Are you “stuck” at a certain half or full marathon time and wondering what you can do differently with your training so you can make improvements? I’m often approached by runners with this request. They are following a 16 -20 week plan and putting in miles each week, however the results don’t meet their expectations. A common root cause is that their plan doesn’t have sufficient recovery between difficult workouts. Eventually (much sooner if you are older (40+) runner) they don’t get the full benefit of the training that they desire. In this post, I will offer a solution that has proved successful for one of the world’s best marathoners.
Olympic marathoner Meb Keflezighi switched a few years ago from a weekly to nine day training cycle, also called a microcycle. He realized that he needed more recovery between hard and long workouts. I was intrigued by the concept, so I did some research to find out more. What I discovered is that extending the training cycle from 7 days to 9, 10 or 14 days is not new. The main benefit of rethinking how to train is primarily to enhance recovery.
The typical seven day cycle is how we’ve always trained, but it really doesn’t have any meaning to the human body. What we really want to do is apply a stress or hard workout and then allow the body to recuperate. To get the best results, we need to incorporate both the workout and recovery to ensure adaptation.
How The 9 Day Cycle Works
A 9 day cycle works because we can actually incorporate 3 micro-cycles of 3 days each into the cycle. On day 1 we can complete a hard/stress workout like a long run. Days 2-3 would be recovery runs at an easy pace with cross-fit and conditioning or plyometrics on at least one of these days. We would then complete 2 additional micro-cycles in the same manner. The other hard workouts would include tempo and some kind of intervals (doesn’t have to be on the track). I recommend scheduling and completing a tune -up race, like a 10k or 1/2 marathon during one of your cycles.
Not only does a slightly longer training cycle make sense for older and injury prone runners, but it can be particularly beneficial for busy professionals that don’t always have the time to fit in the challenging workout necessary for a half or full marathon.
Long Runs, Tempos and Track Work
The longer training schedule allows us to keep the same workouts such as track, tempo and a long run, that are all part of a typical seven day cycle, but now we can spread these workouts out more. The end result is that the runner will be recovered and ready for higher quality training.
One of the challenges with extending your training cycles is being able to complete your long run on the weekends while still giving yourself recovery time. For those not limited to running long on weekends because they have some flexibility in their schedules, a mid-week long run as called out in the extended cycle may be perfect.
Alternatives to 9 Day Training Cycles
Another option to nine day cycles is two week or month long blocks. The same approach would be to plan for specific key workouts within the period and then take however many easy days necessary. A two week cycle may be easier to fit in the typical weekend long runs that many complete with a group.
Rules of the Program
One rule of training with extended cycles is that you’re not allowed to cram missed workouts at the end of the cycle. You’ll have to incorporate these missed sessions into your next cycle of training. Also, it’s essential that your rest days and easy days remain in place. Unlike most 7 day schedules which typically have Tuesday track and Thursday tempo runs and don’t allow much room for a missed workout which could result in 2 hard workouts back-to-back, the 9 day program allows for sufficient rest between stress workouts.
Another challenge is simply adjusting your schedule. Give yourself time to adjust and allow your body to adapt. Make sure you try a couple of nine or 10 day cycles before you decide to switch back.
A few of the runners that I coach have agreed to try a day schedule over the course of this Summer as they train for a Fall Marathon. I am currently using something similar to the following schedule as I train for the upcoming Vancouver Half Marathon. If all goes well, I will use this type of schedule as I complete my marathon training for Portland.
Typical 9 Day Training Cycle
Day 1 – Long Run (90 minutes – 2 hours+ as called out in your plan)
Day 2 – 30 – 40 minutes easy + 20 minutes conditioning (core and strength work)
Day 3 – 40 minutes easy
Day 4 – 60 minutes (15 minute warm up, 30 minutes of fartlek or intervals on the track or hills, 15 minute cool down)
Day 5 – 40 minutes easy
Day 6 – Rest or Cross Fit (elliptical, stationary bike or rowing machine)
Day 7 – 60 – 75 minutes (15 minute warm-up, 30 – 45 minute tempo or some kind of increasing uptempo pace, 15 minute cool down)
Day 8 – 40 minutes easy
Day 9 – Cross Fit + 25 minutes conditioning/strength training
All runners must find a schedule that works best for their needs and abilities. This may mean you need to extend your schedule. The good news is that doing so can help you avoid injury and help you achieve your goals.
Marathon training can be difficult for professionals with commitments like weekly travel and 10+ hour work days. If you add family commitments that fill nights and weekends, it may seem that it’s nearly impossible to complete a 12-20 week marathon training plan.
I would like to focus on my marathon training and coaching other runners full time, but the reality is that my day job in sales, pays the bills for now. My schedule is busy with frequent airline travel and late nights in the office. However, I have trained for and finished the last 2 Boston Marathons (15+ minutes under my BQ in both races). To stay fit and prepare for upcoming races, I must incorporate my marathon training into my busy schedule (professional and personal). The secret to my success is planning my marathon training at the beginning of each week.
In this post, I reveal 5 tips any runner can use to stay in shape while on business travel. I will provide specific workouts that can easily be completed while traveling on business. Additionally, I will also provide details for one of my marathon training weeks that I used leading up to the 2014 Boston Marathon.
1. Pack your workout gear – Obviously you can’t go running or workout if don’t have appropriate attire. It’s surprising how many people use this as an excuse for not working out. Don’t be lazy, pack your running gear first so you can’t use the excuse that you “forgot your running shoes.”
2. Plan your workouts – This is critical. Take a look at your schedule at least 2-3 days in advance and determine when you will have at least 45 minutes to workout. Don’t simply assume you’ll have time at some point in the day. If you’re not truly motivated, you’ll find an excuse somehow unless you a prior plan to workout at a certain time. Getting up early is often the best time to workout, however, ensure you get enough sleep otherwise you’ll feel run down during the day. I’ve also worked out in the hotel gym at 1000pm.
3. Seek to maintain your level of fitness– This should be your goal while traveling on business. Unless you have at least 90 minutes, you likely don’t have time for long runs. Also, it’s rare that you’ll have access to a running track. Knowing that you will have time for long runs or intervals when you get home, should help you to be content with a 30 – 45 minute workout or run to simply maintain your level of fitness.
4. Don’t fear the treadmill– I know a number of people that don’t run on treadmills because they think it’s too boring. These days, most hotel exercise rooms have a treadmill equipped with a TV. At a minimum, turn on your favorite station and start running for 30+ minutes. In order to add some variety and get more out of your treadmill workout, I recommend either of the following treadmill workouts. Both workouts can be completed in their entirety or modifed depending on your time constraints.
a) Treadmill Workout #1
b) Treadmill Workout #2
5. Be creative with your workouts – variety makes any workout more exciting. Use the elliptical for 10 minutes, then the bike and stairmaster or stairs, each for 10 minutes. Follow these aerobic exercises with dumbbells, weights/weight machines and body weight exercises.
In order to stay on pace with my marathon training plan, my track work/intervals and long runs are completed at home when I’m not traveling. My day off/rest day is always one of my travel days.
Workouts I complete while away from home on business travel include:
Outside Running Workouts – Fartlek, repeat hills, stairs (inside your hotel), tempo runs of 4-6 miles, runs at elevation (get out for a run when you’re in Denver, Salt Lake City or Albuquerque (all at 4,000ft+)) and strides (complete on side street without much traffic near your hotel). If you’re following a marathon training plan, you need to push yourself 2-3 times per week on your runs when you can.
Treadmill, elliptical and weights – treadmill runs for 30-40 minutes at varying speeds and inclines, elliptical for 30 minutes at 15+ incline, dumbbells & weight machines.
Body weight or plyometric workouts – I either complete the plyometric workout outlined in this blog or I use the free iPhone app Workout Trainer.
Hotel Gym Workout #1:
a) Treadmill for 4 miles – start at speed of 6 and elevation of 1 and gradually increase to 8 and elevation of 3.5.
b) Bodyweight exercises – push-ups (2 x 30), planks (2 minutes), mountain climbers (1 x 60), burpees (1 x 30), squats (1 x 30) and lunges with 20 lb dumbbells
Hotel Gym Workout #2:
a) Elliptical for 30 minutes – increasing intensity from 10 – 15+. Ensure you are really pushing yourself the last 5-7 minutes.
b) Dumbbells – squats with 20lbs (1 x 20), lunges with 20lbs, arm curls with 30lbs (2 x 15), tricep curls with 30lbs (2 x 15), incline shoulder press with 25lbs (2 x 15), bench press with 30lb dumbbells (2 x 15). Your goal when using dumbbells during your marathon training is to get stronger, but not bulk up. This is why we avoid using weights that are too heavy. If you cannot complete all 15 or 20 reps, then decrease the weight being used.
Marathon Training Week #11 (while in Las Vegas for 4 days) – 40 miles
1) Monday (at home) – 8 mile easy run
2) Tuesday (at home) – track workout, 1 mile warm-up, 8 x 100m strides, stretch, 7 x 800m at 10k pace with 90 seconds rest, 1.5 mile cool down
3) Wednesday (in Las Vegas) – rest day
4) Thursday morning (in Las Vegas) – Hotel Gym Workout #1
5) Friday morning (in Las Vegas) – 35 minutes on treadmill (approx. 4 miles) + 35 push-ups, 50 sit-ups
6) Saturday morning (in Las Vegas) – 1 mile warm-up, 4 mile tempo run, 1 mile cool down
7) Sunday (at home) – 12 mile easy run