Hard Marathon Training with Mike Gratton

Former London winner Mike with schedules and advice for faster marathoners

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04/12/2004 at 12:27
Since June this year, 1983 London marathon winner Mike Gratton has been coaching three forum readers, live on the forum for everyone to share. (They had marathon goals of four hours and 3:15, and we called the threads Hard Training).

The threads have been among our most popular, and some of our more experienced readers have asked for some help in the build-up to the Flora London Marathon.

On this new thread, Mike is obliging with training schedules for robust, serious runners who want to train near their limits. He'll post schedules each week, and answer questions where he can (but don't be offended if he can't reply to them all; he's generously volunteering his time).

Mike offers up two levels here; the first is aimed at regular daily runners who don’t want to start afresh each new season, and the second is a glimpse at what is needed to excel at the highest level – in fact, it is Mike’s actual training plan leading to his victory in 1983.

The Hard Training plans do not work on the basis of ability level, more a desire to do more than the normal in order to make improvement. There are no specific speeds set: the long runs are based on time on your feet, and the speedwork is based on relative speeds at various distances – you need to make the adjustments yourself.

Mike’s elite schedule is based on the specific distances and times he did, based on years of elite preparation (he was already a London Marathon third-placer and Commonwealth Games bronze medalist from the year before).

These are no easy options, and only very regular runners should attempt the schedule. Most days offer two runs; if you're not ready for 14 runs a week, start out with seven, and add extra runs gradually over the months. If time doesn’t permit that, simply stay at seven runs, choosing the key session each day.

Here goes!

Week 1 – December 5 to 11:

Hard training:
Sunday: am - 2 hrs steady (70% max HR), pm 30 to 40 mins easy
Monday: am – 30-40 mins easy, 1 hr steady
Tuesday: am 30-40 mins easy, pm 1 hr fartlek – 12 to 15 efforts varying between 1 min and 5 mins
Wednesday: am 30-40 mins easy, pm 1 hr steady
Thursday: am 30-40 mins easy, pm 1 hr steady
Friday: am 30-40 mins easy, pm rest or 30 mins easy
Saturday: am 1 hr steady, pm 40 mins hill circuit (continuous run on 1km circuit with approx 500m shallow uphill, 500m downhill)

Mike’s elite training:
Sunday: am 22 miles steady, pm 6 miles easy
Monday: am 5 miles steady, pm 8 miles group fartlek
Tuesday: am 5 miles steady, pm 8 miles Canterbury loop with club (5:45 miling)
Wednesday: am 5 miles steady, pm 13 miles steady
Thursday: am 5 miles steady, pm 10 miles steady
Friday: am 5 miles steady, pm 5 miles steady
Saturday: 11 miles steady cross country, pm 6 miles easy

(There's more about Mike and some of his key answers from the original Hard Training threads here.)
04/12/2004 at 15:02
I had pleasure in being handed Mike's 7- to 14- times a week schedule (link above) at Club La Santa in September, and having looked at various other marathon schedules, this is the one I'm going to be following.
04/12/2004 at 15:37
I wish!!! but I will be following with interest and will try and adopt some of the ideas that come up!!
04/12/2004 at 15:50
MG, can you explain the thinking behind the second run on a Sunday after the long run? Is this not the most crucial time for recovery? What benefits would it bring apart from more miles in the bank?
04/12/2004 at 16:23
MG, would it be okay to do 30-40 easy x-training instead of the running on some days?
04/12/2004 at 16:45
Wow Mike, I can see why you'd need to be very serious to follow the schedule. I will follow and adapt where necessary.

I note in your elite schedule there is no easy/recovery running. How did you manage to keep the speeds up without any kind of rest?
04/12/2004 at 17:17
Believe it or not BR, the second run on Sunday is a recovery run, at this level of training, and with sufficient background, active recovery is essential to get the miles in.....obviously this is deliberately set to the highest level of achiever and should be watered down depending on the individual background. Hopefully the schedule will give some structure to the training of people who dip into it.

The schedules are not plucked out of the air, but in various forms have evolved from the training of a lot of good club runners in the golden mid-80's period where the target was to get close to, or under 2.20 for men and sub 2.50 for women - the depth was fantastic because a lot of good club runners were motivated to pile on the training. In my own Club Len Slater ran a couple of 2.21 marathons and was only ranked 6th in the club. He was a 51 min 10 mile runner and once a week ran 15 miles each way to/from work and did his long runs with the rest of us. Possibly in the climate now he might have only aspired to run a 2.30 as I think people rise to the standards set around them.

I think there has been a bit of damping down of training schedules since then - rightly so with so many new people coming into the sport now, but it might be that it has reduced the ambitions of the commited runner. I hope this thread will lift the level a bit for those ready to move on in the sport.
04/12/2004 at 17:20

Jane, at this level training is very specific to the demands of the event, but it would be acceptable to substitute some sessions for gym work or even some bike work if the amount of running seems too much to handle. It hasn't been put in the elite schedule but I did regular weight training and circuit training on top of the running.

Hilly, as with the answer to BR's question....to get to the quantity of miles required there is a lot of active rest. One of the things about achieving at the highest levels is the ability to absorb training, which depends on a combination of good conditioning and reasonable biomechanics and running efficiency. There are lots of very talented runners out there with better 10km speed than I had but didn't often convert to good marathon runners because they broke down physically from the demands of the training. As Sean mentioned in the intro I had already been 3rd in LM and bronze medallist in the Commonwealth Games the year before so I was ready to accept the training having had so much background conditioning going into it.

It's worth noting that the Commonwealth Games were in the October and I had reached 140 mile weeks leading up to that, so by early November I was already comfortably handling this mileage.

Nice to hear from you Susie.
04/12/2004 at 17:22
Can't turn the clock back JJ and Ironwolf, but I hope the idea behind this motivates you to do just a bit more.
04/12/2004 at 18:10
Thanks Mike. My coach does not like me doing doubles on a Sunday but that's because the last time I did them for a spell I teetered on the edge of injury and illness for a week.

Your comments on the decline in standards are very interesting - you reckon that it is a vicious circle - the fewer decent runners, the lower the overall aspirations, thus even fewer 2:20 runners?

Was the 140mpw at the time you were still teaching or were you a full time athlete by then? Did you gradually up the milege over the previous few years to the point you could manage 140?

04/12/2004 at 19:09
I was still teaching, but I did it through the summer hols - which fell at just the right time for the CW games which were in Brisbane at the beginning of the Aussie summer. I did my first 100 mile week at 18 yrs of age, but became more consistant at 100mile plus only when I started to look at marathons - I guess when I was around 23 to 24 yrs old. In 82 I averaged 113 miles per week for 52 weeks of th year - max 140, minimum around 30 in the week after LM and CWG.
04/12/2004 at 19:23
Mike, how did you feel when running that amount-tired, bone tired, hold your eyes open with matchsticks tired?:o)

Do you think women can abzorb as much training as men?
04/12/2004 at 19:24
It's not the only reason for the decline BR, but if you look at the targets people aim at they tend to be things time getting the championship start qualifiying times. I think the smaller base of senoir runners in clubs also contributes and the times required to win local road races. Runners in a strong club tend to get drawn along by being part of a good training group, and if you can win most 10kms in 30 to 31 mins, there is little incentive to try to run 28 mins - with the obvious knock on.

I also think that that there has been a diminishing insentive to put in the hard work. In the old days of the British Board you would be rewarded by getting a trip abroad for doing well in the better UK road races, I got my first trip from finishing 2nd to Eamonn Martin in a ding dong battle in the Rochester 5 miles, we both got picked for a 10km road race in Barcelona. Most of those trips have now dried up because the races now recruit through the agents, so up and coming British runners have to join the queue for a trip behind all the Kenyans, North Africans, and a few Italians, Spanish and Portuguese runners. It's the way of the commercial world, so not sure what can be done about it.
04/12/2004 at 19:29
I just didn't feel that tired Hilly, at least not that I can remember - my family may disagree of course.

I think women can absorb more that men as they tend to be relatively speaking at the endurance side. I think that for most women it is the more powerful type speed training that is more difficult. I trained with Sarah Rowell (2nd in LM and ran 2.30 at LA Olympics) and she definitely did mote training than me. If we did hill circuits she would lap us men - she was slower on the up, but just kept going on the down, she had such a good aerobic capacity she seemed to not need a recovery.
04/12/2004 at 19:37
I meant absorb!:o)

I dislike speed work although I agree it's needed. It's my belief that one is more likely to suffer injury from fast running than doing lots of steady miles.
04/12/2004 at 19:40
And I would agree with you.
04/12/2004 at 19:55
Thanks Mike, I do go out and train twice a day on two days a week, but on one day I do an easy gym session (keeping HR low) and a steady run pm with a fast last mile. On the other day I do a steady run am and then take out a group of beginners pm and run max of 30 mins with walking breaks. I guess its okay to try to juggle the runs around a bit but any tips on what not to juggle about, ie what runs not to do back to back. At present I will stick to the one run per day for the rest of the week, but how do you fit in racing?
04/12/2004 at 20:12
Hilly wrote

" I dislike speed work although I agree it's needed. It's my belief that one is more likely to suffer injury from fast running than doing lots of steady miles."

Are you by any chance related to the hilly who used to post on RW Forum who tried to run eyeballs out 3 times per week?:)
04/12/2004 at 20:22
My twin and I have different ideas these days BR!:o)
04/12/2004 at 21:07
Sean - it's a great idea to have the ability to interact with MG in the build up to FLM.

Will you be printing his advice in the mag as well as one thing I think it has lacked in the last few years is anything below the sub 3hrs programme.

Maybe this links to trying to raise standards as MG referred to earlier? If your wider readership can see what it takes to maximise your potential maybe some will take up the challenge and improve the standard of British distanc running.
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