Drawing inspiration from the training plans of running champions

Have you ever wondered what a champion’s training plan looks like? How do the world’s best runners, particularly Kenyans like marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge, train? Can you draw inspiration from their methods? While certain aspects, especially the volume, may not be replicable for amateur runners, there are valuable lessons to be learned that you can apply to your training.

The world’s elite runners, especially in marathons, typically train with weekly volumes ranging between 150 and 200 kilometers. Some champions, such as Kenyan Paul Tergat or Dutchman Jos Hermans (manager of Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele), have been known to run up to 300 km per week. In Kenya, it’s common for runners to train three times a day: a session at 6 am, another at 10 am, and a final one at 4 pm.

Running 3 times a day… Or not

It’s a common misconception that running at full intensity in every training session is feasible. For champions, their training might begin with a gentle muscle wake-up at 6 am, followed by an interval training session at 10 am, and concluding with a 4 pm cool-down to aid in recovery.

On some days, the 6 am training consists of a progressive Kenyan-style run. In these sessions, groups sometimes exceeding 100 runners start at a pace of 11 km/h, gradually accelerating to finish a 20 km run at 21 km/h. The 10 am training is then typically a short, very slow jog with some stretching. The afternoon session is once again dedicated to recovery.

The majority of elite runners limit themselves to two training sessions per day, totaling 12 sessions per week. Beyond the high weekly mileage, it is noteworthy that their training encompasses all paces. Champion training includes fundamental endurance, intermediate paces (often referred to as threshold), specific competition paces, and maximum speeds.

Despite not practicing other sports, the training routines of champions are varied. This diversity is crucial to avoid monotony and injuries, and it also enables track runners to develop both ‘capacity’ and excellent endurance.

Pace variations can even occur within a single session. For instance, a session might start at an anaerobic threshold, then shift to faster segments at MAS pace or even quicker.

How to apply the training plan of champions to an amateur runner?

When running for enjoyment, even with a competitive edge, emulating the high volumes of champion runners isn’t feasible. The first lesson for amateurs is to incorporate varied paces into their training, focusing on both extremes: the slowest paces for endurance and the faster competition paces, and possibly beyond.

Notably, more than 60% of a champion’s training volume is conducted at a fundamental endurance level. This includes slow jogs, progressive jogs, warm-ups before sessions (and competitions), and recovery immediately following a session.

For perspective, if the fundamental endurance pace of Kenyan champions is around 14-15 km/h, a French regional-level runner might have a fundamental endurance pace closer to 12-13 km/h. A runner with a Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) of 15 km/h will typically have a fundamental endurance pace of about 10-11 km/h. And for many runners, this fundamental endurance pace is around 10 km/h, or even as low as 9 km/h.

It is observed that, on average, less than 20% of the training volume of elite runners is performed at a high pace, defined as above 85% of their Maximum Heart Rate (HRMax). This ratio is an essential consideration for amateur runners looking to adapt elite training methodologies to their routines.

The importance of fundamental endurance

Running at your fundamental endurance pace is crucial, rather than conducting all your jogs too rapidly. It’s observed that among champions, those who run faster during their jogs often face shorter careers and are more susceptible to injuries.

Regarding other training sessions, it’s interesting to note that the routines followed by Kenyan runners are not significantly different from those of European runners. They, too, incorporate interval training at race pace. A key point, however, is that Kenyans predominantly perform recoveries between intervals in an ‘active’ manner, usually by jogging.

When you have efficiently completed a training session, it’s beneficial to engage in active recovery. This approach is recommended only once you’ve thoroughly mastered the session. Otherwise, there’s a risk that the pace of fast repetitions may vary substantially. In such cases, it’s advisable to opt for a very gentle jog during the recovery phases. This balanced approach helps in maintaining consistency in training while minimizing the risk of injuries.

Drawing inspiration from the recovery practices of champions

If time allowed, mirroring the recovery practices of champion runners would be ideal. These athletes prioritize recovery, which includes taking naps, receiving massages, and maintaining a stress-free environment as much as possible.

However, for amateurs with busy family or professional lives, running, while important, cannot be the sole focus. Hence, it’s essential to make informed choices and optimize recovery factors within the constraints of everyday life, even if conditions aren’t perfect.

Particularly when preparing for a marathon, experiencing fatigue, or adding an extra training session in a week to elevate performance, paying close attention to recovery becomes even more critical. Balancing training with effective recovery strategies can significantly enhance performance and overall well-being.

The training plans of Kenyan champions

Exploring the training plans of Kenyan champions offers invaluable insights into the routines of elite athletes. Let’s examine the approaches of Catherine Ndereba, an Olympic marathon medalist and four-time Boston Marathon winner, and Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon world record holder.

Catherine Ndereba’s marathon training, particularly leading up to her victory at the Boston Marathon in 2000, showcases a balance between quality sessions and mileage. Extracted from Toby Tanser’s book More Fire, How to Run the Kenyan Way, her plan emphasizes fewer miles than some might expect, with up to 160km per week.

Ndereba’s routine includes a long run every 10 days, lasting between 2 to 3 hours at a slow, fundamental endurance pace. Notably, her weekly schedule integrates three hard sessions, with the remaining sessions aimed at recovery and base building.

  • Monday:
    • Morning: 1 hour 15 minutes easy
    • Afternoon: 40 minutes easy
  • Tuesday:
    • Morning: 40 minutes easy
    • Afternoon: Track intervals – 800m, 1200m, 1600m, 1200m
  • Wednesday:
    • Afternoon: 1 hour easy
  • Thursday:
    • Morning: 40 minutes easy
    • Afternoon: 7x2km intervals
  • Friday:
    • Morning: 40 minutes
    • Afternoon: 40 minutes
  • Saturday:
    • Morning: 40 minutes easy
    • Afternoon: Fartlek training (1’-2’-3’-2’-1’ intervals)
  • Sunday:
    • Rest Day (No sports for religious reasons)

Eliud Kipchoge’s Marathon training plan

Now let’s look at Eliud Kipchoge‘s marathon training plan a few weeks before his world record attempt in Berlin (available in full here):

Monday, August 14 (Week -6)

  • Afternoon: 10km in 40 minutes – easy (15km/h)

Tuesday, August 15

  • Morning: Track session
    • 15-minute warm-up (12.5km/h)
    • 1200m in 3’25″, recovery lap
    • 5x1km in 2’55″ (with 1’30″ recovery)
    • Recovery lap
    • 3x300m in 42″-40″ (with 1′ recovery)
    • Recovery lap
    • 2x200m in 27″ (with 1′ recovery)
    • 15-minute cool-down (12km/h)
  • Afternoon: Rest

Wednesday, August 16

  • Morning: 18km in 1 hour 11 minutes – easy/moderate (15.2km/h)
  • Afternoon: 11km in 44 minutes – easy (15km/h)

Thursday, August 17

  • Morning: 40km in 2 hours 26 minutes – tempo run (16.4km/h) in difficult conditions
  • Afternoon: Rest

Friday, August 18

  • Morning: 18km in 1 hour 10 minutes – easy/moderate (15.5km/h)
  • Afternoon: 10km in 39 minutes – easy (15.4km/h)

Saturday, August 19

  • Morning: Fartlek session
    • 10-minute warm-up (12km/h)
    • 30x (1 minute fast, 1 minute slow), averaging 2’45″ on fast portions, slow jogging for 1 minute slow
    • 15-minute cool-down (11.2km/h)
  • Afternoon: Rest

Sunday, August 20

  • Morning: 20km in 1 hour 17 minutes – easy/moderate (15.6km/h)
  • Afternoon: Rest

This brings Kipchoge’s weekly total to approximately 180 kilometers, with a significant portion of this volume performed at 15 km/h, his fundamental endurance pace. Notably, Kipchoge avoids scheduling two demanding days consecutively. Instead, he consistently follows a hard session with a day of endurance running at an easy or moderate pace.

The key takeaway here isn’t to replicate the exact training routines of these champions, but rather to understand the principles that underpin their effective training. Many of these principles are integrated into the RunMotion Coach app. The app aims to provide a personalized training plan, tailored to your individual level, goals, and weekly availability!

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Mailis Durif-VarambonMailis grew up in the mountains, where she went hiking and biking every weekend. She loves outdoor activities where she can relax at the end of the day. At RunMotion Coach, she is responsible for community management.