First Marathon: 3:04:51 – How I Trained

In my last post, I stated that I felt running countless hours logging miles was an inefficient way to train for my first marathon.  I wanted to accomplish a number of things through my training that I couldn’t have done with running only:

Avoid overuse injury: I, like every runner, have experienced injuries from putting on too many miles.  I was much healthier on race day as a result of running less often.

Maintain lean muscle: I didn’t want all muscle to waste away from too much low intensity cardio.  Strength workouts also helped me throughout the hilly course and during the last several miles of the marathon.

Confuse my body: Many runners jog the same route multiple times during their training.  If the marathon was a few loops in Central Park, I’d probably run that race very well because it’s my home course and my body became accustomed to it.  The problem is, I can’t replicate the experience of running the actual marathon course during training (hills, wind, crowds, adrenaline, etc.) so I wanted to throw as many challenges at myself so I could get accustomed to handling surprises.  With the exception of speed drills and long runs (which I used to benchmark myself), few workouts were the same.

Increase my VO2 max:  This is the maximum rate at which you can consume oxygen.  A high VO2 max can account for 70 percent of the variation in race performances among individual runners.  You can improve it by pushing your threshold through high intensity training.  In fact, elite soccer players have a similar VO2 max as 2:36 marathoners.

Improve mental toughness: As with most things, a marathon is more of a mental battle than a physical one, especially through the last few miles.  Navy Seals will tell you that the human body is capable of 10x more than what most people think if it can overcome mental barriers.  A marathon can be mental hell so in order to perform well, it shouldn’t be the first time you experience that degree of pain and exhaustion.  High intensity workouts and fast long runs will get you there, maybe even more effectively than long, slow distance runs.

Have fun: I would often get bored during long, lonely runs so I varied my workouts and made them easy to do with friends or make into games.

I didn’t adhere to a very strict training program, but this was a typical week in the months leading up to the marathon.  I included examples of the workouts I completed during my training, but everything would vary from week to week with little repeat of the same workouts.  The specific movements are not as important as the intensity and duration of the workouts.

Monday: 30-45 minute metabolic conditioning workout with bodyweight exercises and running or rowing sprints. (Incorporating running with squats, burpees and lunges is a good way to force yourself to move while your legs are flooded with lactic acid.  See lactic acid threshold)

EXAMPLE – Divide and conquer the following as fast as possible (split up as desired):

  • 2000 meter row (or run)
  • 50 squats
  • 50 sit-ups
  • 50 pull-ups
  • 50 burpees
  • 50 push-ups

(If 50 reps of each is too easy or too hard, modify the count)

Tuesday: Strength workout (squats, deadlifts, cleans, jerks, etc) followed by a short metabolic conditioning workout with weights.

EXAMPLE – 5 sets of 8 deadlifts (1-2 min rest in between sets)

Followed by

  • 5 rounds for time of:
    • 6 power cleans (135 lbs)
    • 9 lunges (9 each leg)
    • 12 kettlebell swings (53lbs) 

Wednesday: More metabolic conditioning.  (This is what the phys. ed. portion of a Throwback workout looks like)

EXAMPLE – Between 3 and 5 rounds of:

  • 2 minutes max distance row
  • 2 minutes max rounds and reps of
    • 2 wall climbs
    • 3 muscle ups
    • 4 toes-to-bar

Thursday: Speed work (usually running, but can be substituted with rowing)

EXAMPLE – 800 meter sprints (Yasso 800s are a predictor of marathon time)

  • 5 sets in beginning of training period, working up to 10 at peak
  • Rest the same amount of time it took to complete the last interval
  • Keep intervals within a few seconds of each other

ANOTHER FAVORITE – sprint ladder

  • 1600m, 800m, 400m, 200m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1600m

Friday: Rest or light workout

Saturday: Long run

  • 12 miles in beginning of training period, working up to 22 with 3 weeks out from race day
  • Get close to your marathon pace especially in the 2nd half

Sunday: Rest

Some of these movements are difficult/technical but can be substituted with other exercises.  Strength training is important, but olympic lifts in particular are not crucial if they are new to you.  I valued intensity and variety more than I did any specific exercise (other than running and rowing).

Completing one long run each week was crucial to my training.  It helped improve my endurance and confidence leading up to the race.  However, I strongly believe that if all I did was run in the months leading up to the marathon, I would have been less healthy and not performed up to my potential during the race. My training method may not work for everyone, but the efficiency of my training routine allowed me to run a very respectable first marathon, maintain muscle mass AND save my joints and bones from all the pounding inherent in typical marathon training.  More importantly, I looked forward to many of these workouts.

But however you train, you'll still probably feel pretty rough when the marathon is over.

$48 for a 7 block pedicab ride

$48 for a 7 block pedicab ride

Stay tuned for more workouts.

Written by Ryan

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

More Wild Workout Ideas

We’re always thinking of unique workout ideas so we can keep exercise fun and have something new to look forward to.  Here are a few games you can play either at a park or a gym that will keep your workouts efficient, fun and unique.  We’ll incorporate some of these in our classes in a few weeks.

Stairways to Hell

  • With a continuously running clock, complete 1 dip in the first minute, 2 dips in the second minute, 3 dips in the third minute, continuing until you cannot climb another step within the minute
  • Run 400m or row 500m
  • Repeat ladder with jumping alternating lunges – 1 left and 1 right counts as 1 rep
  • Run 400m or row 500m
  • Repeat ladder with plyo pushups
  • Run 400m or row 500m

Power Playlist

  • Download a Power Hour app (such as MyPowerMix) on you iPhone.  Pick a handful of exercises and cycle through them each time the song changes
  • For example, assuming you have limited access to equipment your exercises could include burpees, pull-ups, decline push-ups, and tuck jumps
  • The first set would look like this.  Note that I shuffled through my iPhone to find these songs randomly which proves that things can get interesting - try doing tuck jumps while listening to Hall and Oats

Hall and Oats.jpeg
  1. Minute 1 of burpees: The Killers - Smile Like You Mean It
  2. Minute 2 of pull-ups: Ozzy Osbourne - Mama I'm Comin' Home
  3. Minute 3 of decline push-ups: Daft Punk - Harder Faster Stronger
  4. Minute 4 of tuck jumps: Hall and Oats - Sarah Smile
  • Count total reps for all exercises combined.  Rest for 2 minutes and then repeat with four new songs, trying to beat the number of reps for previous four minute set

Tag Team (You’ll need a buddy for this one)

  • Pick a certain exercise and assign a certain number of reps for the two of you to complete together.  We’ll use 100 man-makers here

  • One partner (Person A) starts on the rower (can be substituted for treadmill or track) and the other (Person B) starts with the man-makers, keeping track of total repetitions
  • Once Person A has rowed 500 meters (400m if you’re running) it’s time to alternate exercises.  Person A will complete man-makers, picking up where Person B left off, while Person B gets on the rower
  • Continue alternating exercises until 100 total man-makers have been completed.  Keep track of the total time it took you to complete the workout and total distance rowed