[Article by Tait Hearps of Sweat Elite]
So, you just watched Eliud Kipchoge execute another brilliant race. Flying home to drop his opponents in the final few kilometres and run past Buckingham Palace in a league of his own. 2:02:37. The second fastest marathon ever run (excluding his heroics in Monza, that’s another story), only beaten by his World Record 2:01:39 set in Berlin last September. Wondering how on earth he does it? We were asking ourselves this exact same question (after the Breaking2 Project in 2017) too, so in the lead up to Berlin 2017 we went to Kenya to spend a month with the Kipchoge and his team.
In this article we will focus on Kipchoge’s 3 key weekly training sessions. We published a book about the entire experience of training alongside the group in Kenya and you can find the link to the book on Amazon here.
Eliud lives most of the year in a training camp in the village of Kaptagat, Kenya. He is the most senior member of the group, and one could be forgiven for viewing the other athletes as his disciples given the reverence they have for him. However, despite being called “The Boss”, Eliud likes to keep things very simple and in no way acts to be superior to junior members of the group. During our month in Kaptagat we learned a lot from the group, and many aspects of their life surprised us. But having spent the time there it’s clear that a big part of what makes Eliud (and every single one of the elite runners he trains with) so good, is the workouts that they do.
The majority of the running that Kipchoge does is easy. Runs where he’s barely puffing and cruising along with a low heart rate in an aerobic state. This doesn’t mean that it’s ‘slow’ however, with a lot of these aerobic runs having sections run at around 3:45min/km… factor in the hills, dirt roads and 2400m altitude and that is exceptional. However, when compared to the three workouts that take place each week, it’s clear that he’s still cruising even in these runs which can go up to a half-marathon in distance.
So, what are the three workouts he does each week? They vary a bit, but they follow a very similar pattern.
Tuesday – Track
Kaptagat is a tiny village located 30mins drive from Eldoret. There is no track in Kaptagat; the closest track is at Eldoret and this is where Tuesday morning workouts take place. Sometimes they start at 6:10am, sometimes as late as 11:00am.
The workout is completed on a dirt track. The surface of the track is basically like a standard trail in the forest; uneven and soft. I can assure you that if you saw the track they use on Tuesdays and you’re from any western country, you’d immediately appreciate your own track more.
The workout starts with a 10-15min jog warm up, no more. A few quick stretches and straight into it.
They basically do two kinds of workouts on Tuesdays and cycle them in two-week blocks:
1. 15km of intervals at marathon goal pace.
15km worth of intervals at right around their goal marathon pace (so 2:50-2:55min/km for Eliud). This is actually a bit harder to do on dirt and altitude than on road at sea level, but of course that is part of the training.
– 15x1km (90sec rest) in average of 2:50-2:55. They might start closer to 3min and end closer to 2:50, but the average is normally between 2:50 and 2:55.
– 12x1200m (90sec rest) in average of 3:24-3:30.
– 5 sets of (2km, 1km) in 5:40-5:50 and 2:50-2:55.
2. 10-15km of interval work faster than goal marathon pace.
These are completed at speeds faster than marathon pace. Sometimes at more like 800m pace!
– 12x800m in 2:10s (90sec rest), 10x400m in 62s (90sec rest).
– 1200m in 3:25, jog lap, 5x1km in 2:55 (1.30 rec), jog lap, 3x300m in 42-40 (1:00 rec), jog lap, 2x200m in 27s (1:00 rec)
– 20x400m in 64-65sec (50sec rest)
What was interesting to us about these workouts, is that Eliud certainly wasn’t ever maximally exerted. He was pushing himself, but there was no hands-on-knees, and no visible struggling in the final rep. It always appeared that he could comfortably do a few more reps if required.
Thursday – Long Run
A Thursday for Eliud involves a long steady tempo run, cycling between 30km (18.6mi) and 40km (24.8 mi) and sometimes a second run, depending on how he feels / if a major race is approaching.
6.10 AM: 30km or 40km tempo run
It’s a 6:10am start for the group, from out the front of the camp in Kaptagat. The first 1-2km are, as usual, a build into the run. They’ll clock the first kilometer at around 5:00 minutes (often slower) to get warmed up, by the 3rd kilometer, the pace is on.
From there on, it’s 3:00-3:25min/km pace (4:50-5:20min/mi) depending on where they are. The route they take normally involves 90% hilly trails and around 10% road (mostly flat, sometimes small hills). On the flat road sections, the faster sections, the pace is right around 3:00min/km (4:50min/mi). When they hit the hills in the forest, the average pace is hovers between 3:15-3:25min/km (5:10-5:25min/mi) depending on how hilly it is.
Although this sounds very fast, many may be thinking “3:20min/km isn’t his tempo pace (threshold)”. However, the terrain they train on sits at 2400-2500m altitude (7800ft) and is very harsh. We estimate that you would expect to be running at 20-25sec/km slower at Kaptagat in the forest, than you would expect to run at sea level on a flat course. On the flat road sections up in Kaptagat, expect to run 10-15sec/km slower.
Here are the times of the tempo runs leading into the Berlin Marathon 2017:
Thur August 10 – 30.8km in 1:42 (3:20min/km average)
On this run, one section of the run was so wet, they needed to change course and they ended up just running back to the starting point, which ended up being an extra 800m.
Thur August 17 – 40km in 2:14 (3:20min/km average)
Thur August 24 – 30km in 1:38 (3:16min/km average)
Thur August 31 – 40km in 2:13 (3:19min/km average)
Saturday – Fartlek
A Saturday for Eliud Kipchoge involves a fartlek (or to them “speed”) workout in the morning, and either the afternoon off, or a second easy run of 10-12km if they feel up for it.
6.10 AM: Fartlek (on trails/road)
There are 7 different fartlek workouts Eliud Kipchoge uses in his training.
1. 10min reps with 2min rest. 4 x 10min is most common, sometimes they do 5.
2. 8mins reps with 2min rest. 6 x 8min is most common.
3. 6min reps with 2min rest. 8 x 6min is most common.
4. 4min reps with 2min rest. 10 x 4min is most common.
5. 3min reps with 1min rest. 13 x 3min is most common, sometimes they do 14-15.
6. 2min reps with 1min rest. 17 x 2min is most common, sometimes they do up to 20.
7. 1min reps with 1min rest. 25 x 1min is most common, sometimes they do up to 30.
The most common sessions used are:
• 4x10min reps (2min rest)
• 13x3min reps (1min rest)
• 25x1min reps (1min rest)
These seem to be used around twice as frequently as the others.
Paces in these workouts (during intervals) are difficult to report, as the routes they use are hilly, so reps of course vary a lot in speed. but on the flat surfaces, it’s normally around 2:55min/km pace for the 10min reps, down to 2:45min/km for the 1min reps.
Warm up and cool downs for this workout aren’t very long at all – normally just 10mins, sometimes up to 15mins. This surprised us. It’s common in the western world to add on plenty of mileage in your warm ups and cool downs (some do up to 30mins of running) but for Kipchoge, this was short and sharp.
On one particular workout that we joined them (August 12th 2017 – 4x10min with 2min rest) the entire workout, start of warm up to end of cool down took under 1hr20mins. They jogged 2km in just under 10min, stretched for 2mins and got straight into it. At the end of the last rep, they walked for less than 2min before commencing the cool down.
These three workouts featured in the book Eliud Kipchoge – History’s Fastest Marathoner are the staple diet of Kipchoge and his group. The key here is the consistency. The workouts are done by the athletes all year, at altitude, with very little variation. Although we didn’t spend time with Eliud in the lead-up to London, there’s no doubt that many of the workouts listed above featured prominently.
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We recently published a new article about 5 Marathon Specific training sessions used by elite runners that over 20,000 people have enjoyed reading this week. Below is one of the workouts as an excerpt.
Workout: 6km, 5km, 4km, 3km, 2km, 1km at Marathon Pace.
Recovery: 1km @ 15% slower than goal Marathon pace.
At minimum you should be aiming to complete all repetitions at your goal Marathon pace, but ideally you should try to increase the pace in the final 3km, 2km and 1km reps to being slightly faster than goal Marathon pace, towards your Half Marathon pace.
Between each interval, the recovery is 1km at 15% slower than your Marathon Pace (approx 30-45 seconds). The continuous run totals 26km and 21km of it at your goal Marathon Pace or faster.
This training session is used by Renato Canova with most of his Marathoners in the build up to a key race.