5 Steps for Top Marathon Training Execution

Picking the Proper Course

Yes, your goal marathon is hilly. You feel the need to test your body against the elements. You want to know what it's like to hit the wall so you'll be ready for the big dance. But trying to combine all of these elements into your training cycle -- with no taper or rest -- will often prove too much. Many a veteran marathoner has had a fantastic long run in training, only to under-perform on race day. Here's how you can make sure you don't fall victim to the same situation.

Step One: Pick a simple, flat course for your race simulation.

The goals here, remember, are pacing and planning. To score an A+, you'll need to be able to dial in your exact goal race splits to see how your body adapts over time. Adding hills and descents only means additional difficulty in maintaining paces and in determining your actual ability to pace well. If you can handle it mentally, a two or three loop route is best to compare your pacing for early and late miles. This type of course can be used for frequent pit stops as well.

Step Two: Do the race simulation in as close to race conditions as possible.

This means tempurature/humidity first, time of day second. You'll want to know exactly how your body will respond to the demands of the day, and what to wear. Not always possible, for sure, but if you can delay your long run to the early afternoon to get hotter temps, do it. If you are running Disney, for example, and start time is 6 a.m. then you had better be ready to get up early, eat in a hotel room and get warmed up to be your best.

Step Three: Create a race plan.

Whether you are using the Marathon Nation protocol or rolling your own, the race simulation is built around your actual paces. Write out your plan and review it several times...really put some thought into it so when you go out for your run, you are more completing a mental checklist than making it up as you go along. Many a potential race day mistake are addressed in the planning phase.

Step Four: Execute the Race Simulation

Time to put all this prep into action. Guaranteed something will go wrong -- but it's supposed to. Make notes and do the best you can with what you've got!

Step Five: Review your Execution

Once the dust has settled and you have recovered properly, it's time to bust out the stopwatch and review your pacing and mental notes. Typically the night of that same day is the best time to sit down and do the review. Aside from listing out your actual splits next to your planned splits, take care to note:

  • when it became difficult to hold your splits;
  • when/if you became hungry;
  • when/if you became thirsty;
  • when you lost mental focus / clarity on what you were doing;
  • what, if anything, led to a second wind; and
  • what part of your body hurts/needs extra attention.


Knowing that you should do a race simulation run is a far cry from doing the right one. Things will go wrong; they are supposed to. But don't make your training any harder than it needs to be by adding in more work in all the wrong places. Nail your race execution once in your training, and it will stick with you for a lifetime. Good luck!

Patrick McCrann is a two-time Boston Marathon qualifier with a 2:59 finish and 14 Ironman triathlons on his athletic resume. Hundreds of runners have had success as part of Marathon Nation, an online community of runners built upon Patrick's training and racing methodology. For more information and to create a free two-week trial, visit www.marathonnation.us .  If you just want the workouts and have an iPhone, check out our latest app: www.runroulette.com.


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