Seldom do you get a peek under the hood of one of the best runner’s in history. But with the release of his training in the months leading up to his Berlin marathon victory, we get just that with a training log of Eliud Kipchoge.
As someone who believes in the sharing of training to help push coaching forward, I can do nothing but applaud Kipchoge. Far too often, we hoard our training logs, acting as if we have discovered some mythical secret that we couldn’t dare pass on to others. But, in looking at Kipchoge’s training there is one distinct lesson: there is no secret.
Before we dive into Kipchoge’s training, let me first state that when we analyze training we do so through our own biased lens. When a Daniels disciple looks at training, he might see workouts in terms of tempo, reps, or intervals, while a physiologist might equate different workout types to various physiology zones. How we coach our athlete’s shapes how we see the workouts on the page. Put five coaches in the same room looking at the same piece of paper, and you’d have several different interpretations.
When I take a look at training, I attempt to do so as objectively as possible, switching hats between the various schools of coaching so that I don’t fall into the trap of saying “Ahhh that’s a tempo workout!” just because it fits nicely into some artificial label I’m comfortable with.
Additionally, when it comes to Kipchoge’s training, it’s important to remember a few things. First, this training was done at altitude on dirt roads in Kenya, which alters the paces and their physiological consequence. That means we can’t just simply say he’s running marathon pace or 10k pace. Why? Because the physiological equivalent of marathon pace might be a few seconds per mile slower. Throw in a muddy or difficult course and that gap widens.
Secondly, although the past training is not known, we have to acknowledge it. The temptation, and danger is to simply copy the concepts seen in this training and apply it to our own. Kipchoge didn’t arrive at this point suddenly, he is able to do what he does because of decades of training.
Finally, a common mistake when looking at the training of a world-class individual is to assume that it all worked and that it can be applied to all. No one gets the plan 100% correct; we can’t even model what a 100% correct training plan should be. My rule of thumb is that if an athlete has sustained success, it means that the majority of the training worked well. Not all, the majority.
All of that being said, let’s break it down.
The Training of Kipchoge:
|5 weeks out
|4 weeks out
|3 weeks out
|2 weeks out
|1 week out
The first question that comes to any athlete or coaches mind when it comes to the marathon, is always about volume. How much mileage did he run and how far was the long run? By adding up Kipchoge’s daily volumes, we can see that there is only slight variation in miles per week as Kipchoge hangs out in the 110-120 miles per week range. There are no elaborate 2 weeks up, 1 week down cycles. He appears to simply get in a groove and stay there. There is also not a traditional several weeks taper. He keeps his mileage in his normal range until the final week of the marathon, when he finally tapers.
There also are no days off. His recovery day seems to be when he just goes out for a run once in the day and covers an easy 18-20km, with some of these runs starting at an astonishing 6min per km pace. While this might seem counterintuitive to many, when you are running that much mileage, a nice slow 12-mile run is in fact recovery. It’s akin to a ‘normal’ person going for a nice hour long walk.
Secondly, there are no traditional weekend easy long runs. He doesn’t have the oft-seen Saturday or Sunday long easy or moderate run. Instead, Kipchoge relies on 30-40km “tempo” runs during the last 5 weeks to give him the endurance and stamina necessary to complete the marathon. His 40k tempo runs are impressive, mostly in the 5:25-15 pace range, unless on a very hilly or muddy course. That is quality running over such a distance, but it’s still ~30-40ish seconds slower than his marathon pace, which means it’s a good high-end aerobic workout, made more difficult because of the volume (and terrain/altitude). Correcting for those external variables is difficult, but you can tell that the speed and effort of these long tempos are pretty close to specific marathon work.
When it comes to marathon “specific” work, these 40km tempos function as his way of handling the physical (and mental) demands of the marathon. Both from a pounding standpoint, but also from an energetic standpoint. They are long and hard enough to accomplish both goals. They also carry an extra level of intrigue because it is very seldom that you see his western counterparts perform such long and sustained efforts.
What’s lacking in this marathon build that you see in most western counterparts is the “short” tempo, which most call threshold runs. There is only one threshold effort, a fartlek, no 4-10 mile tempos at around half marathon effort. Whether they were done in the weeks preceding this build up or not at all is up to debate. But it’s interesting to note.
Instead, Kipchoge relies on longer fartleks and interval sets to run at specific marathon pace and get the physiological ‘threshold’ stimulus that we all tend to assume comes only from consistent tempo/threshold work. Thanks to the altitude and terrain slowing things down a bit, he uses fartleks with short rest (i.e. 13x3min on/1off) or long intervals (13x1km w/ 90sec rest) to run at around marathon pace. It seems like he uses these fartleks and intervals to get himself accustomed to running at marathon pace. Whether this is done because he’s at altitude and in Kenya or not, is unknown. But it’s interesting to see as most western coaches use broken tempos to run at such paces, while Kipchoge breaks it down further into relatively short fartlek segments repeated over and over.
Finally, there are dabbles of faster work thrown in that we might call our 10k-5k type workouts. Regardless of speed, these support the longer marathon work he is doing. The 30x1min on/off, and large volumes of 800s and 400’s in the 2:10 to 62-second range provides a high volume of speed support. The volumes of these workouts are significant and noteworthy. The paces aren’t outrageous for someone of Kipchoges speed or caliber, so it seems more about putting in a good quantity of sustainable quality work. In addition, the recoveries all seem pretty short, with 90sec-1min for most and 200m walk/jogs for others. This makes sense given There are also dabbles of high-quality fast work like 300’s in 42 seconds.
Like this article? Check out my Books on Training & Psychology of Performance:
Kipchoge’s training is simple, straightforward, and it works. As expected, he has a nice blend of everything from long tempos to short fast 300’s. While the majority of the training is focused on the endurance to handle the marathon, he does enough to maintain that bit of speed to give him the capacity to run fast and feel easier at slower paces. There are also lots of easy to moderate running. A fact that is often misunderstood and neglected in most regular runners training
What is most interesting is what is not there. There are not large fluctuations of mileage, no multi-week taper, no traditional threshold runs. Does that mean we need to do away with these concepts? Of course not, but what it does show is that we need to adapt our principles to the individual and note that there are many ways to get the same adaptation. Often, we think that to improve our threshold we need to do tempo/threshold runs. Or to improve our specific marathon abilities, that means pushing the edge of a long sustained tempo run at marathon pace for as long as we can (think the 13-18mile marathon pace runs that are a staple in many western programs). There are many roads to Rome.
Lastly, there are very few mind-blowing workouts. Yes, his 40km tempo runs are impressive, mostly because of their length, but he’s running 40km at the fastest in 2:13 in training, which equates to a 2:20+ marathon if he just went 2km longer. Is that hard? Yes. At altitude, even more so. But for the best marathoner in the world, it’s not mind-blowing.
If I could guess what Kipchoge’s ‘secret’ was based on his training, it’s pretty simple: good consistent work for a long time.
And I thank Kipchoge for sharing it with us.
For more on the psychology of performance, check out my NEW book Peak Performance. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold! If you are interested in the TRAINING, check out my book The Science of Running.