Monday, December 10, 2012

Renato Canova / Training Update

Occasionally I come across an article that really causes me think hard about how I train.  A brilliant feature appearing August 16 in Running Times is one such example. The article profiles Renato Canova, an Italian running coach who has produced many of the world's finest marathoners and recently landed American superstar Ryan Hall.

Basically, Canova advocates specificity in training. What does that mean? It means you train a lot at your marathon goal pace (MGP). He sees very limited value in, say, doing a long run that's considerably slower than your MGP and, for matter, doing tempo runs of 5 or 6 miles won't adequately prepare you for what you'll face in your goal marathon. In Canova's words, "...if the mileage is too slow, you don't produce anything.... The problem is the tempo at the good speed is too short. So there is no connection with the marathon. And the long [run] for the marathon is too slow."

So what does Canova suggest we do? He says we should "increase the volume and the duration and the single length of every type of interval at this type of speed [marathon goal pace]. We need to extend the ability to run at the speed you want and you can produce." In other words, pace is more important than distance.

Canova's system basically involves two stages. Stage one involves short speed and strength building, and stage two brings increased distance and more goal-pace running. Unlike many marathon training programs, Canova doesn't advocate a base-building stage with lots of slow miles. Eventually, you work up to killer sessions like a long run of 17-24 miles at about 95 percent of your marathon pace. For me, since 6:40 is my MGP for Phoenix, that would break down to a per-mile pace of 7:00 minutes.

If you're a runner who is always looking for better ways to train, I highly encourage you to read that article and consider Canova's approach in your next build-up. I've tried to incorporate some of his principles into my Phoenix training, but for my next cycle I'll be looking to go even further.

By the way, I think Canova's practices could potentially apply to even ultrarunning.


Speaking of great coaches, Jack Daniels has come out with a new running calculator (please note that the calculator works best with Firefox). According to the calculator, a 3:05 marathon (7:04 pace) at Denver's 5,280 feet comes out to a 2:59 at Phoenix's 1,100 feet. I feel fairly confident I could run a 3:05 marathon in Denver. To run a 2:55 in Phoenix, I would need to run a 3:01 here in Denver.


My Phoenix Marathon training is pretty much where I want it to be. I had planned a 20-miler on Sunday but extremely cold weather, combined with widespread snow and ice that created dicey footing, made that pretty difficult. So I ran a slow 17-miler and then put in a few more fast miles later in the day for good measure. On the week that just ended, I ran just shy of 71 miles with really good quality on Tuesday (intervals) and Thursday (tempo).

My taper starts in just four weeks and, between now and then, I want to work in more marathon goal pace running (a la Canova). That means intervals that are at slightly faster than goal pace...and more of them. It means long runs with many miles near marathon goal pace. It means hard work. I hope the weather cooperates.

I'm happy to report that my foot is improving. I never got the problem diagnosed, but I still think it's a case of metatarsalgia. My foot has responded to icing and immobilization during sleep. It's great to finally have some good response to therapy while still training. I haven't had such luck in a few years, as the injuries I've experienced of late have required shutdowns. I'm still not free of discomfort in my foot, but the problem is 50 times better than it was a few weeks ago. I'm hoping it'll clear up during my taper.

At any rate, I think all of this marathon training is going to establish a great foundation for the 2013 trail racing season!


I'm still thinking a lot about my 2013 schedule. It's kind of sad that we're now at the place where we have to register for races months in advance. When I first got into this sport, you could still register for many races on the day of the event. At this point, beyond the givens (Phoenix Marathon in January and Leadville 100 in August), I'm considering the Salida trail marathon in March and a 50-mile mountain race in May. I'm also intrigued by the UROC 100K, which will be held in Vail five weeks after Leadville. At this point, I'm leaning toward not running the Leadville Trail Marathon, as that very weekend I'm planning to train on the course. As crazy as it may sound, I'm also super dedicated to breaking 25 minutes on the Incline in 2013.


Speaking of races you can't get into, in looking over the Western States 100 lottery results, a few names stand out:
  • Karl Meltzer: A lot of folks think of Karl as just a mountain guy. Karl is certainly a mountain specialist, but he's also a fast dude and an unflappable competitor. Anyone who follows Karl's blog knows that he views Western States as a fast race, so you can bet he'll be ready to run like a deer. Because he's so strong on the ups AND downs, I like Karl for top-5 and am pumped that, after all these years of domination, he's finally gotten into States.
  • Brandon Stepanowich: Brandon finished top-10 at Leadville and is a young runner with tons of potential. He has the intangibles and is a complete badass. Top 10 at States.
  • Bruce Fordyce: Now for a history lesson. Bruce is an old guy, but he holds one of the stoutest records in the history of this sport. In 1984, he ran a world record 4:50:21 for 50 miles at the London to Brighton race. That record still stands. Maybe only Max King could come close.
Now for a name not on the list: Anton Krupicka. Assuming he qualifies at the Bandera 100K, he wants in and he's healthy, Anton may have a shot at finally winning Western States.


  1. Lots of good stuff packed into one post! That article on Canova is interesting. I think that the difficulty in following his methods is that they are pretty advanced and probably not appropriate for 95% of runners. I would think you'd have to have several years (3-4 at least) of training at a high level with lots of miles in order to handle that kind of training.

    Another thing that catches my attention is altitude math. In my experience, predicting how much it will help when you drop is difficult to do. I think it was Daniels that pointed out that must train your body to run at race pace (at least a portion of the time) regardless of altitude. I think the argument is that your raw power and stride need to be trained even if the lower altitude feels aerobically easier. When I ran the Vegas RnR marathon, I don't think I saw a tangible benefit, definitely not one that approached 5 mins. The good news is that you seem to be training for 2:55 at 6300 feet, so any benefit you get should just be an added bonus for you!

  2. I agree that the benefit of altitude is often lost if those paces are not trained at ... in other words if you are going to run 6:50 miles in your Canova runs to prep for the 2:55, then you are not going to get that to be at 6:40 at sea level.

  3. I rarely run under ten minutes per mile in Colorado Springs, but just last year threw down 2:53 at sea level. And probably would have ran 2:57ish at NYC. GZ has no clue what he's talking about (as usual). I also don't think I really train at altitude, since I've lived here for so long my body is used to it by now.

  4. You need to consider Brownie's stops at various pubs.

  5. AJ & GZ: I agree that you need to train at your MGP even if you're at altitude and the race is at sea level. That said, my experience has been that intense altitude training requires more recovery, which means that intensity at elevation needs to be accompanied by real rest. Runners at sea level need recovery, for sure, but not like altitude runners. I guess what I'm saying is that a 17-24 mile MGP run at altitude is going to be much more strenuous for the altitude runner than for the sea level runner.

    Brownie, you've made an interesting point that could bolster the pro-long slow distance argument. However, I can't help but wonder what your time might have been had you done lots of fast miles in your training.....