Train like Kipchoge
Ever Wonder How Eliud Kipchoge Trains? Here's How He Does It!
In 2022 a running research group from Norway published a review that blended the latest running research and training logs provided by 59 Olympic and world-class runners and 16 coaches. Most importantly this paper used Eliud Kipchoge, the world's most celebrated marathon runner, as a specific case study of how applying the science leads to results.
Haugen et al.'s review comes away with a few note-worthy points from the training habits of elite runners.
- Elite runners run 11-14 sessions per week, covering as much as 160-220 km for marathoners.
- Over 80% of their total running distance is performed at low intensity (zone 1). Weekly long runs are just a bit slower than marathon pace. Mid to high intensity training (zone 3-5) such as intervals, and hill repeats represent no more than 20% of their training. This 80-20% mix is called polarized training.
- There is no consensus on how to monitor and measure intensity. While physiological measures such as heart rate, lactate, running pace, or perceived exertion are used, no single measure works due to a variety of factors. These factors include day to day changes, tissue adaptations that influence subsequent workouts, and interactions between intensity and duration/distance of running.
- Altitude training and tapering are done very close to competition.
In Kipchoge's case, he accumulates a weekly total of 200-220 km:
- 82-84% at a light intensity;
- 9-10% at a moderate intensity; and
- 7-8% at a high intensity.
Why low intensity and high volume?
Haugen et al. seem to think that in order to perform at an elite level, one’s aerobic capacity needs to be very high to account for the battle in the last few kilometers but also for optimizing one’s running economy.
Here’s an analogy: VO2 max is the size of your engine, and running economy is how much gas you’re using at a given speed. Thus, it is important to have a big engine to win a race, but also to spend as little gas as possible at faster speed. This will allow you to push a tad faster, while using the same amount of gas as your competitors.
Simply put, running high volumes at slower speed makes your body more efficient during running, even at high speed. And it also helps you to be well-rested for your less frequent high-intensity workouts, which help you make your engine bigger and more powerful.
What about injuries?
It is also interesting to compare these training plans to the literature on running injuries. The 2016 NLstarttoRun study, conducted by Dutch researchers, followed the training habits of 1,696 novice runners and looked at its relationship with injuries. They found a somewhat linear relationship between intensity and injury stating that a lower intensity for over 60 minutes had the lowest risk of injury, and higher intensity workouts in the preceding week carrying higher risk.
Moreover, sudden changes in running volume and pace (specifically ~10%) also do not appear to be related with increased risk of injury. At least not when taken into isolation, and not without considering other factors related to recovery, sleep, nutrition, etc.
None of these studies solely looked at world-class runners whose physiology is very different than novice or recreational runners. So based on these studies, more research still needs to be done to determine the relationship between training variables and injury, especially in regards to intensity.
As you can see, a professional runner’s training schedule is quite demanding, and discipline is of utmost importance. Winning marathons is not as simple as applying a recipe – and the most important ingredient is very unlikely to be the carbon plated shoes worn by the best.
Fredette A, Roy JS, Perreault K, Dupuis F, Napier C, Esculier JF. The Association Between Running Injuries and Training Parameters: A Systematic Review. J Athl Train. 2022 Jul 1;57(7):650-671.
Haugen T, Sandbakk Ø, Seiler S, Tønnessen E. The Training Characteristics of World-Class Distance Runners: An Integration of Scientific Literature and Results-Proven Practice. Sports Med Open. 2022 Apr 1;8(1):46.
Kluitenberg B, van der Worp H, Huisstede BM, Hartgens F, Diercks R, Verhagen E, van Middelkoop M. The NLstart2run study: Training-related factors associated with running-related injuries in novice runners. J Sci Med Sport. 2016 Aug;19(8):642-6.