The Basics Of Smart Marathon Training

The Bigger Picture

We love to run. As a coach, I used to get frustrated when my athletes would resist doing things that I knew would make them better runners, like strength training, core training, and cross-training. But then I had a stunningly simple epiphany: The reason for this resistance was that they just loved running. They didn’t get into running so that they could do these other things, so the more time they had to spend doing non-running stuff, they believed, the less time they would have to run.

That makes sense, but the bigger picture is that for many runners, a failure to do all the necessary non-running activities will lead to an end to running as well. We think that the rules don’t apply to us. When you become a marathoner, you instantly become part of a very select group. Even if you earned your medal in a race with 20,000 to 30,000 other people, you still belong to a group comprising less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. You are probably an oddity to your friends and family, and you take pride in that. You begin to believe that you’re special. And you are. But you can get hurt like anyone else.

I’m guilty of this myself. I would hear about people who had the full menu of classic injuries, from plantar fasciitis to patella tendinitis to sore backs and strained hamstrings, and I would think, “That’s sad, but that’s not something that could ever happen to me.”

My running friends apparently think the same way as I do. Many of them seem unable to make the connection between their training routine and the injuries they develop. They seem to think of their injuries not as a direct result of something they did—or failed to do—but as freak accidents, like slipping on a banana peel. I guess that would be called denial.

To progress as a runner and to reduce the risk of injury, you need to get over these roadblocks. You need to become smarter than you are brave, more reasonable than you are stubborn. You need to recognize that, although you love to run, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. In economics this is called the Law of Diminishing Returns, according to which desirable things usually lose their value in direct proportion to their increased availability. As my college economics professor liked to put it, his first burger was delicious, the third one not so much, and the fifth one was pretty terrible. This is true in running as much as in the marketplace.

You also have to recognize that in order to keep running, you have to do all the necessary non-running training that will make that possible. Although I hope that all runners will come to find this training program as enjoyable as I have, you must recognize that, like it or not, these are just activities that you have to do if you want to run to your potential.

No amount of wishful thinking will inoculate you against reality. The body is capable of wondrous things, but when we act like we have no limits, we act foolishly and dangerously. This book is an effort to restore reasonableness to your running program when you are faced with the limits of your body.

This article was adapted from the book Smart Marathon Training with the permission of VeloPress. Old-school marathon training plans ask runners to crank out 70 to 100 miles a week. It’s no wonder those who make it to the start line are running ragged. Smart Marathon Training maps out a healthier, more economical approach to training that emphasizes quality over quantity. This innovative program eliminates junk miles, paring down training to three essential runs per week and adding a dynamic strength and cross-training program to build overall fitness. Runners will train for their best performance in less time and avoid the injuries, overtraining, and burnout that come from running too much. Download a free sample and preview the book at


About The Author:

Jeff Horowitz is a certified running and triathlon coach and a personal trainer who has run more than 150 marathons across six continents. Formerly an attorney, he quit law to pursue his passion for endurance sport and now works with DC Tri; The Nations Triathlon; the nonprofit summer camp ACHIEVE Kids Triathlon; and Team Hope, a charity fund-raising training group that benefits the Hope Connections Center, a cancer-patients service organization. Learn more about Jeff at

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