Adaptive Marathon Training: San Francisco Hills (pt 1)

One of the first books I got when I started delving into training philosophy behind running, specifically the marathon, was “Run Faster, From the 5K to the Marathon: How to Be Your Own Best Coach,” by Brad Hudson with Matt Fitzgerald.  My friend Megan recommended it, since she had used it as an aid in crafting her own plans.  I love this book because it echoes a philosophy of training that Megan has pursued for some time now and that I have strived for and finally attained.  Let me explain before I get to San Francisco hill training in the next post.

A year ago as I took stock of my running, I realized I wanted to attain a level of running fitness where I could run any marathon  in the space of 2 weeks and race after only 5 or 6 weeks of prep.  It took about a year to get me to a base so that I could do just that.  So here I am, with a running base of about 50 miles a week, with 2-3 bike sessions and 3-4 swims per week.  In fact, between November 13 and February 18, I ran three marathons, including Disney’s “Goofy Challenge” where you run a half on Saturday and a full on Sunday.  I PRd in each race, taking my best time from 3:48 in November to 3:28 in February.

When I got the Hudson book, I was pleased to see him stressing that runners should strive to maintain  consistent high level of well-rounded fitness.  For me gone were the days of running a marathon and taking weeks off to recover, only to start from square one when the next training cycle kicked off.  Combined with my new Vegan lifestyle, I found it easier to recover from long and/or intense training runs, which allowed for more intense training and a slow build of base mileage per week.

Ok. So back to hills and the SF Marathon!  One thing Hudson wrote about and Megan and I have done in our training over time, is follow 5 training principles:

1)Customization. Training plans should reflect the experience and skill level of the runner

2)Core. Core. Core. Do not neglect the core, it supports so much of our running.

3)Do not neglect the recovery (“zone 2”) run. This is a low HR run where the body builds running endurance, while also recovering from more intense efforts.  A huge mistake many young runners make is thinking that they should go out on every run and “kill it” because they felt good that day. Discipline and self-control are vital here!

4)Cross-training. Not only builds endurance, it also develops muscles used in support of our running. Swimming, cycling, walking, elliptical, all play an important role in a runner’s overall fitness.

5) Train to the race. For a successful marathon and to meet our goals we MUST train to the race. Got a hilly marathon course? Better run some hills, LOTS of hills.  One cannot expect to maintain an overall goal pace if she hasn’t spent a great deal of time training for the peculiarities of the race course.  This is vital to success.  This involves more than one hill session a week of a half-dozen hill repeats. It requires folding hill training into tempo runs, long runs, etc.  The body has to be able to achieve a level of what Hudson calls “specific endurance,” the ability to resist fatigue at goal race pace.  If we don’t spend time on the hills practicing race pace, or at least building a level of hill fitness that allows us to recover from a climb quickly and return to goal marathon pace (GMP), then how are we to attain our goals in the race?

This constitutes the essence of what Hudson calls “Adaptive Running:” customization, responsiveness, evolution. Training plans are made to be changed and modified.  They must evolve to meet the growth of the runner.  They must be changed as runners grow faster than expected, or suffer setbacks or injuries. And training never stops. Runners have recovery periods and reduced intensity weeks, but to maintain a level of overall running fitness, one without months of down time, we must follow these principles and look at marathon training as a linear process and not cyclical.  Ongoing and not with start and hard stops.


NEXT POST: Training for “specific endurance” (hills!) for the SF Marathon.


  1. Do you mind sharing your core routine? I’m just getting back to training after a very activity limited pregnancy and my core strength (and abs!) have seen better days.

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