Gratton’s Hard Marathon Training Schedules

1983 London Marathon winner Mike Gratton has been voluntarily advising runners live on our forums since 2004. This marathon training programme forms the core of his advice for anyone seeking to run seven days a week. It's suitable for men and women and was developed from his 1983 programme.

Welcome to Hard Training. You don't have to be fast to benefit from it, just committed, and moderately experienced. If you have questions about what you read below, the Hard Training forum is the place to look. I can't promise to help, but I'll do my best. The forum has the unique quality of being able to give mutual support from others who are following the training and suffering the same levels of tiredness in the early stages – and then, magically, witnessing the improvement in the final phase.

The principle is simple: after a period of base training that builds the endurance background required to run a marathon, there follows a period of consolidating the mileage and gradually introducing faster running and speed endurance work. The final stage has a change in emphasis towards faster running at speeds much quicker than marathon pace, which will bring you to a fitness peak in late April for the Flora London Marathon (or other marathon if you're not doing FLM).

This turns on its head the accepted system of starting a marathon build-up from a low mileage base and building up the long runs and total miles between Christmas and the race – usually about 12 to 16 weeks. This is fine for relative beginners and in the early years of running. But once you have run a few marathons or have a number of years of background it is crazy to constantly go back to the beginning and try to build up endurance in just 12 to 16 weeks again. The biggest improvements come when you build the endurance and maintain it out of season then use progressive speedwork to come to a peak.

The athletes I have coached have made their first big improvement when they have moved on to seven-days-a-week training; the second big improvement comes when they move on to twice a day. Firstly you must be ready to run seven days a week, in other words don’t jump straight in from a base of three or four days a week. Secondly, if you have established seven-days-a-week running, don’t move to 14 sessions per week overnight. All new training loads have to be gradually introduced so that the body can adapt to the new level of effort.

The concerns expressed by most people who start on this system are about losing leg speed. My own experience, and that of those who followed the training in 2004, is that you do not lose leg speed – it comes back quickly enough once 10K pace training is introduced – and most of the feeling of loss of speed is in fact due to your body adapting to the increased training load (mileage).

The schedule is not rocket science – there are no ‘magic’ sessions that suddenly make you a faster runner. Its success is in following a systematic build-up and in straightforward hard work. The marathon is an endurance event that requires a long, steady build-up starting as early as possible.

The early stages require a lot of mindless running of steady miles. It needs to be this way, but there is no harm in running a few races to keep short-term interest. However, it is important not to taper for every race, as you will never fully develop the base you need. In the early stages, you need to get used to training through your races. You have a ready-made excuse, for yourself or anyone questioning your performances: you’re training for London. Looking back through my 1983 diary, between getting the Commonwealth Games bronze medal in October 1982 and winning London in April 1983 I had a number of relative disasters – finishing fifth in the Kent Cross-Country Championships, a long way down on the winner was one – but every now and again a good result in a cross-country relay or 10-mile road race would indicate all was okay. By March, results will start to come – in January 1983 I ran 48:32 for 10 miles on a flat course; by March I posted 47:11 on a hilly course.

For interest, my training notes leading up to winning London in April 1983 are published on www.209events.com.

TRAINING NOTES

For those running once a day, the session that should be dropped is in brackets.

Most of the training is expressed as time rather than distance – this is to accommodate slower runners who may not be able to run 20 miles in under 2 hrs 30 mins. Time on feet has been shown to be the best way of judging the level of training that prevents runners from overtraining – which would be the case for slower runners if the schedule suggested running 20 to 22 miles every Sunday and 15 miles midweek.

There is no reason at all why slower runners can’t follow the seven-day-a-week schedules, and running for time rather than distance keeps the duration of sessions at a level that enables recovery. But for quicker runners, if the time allocated is two hours this means a long run of 18-20 miles. An easy run listed as 30 to 40 minutes implies a distance of around 5 miles.

Don’t get paranoid about the distance run, however – endurance is not an exact science and everyone will handle mileage differently. The most important thing is the cumulative effect of all of your training and not whether you manage to run 20 to 22 miles every Sunday.

I have expressed effort in two ways: a) percentage of maximum heart rate, and b) actual running speed. Steady runs will be at around 70-75 per cent effort and you will find that your steady pace will improve over the weeks. When running speeds are indicated, eg marathon pace, half-marathon pace, 10K pace, etc, you should use your projected pace – if your current PB for the marathon is 3:00 and you are aiming at 2:50, you should train at 2:50 pace.

There is often confusion over the words 'threshold' and 'tempo' running. Here, 'threshold' running is equal to the speed you can maintain for one hour of exercise. For some, that will be around half-marathon pace, for others it may be closer to 10-mile pace or even 10K pace. 'Tempo' I use more loosely. It may have a target speed attached to it, or it may be simply a faster run typical of most club runs through the winter. There’s a lot to be said for being non-specific and just going hell for leather around town with the pack – it is the way a lot of our best known athletes developed through clubs like Gateshead, Tipton, Coventry and my own club Invicta. Be careful, though, that every night isn’t a club night!

(Sessions to drop on once-a-day training level)

THE PROGRAMME

WEEK ONE
Sunday am 2 hrs steady (70% max HR)
Monday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Tuesday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Wednesday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Thursday am (30-40 mins easy), pm < 40 mins fartlek – completely free/go as you feel
Friday am (30-40 mins easy), pm <1hr steady
Saturday am XC Race or 40 mins Tempo run (< marathon pace)

WEEK TWO
Sunday am 2 hrs steady (70% max HR)
Monday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Tuesday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Wednesday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Thursday am (30-40 mins easy), pm < 40 mins fartlek – completely free/go as you feel
Friday am (30-40 mins easy), pm <1hr steady
Saturday am XC Race or 40 mins Tempo run (< marathon pace)

WEEK THREE
Sunday am 2 hrs steady (70% max HR), pm (30 mins easy)
Monday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Tuesday am (30-40 mins easy), pm <1 hr fartlek – go as you please
Wednesday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Thursday am (30-40 mins), pm 1 hr steady
Friday am (30 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Saturday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 40 mins Tempo Run (< marathon pace)

WEEK FOUR
Sunday 2 hrs steady (70% may HR), pm (30-40 mins easy)
Monday am (30-40 mins easy), pm 1 hr steady
Tuesday am (30-40 mins easy), pm < 1 hr fartlek – 10-12 efforts 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 1 hr steady
Saturday am (30-40 mins easy), pm XC Race or 40 mins Temp run (marathon < half-marathon pace).

WEEK FIVE
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 1 hr steady
Saturday am 1 hr steady, pm 30 mins hill circuit (continuous run on 1km circuit with approx 500m shallow uphill, 500m downhill)

WEEK SIX
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 30 mins hill circuit (continuous run on 1km circuit with approx 500m shallow uphill, 500m downhill)

WEEK SEVEN
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 1 hr steady
Saturday am 2 hr steady (70% MAX hr), pm 30 mins hill circuit (continuous run on 1km circuit with approx 500m shallow uphill, 500m downhill)

WEEK EIGHT
Sunday am 1 hr steady
Mon am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady
Tues am (30-50 mins), pm Tempo Run – 40 mins @ half marathon pace, 10 mins warm up/10 mins cool off jogs.
Wed am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady.
Thu am (30-40 mins), pm 30 mins hill circuits – 10 mins warm up/cool down jog
Fri am (30-40 min) pm 1 hr steady
Sat am 45 mins fartlek (aim at approx 12 efforts between 45 sec and 4 mins) pm (30-40 mins easy)

WEEK NINE
Sun am 2hrs 30mins steady, pm (30-40 mins easy)
Mon (am 30-40 mins steady), pm 40 mins Tempo Run (85% MaxHR – 15 min warm-up & cool-down)
Tue (am 30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady
Wed (am 30-40 mins steady), pm 1hr 30 mins steady.
Thu (am 30-40 mins steady), pm 40 mins hill circuits – 10 mins warm-up/cool down.
Fri (am 30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady.
Sat am (30-40 mins steady), pm 40 min at projected marathon pace (10 mins warm-up/cool down), or, eg, County Cross-Country.

WEEK TEN
Sun am 2hrs 30 mins steady, pm (30-40 mins easy), or 15 miles steady, rising to fast.
Mon am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady
Tue am (30-40 mins steady), pm 30 mins Tempo run (85% MaxHR – 15 mins warm-up/cool down).
Wed am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr 30 mins steady, or 1 hr steady.
Thu am (30-40 mins steady), Hill session – 10 x 2 mins up moderately steep hill (not too steep as it alters your leg action) with jog back recovery, or 45 mins fartlek.
Fri am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady, or rest.
Sat am (30-40 mins steady), pm < 1 hr steady.

WEEK ELEVEN
Sun am: 2 to 2 .30 steady, pm (30 mins easy)
Mon am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady
Tue am (30-40 mins steady), pm 30 mins Tempo run (85% MaxHR – 15 mins warm up/cool down)
Wed am (30-40 mins steady) pm 1 hr 30 mins steady.
Thu am (30-40 mins steady), pm 12 x 2 mins up moderately steep hill, jog back recovery - long warm up/down.
Fri am (30-40 min steady), pm <1 hr easy.
Sat am (30-40 mins steady), pm < 1 hr steady.

WEEK TWELVE
Sun am: 2 to 2 .30 steady, pm (30 mins easy)
Mon am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady
Tue am (30-40 mins steady), pm 30 mins Tempo run (85% MaxHR – 15 mins warm up/cool down)
Wed am (30-40 mins steady) pm 1 hr 30 mins steady.
Thu am (30-40 mins steady), pm 14 x 2 mins up moderately steep hill, jog back recovery - long warm up/down.
Fri am (30-40 min steady), pm < 1 hr easy.
Sat am (30-40 mins steady), pm < 1 hr steady. (eg Area XC Champs)

WEEK THIRTEEN
Sun am: 2 to 2 .30 steady, pm (30 mins easy)
Mon am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr including 30 mins Tempo Run (Marathon speed).
Tue am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr fartlek – 15 efforts of around 400mts.
Wed am (30-40 mins steady) pm 1 hr 30 mins steady.
Thu am (30-40 mins steady), pm 15 x 2 mins up moderately steep hill, jog back recovery - long warm up/down.
Fri am (30-40 min steady), pm <1 hr easy.
Sat am (30-40 mins steady), pm < 1 hr steady.

WEEK FOURTEEN
Sun am 2 hrs steady.
Mon am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady.
Tue am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady.
Wed am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr seady.
Thu am (30-40 mins), pm 45min<1 hr fartlek – 10-15 efforts between 1 & 2 mins.
Fri am (30-40 mins), pm (30-40 mins steady)
Sat <1hr steady.

WEEK FIFTEEN
Sun am <2hrs 30 mins (if not racing), pm (30-40 min easy)
Mon am (30-40 mins easy), pm <1 hr steady.
Tue am (30-40 mins steady), pm <1hr Tempo run (marathon pace Wed am (30-40 mins steady), pm <1hr 30 mins steady.
Thu am (30-40 mins steady), pm <1hr Fartlek (15 to 20 efforts between 1 min & 2 mins duration).
Fri am (30-40 mins steady), pm 1 hr steady.
Sat am Hill circuits 6 to 8 x 1km, hill length approx 4 mins duration & hold rhythm on the downhill section, pm 45 mins easy.

WEEK SIXTEEN
Sun am 2hrs 30mn<3hrs, pm (30 mins easy).
Mon am (30-40 mins easy), pm <75 mins steady.
Tue am (30-40 mins), pm < Tempo
Wed am (30-40 mins), pm <90 mins steady
Thu am (30-40 mins, pm <75 mins steady.
Fri am (30-40 mins), pm <1 hr steady
Sat am (30-40 mins), pm <1hr steady (Possible half-marathon race )

WEEK SEVENTEEN
Sun am <2 hrs 30 min, pm (30 mins easy)
Mon am (30-40 mins easy), <1 hr Tempo run
Tue am (30-40 Mins steady), pm warm up – 15 to 20 x 400m @ 10km pace, 100m jog recovery.
Wed am (30-40 mins steady), pm <90 mins steady.
Thu am (30-40 mins steady), pm <1 hr steady
Fri am (30-40 mins steady), pm <1 hr steady
Sat am warm up, 6 x 1000m at 10km pace, 2 mins recovery, warm down, pm (30-40 min easy).

WEEK EIGHTEEN
Sun am 2hrs steady, pm rest
Mon am rest (or 30-40 mins easy), pm <1hr tempo.
Tue am rest (or 30-40 mins steady), pm warm up, <20 x 200m at 5km pace, 100m jog rec., long cool down.
Wed am rest (or 30-40 mins steady), pm 90 mins steady.
Thu am rest (or 30-40 mins steady), pm <1 hr steady.
Fri am rest (or 30-40 mins steady), pm <1 hr steady.
Sat am <30 mins, pm 6 x 1km at 10km pace, 2 mins jog recovery.

WEEK NINETEEN
Sun am <2hrs 30 mins, pm (30-40 mins easy)
Mon am (30-40 mins), pm < 1 hr tempo run
Tue am (30-40 mins), pm warm-up, <20 x 400m/100m jog recovery, cool down.
Wed am (30-40 mins), pm < 1 hr steady to fast, but not as much as threshold level.
Thu am (30-40 mins), pm warm-up, 8 x 1000m, 2 mins rec., cool down
Fri am (30-40 mins), pm <1 hr steady
Sat am 8 miles, alternating miles at marathon pace & steady pace – approx. 40-sec differential in pace. (Possible half-marathon race).

WEEK TWENTY
Sun am 30km, first 10km easy, next 10km quicker, last 10km at marathon pace, pm rest.
Mon (am 30 mins steady), pm 1 hr good pace (up to Marathon pace but cooling off for the last 10 mins).
Tue (am 30 mins steady), pm 12 x 400m, 3km pace, 2 mins recovery.
Wed 90 mins steady.
Thu (am 30 mins steady), pm 5 x 1km, 5km pace, 2 mins recovery.
Fri 2 x 45 mins steady.
Sat (am 30 mins steady), pm 8 miles alternating miles at half-marathon and marathon pace.

WEEK TWENTY-ONE
Sun 20 miles pushing last 5 miles at marathon pace. pm rest.
Mon 10 miles steady.
Tue am (30-40 mins easy), pm 12 x 400 at 5km pace, 2 min recovery.
Wed am (30-40 min easy), 15 miles steady.
Thu am (30-40 mins easy), 5 x 1km at 5km pace, 3 mins recovery.
Fri am (30-40 min easy), pm <1 hr steady.
Sat 8 miles alternating miles at marathon pace & half-marathon pace.

WEEK TWENTY-TWO
Sun am 20/22 miles, pm rest
Mon am (30 mins easy), pm 45 mins steady
Tue am (30 mins easy), pm 12 x 400 @ 3km pace, 200 jog rec.
Wed am (30 mins easy), pm 10 miles – picking up pace.
Thu am (30 mins easy), pm 8 x 1km @ 10km pace, 2 mins recovery.
Fri am (30 mins easy), pm 10 miles steady.
Sat am (30 mins easy), pm 10 miles steady.

WEEK TWENTY-THREE
Sun am 20 miles, pm rest (or 10km race)
Mon am (30 mins easy), pm 10 miles steady
Tue am (30 mins easy), pm 10 x 400 @ mile speed, 200 jog rec.
Wed am (30 mins easy), 10 miles steady
Thu am rest, pm Marathon pace fartlek run – hold efforts of up to 5 mins at marathon pace, interspersed with recovery at steady pace (relaxed fartlek style <10 miles)
Fri am rest, pm 45 mins steady
Sat Short race or threshold run <40 mins

WEEK TWENTY-FOUR
Sun <12 miles steady
Mon <10 miles steady
Tue 10 x 200m hard strides in racing flats, 200 jog rec.
Wed <45 mins steady
Thu <45 mins steady – start carbo loading with pm meal.
Fri Rest or 20 mins easy – highest carbo intake on this day, high water intake
Sat 20 mins easy – reduce food intake after 6pm, high water intake

WEEK TWENTY-FIVE
Sun Marathon – the big day.