First Marathon: 3:04:51 - And Why I Trained By Running Only 1-2 Times Per Week

Green wave start of the ING New York City Marathon

Green wave start of the ING New York City Marathon

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3:05 is the qualifying time for the Boston Marathon and the goal I set for my first ever official marathon this past weekend.  I even carried a photo of this spreadsheet on my phone so by mile 23, I knew it would come down to the wire.  I’m sure I looked like a maniac frantically sprinting the last quarter mile but when I stopped my watch at the finish line, it read 3:04:58.  I made it by two seconds!

I later learned that I started my watch 7 seconds early, and actually finished in 3:04:51, a pace of 7:03 per mile.  I hope to run Boston at some point and go for sub 3 hours, but probably won’t do many more of these races.  I have a ton of respect for people who repeatedly put their body and mind through that kind of torture, but don’t consider myself a running fanatic.

One of the reasons I ran the New York Marathon is to prove that high mileage during training is unnecessary to achieve a respectable time.



 If I followed one of the numerous training programs put out by running magazines, I would be running 45 to 60 miles a week to break 3:05, which is something I had no interest in doing.  The most miles I put on in a week was about 26 and that was split over 2 workouts.  I’d estimate that I ran about 40% of what was recommended to achieve my time.

A crucial element to my training was metabolic conditioning, which refers to exercise that activates all three major energy systems of the body.  It combines aerobic/cardiovascular and anaerobic/resistance training.  During a metabolic conditioning workout, you may be moving between several different exercises, activating every muscle you have available with very little rest.  A good example is a typical Throwback workout – 2 minutes of rowing, immediately followed by a superset of 3 bodyweight exercises with minimal to no rest in between.  A high level of intensity is crucial – exercises should be completed as fast as possible and you should feel gassed at the end.  This type of training has demonstrated to greatly improve the energy delivery systems of the body and is tremendously beneficial to endurance athletes.  Moreover, it can be more fun and more efficient than a low intensity run which is purely aerobic.

Other than that I feel long runs are not as fun as a Throwback workout, I think you may be doing yourself a disservice by using a typical marathon training program for these reasons.

1. High mileage makes you injury prone

In the past, I experimented with running 40 or 50 miles a week which just resulted in shin splints, foot pain, IT band strains and other minor injuries that prevented me from being 100% at the time of the race.  Think about it this way: your feet must absorb as much as 3x your bodyweight upon each strike of the ground.  Assuming you’re an average male weighing 180lbs and you take 1,600 strides in one mile, each leg must absorb about 215 tons of force!  By running 40 miles a week, the impact force on your body is 17,200 tons (both feet). 

Professional runners are able to handle this a little better than the average person because they are much lighter (males around 130lbs) and because their finely tuned stride allows for less force exerted on their feet (as a multiple of their own bodyweight).  For the average person, it shouldn’t be a mystery why the yearly incidence rate for running injuries is between 37 and 56%. 

I supplemented some of my runs with rowing instead because it produces a similar  effect and it is easier on the bones and joints.

2. Lots of “filler”

The best workouts in a typical marathon training program are the long run and speed work (I kept these in my regimen).  But most of these plans are also peppered with steady runs or easy jogs between 4 and 12 miles.  I never understood how this is a beneficial workout.  You are neither increasing your VO2 max, nor improving endurance.  It always seemed like filler to me so I cut it out.

3. Sacrifices other aspects of a well-rounded athlete

Elite marathoners are skin and bones.  They look that way because constant aerobic activity over prolonged periods wastes muscle.  If my training only consisted of running, I’d be a much weaker athlete by the time my marathon was over. 

Geoffrey Mutai - winner of the 2011 and 2013 ING New York City Marathon.  But I wonder how many pull-ups he can do.

Geoffrey Mutai - winner of the 2011 and 2013 ING New York City Marathon.  But I wonder how many pull-ups he can do.

I feel that my strength workouts helped me during the race as well.  Most marathoners know what it feels like to ‘hit the wall’ around mile 20.  Many say that you are really only about half way through the race at that point.  While the hilly last few miles of the marathon were certainly very tough, my legs did not feel like anchors as described by many runners.  They were able to carry me uphill below the pace I needed to achieve my goal.

4. 50 miles a week is a big commitment

A lot of us don’t have the time to do that.  A lot of my metabolic conditioning workouts were completed in 30 minutes or less.


In my next post, I’ll discuss the specifics of my training and how my program differed from that of a typical marathoner. 

Written by Ryan