coaching theory to grasp these concepts.

So in this post, you’ll learn the fundamentals of periodization and how to better apply it to your own running.

What is Periodization?

First, what exactly is periodization?

Periodization is planning. The goal is to give you the best possible chance of peak performance at a certain time.

To accomplish this goal, training is varied and organized over time by manipulating several variables:

  • Volume of total running
  • Frequency of running (the number of runs per week)
  • Intensity (the overall difficulty of training)
  • Specificity of workouts to the goal race
  • Recovery and rest

One of my favorite running books, Run Faster by Brad Hudson, defines it as:

The term ‘periodization’ refers to how one’s training evolves from the beginning to the end of a training cycle.

Periodization is considered linear when each period or phase of training is very different from the other periods in terms of the degree to which each training type is emphasized or deemphasized.

Periodization is nonlinear when all of the training types are mixed together throughout the training cycle annd changes in emphasis are less extreme.

Steve Magness, in his book Science of Running, has a similar definition:

Periodization is the process of dividing the training into smaller periods of training where the emphasis, or the target, of the training is altered during each period.

Generally a manipulation of the volume, intensity, and frequency of workouts is done to bring a person to peak performance.

USA Track and Field, the governing body of the sport of track & field and road racing, defines it in its coaching curriculum:

Periodization is defined as the process of planning training in oder to produce high levels of performance at designated times.

It’s important to remember that periodization is not an exact plan. There are numerous theories, models, and ideas within the general framework of periodization (more on this later).

Periodization Terminology

One of the most impactful benefits of getting my USATF coaching certification is the vocabulary. Formal instruction on organized running clearly defines types of workouts, energy systems, fundamental terms and concepts, and a lot more.

Let’s review the basic terms used when breaking down periodization:

The Macrocycle

This is a large segment of training that typically is defined as the “season.” It includes one peaking period and a group of or a single major race.

For example, a 20-week marathon training season is a macrocycle.

The Mesocycle

A mesocycle is a smaller segment of the macrocycle typically consisting of a 4-6 week block of training. Each mesocycle usually focuses more on a different physical skill.

For example, the base phase of training during the early part of a macrocycle is a mesocycle.

The Microcycle

Now we’re getting even more granular. A microcycle is a short segment of training that might be a few days long to 1-2 weeks.

A recovery week that’s included in a training plan is a specific microcycle designed to foster both physical and mental recovery.

The Session

A session is an individual training day, occurrence, or practice. In college, I went to practice every day. That practice is an example of a single training session.

These are the fundamental building blocks of a runner’s training cycle. Each term is somewhat subjective and can vary based on the program or coach discussing it.

You’ll see some of these concepts at play in our Season Planner worksheet.

Of course, we can get even more specific and talk about the annual cycle (which might consistent of two macrocycles) or a unit (a section of one session – like a warm-up routine, cool-down run, or strength workout).

I’m not going to dive into the weeds on these definitions. Let’s get the basic framework right and move on!

Different Models of Periodization

Most runners familiar with the term periodization are familiar with linear or classic periodization. It was popularized by Arthur Lydiard in the middle of the last century:

Periodisation comprises emphasizing different aspects of training in successive phases as an athlete approaches an intended target race.

After the base training phase, Lydiard advocated four to six weeks of strength work. This included hill running and springing. This improved running economy under maximal anaerobic conditions without the strain on the achilles tendon, as it was still done in running shoes.

Only after this spikes were put on and a maximum of four weeks of anaerobic training followed.

Then followed a co-ordination phase of six weeks in which anaerobic work and volume taper off and the athlete races each week, learning from each race to fine-tune himself or herself for the target race.

Over the last 10-20 years, a new model has emerged: nonlinear periodization. Popularized by coaches like Renato Canova and Brad Hudson, it’s also called mixed training or a “funnel to specificity” model.

Hudson describes his mixed periodization model in Run Faster:

My training plans feature a more even balance of training types throughout the training cycle. My runners always work on every aspect of running fitness. The distribution of emphasis does change, but I do not reduce any training to merely ‘lip-service’ level, or phase it out entirely, as others do.

In addition to preventing weak links from developing, another advantage of nonlinear periodization is that it increases the adaptability of your training. When you keep all aspects of your running fitness at a fairly high level, you can take your training in any of a number of different directions fairly quickly based on what you seem to need.

When you’ve recently neglected any specific type of training, it’s always necessary to ease into doing more of it – otherwise you risk becoming overtrained or injured.

Both models have been used very successfully throughout the last 60 years.

While I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, I prefer nonlinear periodization as it’s more flexible and doesn’t isolate each training variable quite so dramatically.

Plus, consistent fast running helps protect you from injury. That’s because your body is always adapted to these stresses so they’re not a shock.

You’ll see in my training programs that strength work, long runs, and strides are present throughout a plan. Workouts in my plans are periodized a bit more linearly, so a modified, less aggressive nonlinear periodization is what I use most often.

How to Make Periodization Work for You

Most runners don’t need to understand the intricacies of periodization, nonlinear models, or the mesocycle (but hey, it’s fun to geek out on our sport occasionally!).

Instead, we just need a few principles to make it work for us in the real world.

And it all starts with a properly planned season (or, ahem, macrocycle). When you get the fundamentals like season length, tune-up races, and phases of training right it become a lot more difficult to fail.

Follow these loose rules once the season is sketched out:

  1. The beginning of the season should be less intense (i.e., have easier workouts) than the end of the season
  2. Mileage and the distance of the long run should generally build over the course of the season
  3. The final few weeks of the season should peak in intensity but decrease in mileage

I also summarized these concepts in a new video on our YouTube channel:

These lessons help put these concepts in context and give you more detail on the two different models of periodization.

Get the Season Planner Worksheet

I’ve created a free worksheet to help you set up your own macrocycle with distinct mesocycles.Race Season Worksheet

It includes:

  • Example tune-up race scheduling based on the goal race
  • Ideal lengths of time for the macrocycle based on the goal race distance
  • The best tune-up race distances for 5k – marathon races
  • The 3 ingredients to a successful season

I want to make your next race a HUGE personal best.

It all starts with a good plan, so take advantage of this resource!

After all, better planning means faster racing.

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Boost Your Running Alignment to Achieve Your Biggest Goals

If reaching your potential excites you, then the concept of alignment will help you realize everything you’re capable of achieving.

Running Alignment

Alignment is when your goals, actions, and mindset are in harmony and move you toward your potential.

In other words, you’re not being your own worst enemy.

If you have a goal, you believe in your ability to achieve it and your actions demonstrate commitment.

You don’t psychologically waver from pursuing the goal. And you certainly don’t stop acting on achieving that goal.

I’ve started learning more about this idea in recent weeks. And once you can recognize it, you see it everywhere.

But it’s not limited to athletes. Most successful people are in alignment; they’ve created a life that uniquely positions them to achieve their biggest goals.

So even if you’ve achieved running alignment, you can apply this principle to nearly any area in your life.

Examples of Alignment

World marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge – the man who famously ran 2:00:25 in Nike’s Breaking 2 project – is a great example of a runner in complete alignment.

Consider all that Eliud does:

  • Shares an 8×10′ room with communal bathrooms at training camp (also cleans toilets at camp)
  • Possesses an unwavering believe in himself and his abilities
  • Doesn’t get distracted by fame, partying, or money
  • Teammates describe him as organized, disciplined, and punctual

Eliud is in alignment around the goal of being the best runner he can be. He’s not too important to share a room or clean the bathroom. In every interview, he exudes confidence.

His life is focused on getting faster.

But alignment exists elsewhere, too.

Fred Rogers (of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) is another person in complete alignment. Those who knew him describe Mr. Rogers as the same on screen as he was off screen.

His entire life was dedicated to educating children on empathy, compassion, and tolerance. He didn’t shy away from hard feelings – he embraced them.

A poignant example was how he broadcasted love and compassion during the famous pool scene:

Case in point was one of the show’s integral characters, Officer Clemons, a black police officer who lived nearby. With racism and segregation still plaguing our country in the late 60s, the friendship between Rogers and Clemons was genuine and equal both onscreen, and off.

Though Clemons was gay — and sadly closeted for a long time — he was embraced by Rogers as a true friend for life.

Mr. Rogers taught a generation about acceptance. And he was so successful because it came from a place of truth – he wasn’t faking it.

He practiced what he preached.

Running Alignment is Harder Than it Sounds

It’s difficult to align a large segment of your life toward one single goal. And though alignment doesn’t take a Herculean effort, it does take a strategic approach and a certain level of honesty.

For example, I speak to a lot of runners with a “BQ or bust” mentality. But when I dig deeper, they’re making so many training mistakes that it’s clear their actions don’t meet up with their goal:

  • Taking the entire winter off from running because running in the cold isn’t fun
  • Only training for marathons, leaving speed and additional physical development on the table
  • Deliberately keeping their mileage relatively low

These runners are not in alignment. Their actions don’t map to their goals.

But a challenging but realistic goal with a great plan and execution may fail if your mindset is not in the right place. Lack of consistency, mental strength, or discipline make success improbable.

My freshman year in college is another textbook example of someone not in alignment. Despite a strong goal of getting faster, I fell short in so many areas:

  • I succumbed to the freshman folly of too much partying, not enough sleep, and a very poor diet
  • Morning runs and strength workouts were often skipped – to my own detriment
  • Injuries were not aggressively treated (the “wait and see” approach rarely works!)

Runners in alignment don’t make these mistakes. They’re methodical, strategic, consistent, and always prioritize their running.

If you need some ideas to boost your running alignment, here are 5 of my favorites:

Use these ideas to break through a performance plateau that might be caused by not being in alignment.

Get Aligned and Thrive

Have big goals but don’t lift weights? A great example of your actions not being aligned with your goals!

How can we establish running alignment – and therefore, our potential?

Make sure each area is optimized as best as possible:

Goals

First, set a realistic goal time in whatever race you’re preparing to run. If it’s too easy, you won’t be motivated to train. But if it’s too difficult, you might give up at the first sign of struggle.

Also be sure to vary your goals. If you desperately crave that Boston Qualifying marathon time, be sure to take a season away from the marathon to develop your speed over shorter distances like 5k or 10k.

Fitness is fitness, after all.

Actions

This might be the hardest area to improve because it requires actually doing things. Like challenging workouts, long runs, and consistent running (yes, even when it’s cold or really hot).

If you have an aggressive goal – whatever it might be – you deserve to see it through. Commit to the process of training rather than making excuses or living a life incompatible with running.

You’ll get more out of the sport, out of yourself, and build a lifetime of incredible memories.

Mindset

Your personal psychology might be your great asset – or biggest liability.

Over the last 10 years of coaching, I’ve seen runners on the verge of breakthrough only to throw it all away by doubting their ability, overthinking every mediocre workout, and believing that big jumps in performance only happen to other runners.

I’ve seen quite a few examples:

  • 8:45 pace is doable for an easy 3 miles but they can’t mentally grapple with 8:30 pace for 5k
  • Time goals are put on pedestals, revered, and made to be impossible
  • A poor week of training – in a heat wave – signals the impending collapse of a training cycle

Your mindset can give you confidence, calm your pre-race nerves, and pull you to your greatest races.

Or it can wreak havoc on your ability to stay the course, push yourself, and run fast.

Avoid these psychology traps and master your mindset. You’ll give yourself unstoppable drive to achieve your wildest running goals.

What areas in your running life are out of alignment? How can you increase your running alignment to improve your chances of success?

Leave your comment below and let’s see how we can get aligned – and thrive.

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Running Form Expert Matt Phillips on Gait Retraining and Cues

Proper running form is a hot topic. And for good reason! An economical stride helps you run faster – with fewer injuries.

Running Gait

But running form is also complex. While simplification is usually preferred, most coaches will answer “it depends” to most questions about gait retraining, form cues, and other aspects of efficient technique.

That’s because much depends on your:

  • Training age
  • Strength and ability
  • Experience and injury history

Without knowing more about you, specific questions about gait retraining are often difficult.

But there are certain principles and frameworks that apply to everyone. So even if you aren’t sure if adjusting your running stride is necessary, our goal today is to help you figure that out.

Because not all runners even need to tweak their form! If you’re healthy and improving, it’s probably best not to interfere with what’s working.

Fortunately for us, we have a running form expert with us on the podcast to help us think more deeply about the topic of running technique, how to improve it, and which form cues help the most.

Matt Phillips on Gait Retraining

Matt Phillips Gait Retraining

Matt Phillips is a running injury and performance specialist from England who’s written for most major media platforms and has spoken at numerous international conferences. You might recognize him!

He’s a massage therapist, video gait analyst, and is also the host of the Run Chat Live Podcast (I was recently a guest here!).

In this conversation, we’re covering a lot:

  • When is gait retraining a good idea? Who should consider it?
  • What are the risks of trying to improve your form?
  • Are the risks of prolonged sitting substantial? How can we work around this?
  • Can you reinforce proper running technique without trying to?
  • What aspects of this topic have changed in the last 10 years?

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, or Stitcher.

Show Resources & Links:

Please say hello to Matt on social media and thank him for dropping so much knowledge on the podcast this week!

If you’d like to reinforce proper form, improve your efficiency, and make running more economical you can do so using “form cues.” They are simple to implement ways of automatically improving your gait.

See my three favorite form cues here!

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Menachem Brodie on the Finer Details of Strength Training for Endurance

For over 15 years, Menachem Brodie has been coaching endurance athletes to new personal bests. Today, we’re getting lost in the weeds with strength training for runners.

Menachem Brodie

Menachem Brodie is an exercise scientist, USA Cycling Expert level coach and USA Triathlon certified coach, and a graduate of an American College of Sports Medicine Accredited program with a bachelors in Exercise Physiology.

He also has experience working in physical therapy, Emergency Medicine, and even with sports like basketball and CrossFit.

By now, you’ve noticed that I love speaking with guests on the podcast with a wide diversity of experiences. And Menachem clearly fits the mold.

Today, we’re discussing strength training for endurance runners.

More specifically, we’re focusing on:

  • The value of having a strength and conditioning certification (but why experience also matters)
  • Strength work for rehabilitation vs. performance
  • The lifting differences between endurance runners and cyclists
  • How to think about strength training periodization
  • Thoughts on fitness classes like Orange Theory, boot camp, Body Pump, etc.

As the author of two strength training courses offered on the Training Peaks site, Menachem is uniquely positioned to offer us new perspectives on weightlifting for runners.

Menachem Brodie on Lifting as Endurance Runners

Having a thorough background in exercise science, coaching, physical therapy, and even Emergency Medicine gives Menachem a commanding outlook on how endurance athletes can improve and prevent injury.

And while he focuses on cycling and triathlon, the relationship to running is clear. In this conversation, we focus exclusively on runners and how they can position themselves to benefit most from weightlifting.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, or Stitcher.

Show Links & Resources:

Menachem, thank you for coming on the show and sharing your experiences and expertise!

I’m particularly grateful for his perspective that coaches should develop “whole athletes” and focus on non-sport specific training for better results.

After all, stronger athletes who are better able to move well are going to be faster with far few injuries.

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