Preparing for championship races with Renato Canova: training for the 1500, 5k, and 10k

Renato Canova is an Italian coach of considerable fame.  He worked with the Italian national team during the '90s and helped propel them to success on the world stage, and more recently, he has worked with elite Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. 

His training has propelled his athletes to become some of the most successful in the world, and athletes under Canova's guidance have won multiple medals at many international track and road running championships.  Most recently, his athletes won four medals at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, which concluded a few weeks ago. 

Unlike many other coaches, Renato Canova's faith in his training methods is so strong that he willingly shares the training of his elite athletes with the general public.  The main avenue through which he does so is the infamous message boards.

Typically, he will post a month or two's worth of training for one athlete, for example in this thread on the training of Moses Mosop before the Boston Marathon, where Mosop finished second (and ran the second-fastest marathon of all time).  But after the 2011 World Championships, Renato Canova posted the schedules for the last month of training for all four of his track runners (as well as Abel Kirui, the marathoner who won the World Championship marathon). 

In the following post, we'll examine and discuss the training in the last month or so of Canova's track athletes.  We'll take a look at Abel Kirui's marathon training at a future date. 

Training schedules for Renato Canova's athletes

The training schedules that follow were prepared by Renato Canova for Sylvia Kibet, Silas Kiplagat, Imane Merga, and Thomas Longosiwa, who all competed at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. 

Sylvia Kibet is a Kenyan with a 14:31 5k PR; she won a silver medal in the 5000m at the world championships. 

Silas Kiplagat of Kenya is one of the top 1500m runners in the world, with a PR of 3:29.  He won a silver medal as well. 

Imane Merga is an Ethiopian with a 5k PR of 12:53 and a 10k PR of 26:48.  He competed in both events at Daegu, winning a bronze medal in the 10k and finishing 3rd in the 5k, though he was later disqualified for stepping on the infield. 

Finally, Thomas Longosiwa is a Kenyan 5k runner with a PR of 12:51.  In the 5000m final in Daegu, he was running comfortably in the lead pack with less than two laps to go, but was tripped by another runner and fell. 

He got up, worked his way back into the pack, but finished 7th (and was later moved up to 6th when Imane Merga was disqualified).  Despite his fall, he finished less than four seconds behind the winner, and many believe he would have contended for a medal had he not fallen.

Renato Canova's training philosophy

I have written about Renato Canova's training philosophy in the past.  You can read my article, Something New in Training, which details the basic principles of his training program for a primer. Theory is very nice, but it is good to see what the training schedules actually look like in real life. 

Further, when presented with the training schedule for only one athlete, it's hard to tell the reason for a particular workout.  The schedule might be adapted to the preferences or situation of the athlete in question.  But when you can examine schedules for multiple athletes all preparing for the same or similar events at the same competition, you really have the power to connect theory with practice.

A note on Renato Canova's math

Renato Canova computes many of the paces he prescribes based on percentages of an athlete's personal record.  It's important to discuss how this is calculated, because it is not straightforward. 

For example, if we say "run at 90% of 5:00 mile pace," many people would divide 5:00 by 0.90 and get 5:33.3 minutes per mile.  Renato, however, does his math differently.  To him, deviations from PR pace are measured quite literally in per cent—parts of one hundredth of the original pace.  So, when Renato says "90% of 5:00 pace," he means "10% slower than 5:00 pace."  To compute this, you do the following:

5:00/100*10 + 5:00 = 5:30 pace

Below, I've posted both the original schedules and the schedules with the paces translated into relative percents of the athlete's personal record.  In doing so, I have used Renato Canova's method for calculating percents.  Keep this in mind if you want to do some math of your own.  Here are two simple formulas that will aid you:

To calculate the resultant pace N by going P percent of race race (RP)

N = RP*(2-P/100)

As you can verify yourself, this formula works equally well if P is greater or less than 100 percent.  For 110% of 5-minute mile pace, N = 5*(2-110/100) = 4.5 minutes per mile, or 4:30 mile pace.  For 90% of 5k pace, N = 5*(2-90/100) = 5.5 minutes per mile or 5:30 mile pace. 

To calculate what percentage P (faster or slower) than race pace (RP) some new pace N is, use this formula:

P = 100*(2-N/RP)

Some of you math wizards out there can probably show there's an easier and simpler way to do this, but math was never my best subject, but this is the simplest form I've found.  I use these formulas because I know they are correct, i.e. my own calculations correspond to Renato Canova's calculations.

Training schedules for Renato Canova's track athletes before the World Championships

I have transcribed the daily workouts of all four athletes onto a one-page calendar for August 2011.  I have one version with the original prescribed paces, and another with these paces expressed as percents of the athlete's PR, which will be useful if you want adopt or replicate any of the workouts.

Original training schedules for August 2011

Training schedules with paces as relative percents of 1500/5k/10k PR (11"x17" version—recommended)

Training schedules with paces as relative percents of 1500/5k/10k PR (8.5"x11" version—if you want to print them out but do not have access to a 11"x17" printer)

Renato's "Sample Schedule" for a hypothetical elite 10k runner

In the Google Docs viewer, click File>Download Original to access the original pdfs.  The Google viewer is somewhat sloppy, so I recommend viewing/printing them from your pdf viewer directly.

You can view the original thread on here:

Glossary of terms
You'll need to know these three terms to understand all of the workouts:

Regeneration—A term Renato Canova uses to indicate a very easy pace.  The purpose of a regeneration run is not to build fitness, rather, it is to flush out the legs and recover before the next workout, so the speed is of little or no importance.  Somtimes denoted reg. or regen. in the schedules.

Fartlek—Swedish for "speed play." A low-key workout that involves surging and recovering during a run.  Usually the efforts prescribed for the surges are general terms like "fast" or "moderate" instead of specific paces.

Diagonals—A low-key workout popularized by Kenyans.  It involves running the diagonal between corners on a soccer field quickly, and jogging along the goal line to the other corner.  This is repeated either for a number of diagonals or for a specified length of time.

A refresher on Renato Canova's training principles

There are a few things you need to keep in mind when viewing these schedules. 

First, these are some of the best athletes in the world.  Even when translated into relative paces, they will be able to handle higher workout volumes than most runners.  So whereas a 16km (10mi) run at 88% of 5k pace might be right for Imane Merga, a less-experienced runner might consider shortening the distance covered. 

Furthermore, if you haven't read my article on Canova's training principles, you need to know that a major tenet of his philosophy is extension of specific training speeds.  It's quite likely that Merga started out doing  perhaps 10 or 12 km at 88% of 5k pace during the summer and extended it to 16km or more in the months prior.  You ought to do the same.   In the sample schedule, Canova recommends an elite 10k runner work towards being able to run 85% of his 10k PR for up to thirty kilometers.  Imane Merga is an experienced athlete, so it's likely that he has gone much further than 16km at 3:00/km in training.

Second, you shouldn't read too far into any one workout, distance, or time.  I noted at least two typos in Renato's original posts (one which reported that Sylvia Kibet's workout was 8 kilometers in 39:20, which hardly seems becoming of a 14:30 5k runner).  I've noted these on the schedules, but as you know, it's very easy for one slip of the finger to cause major confusion.  9, after all, is just above 6 on the number pad, and 6km at 75% of 1500m pace is very different than 9km at the same pace.

In addition to Canova's typos, I'm sure I've made a few mistakes myself.  I've done my best to check over the schedules, but nobody's perfect.  So don't make too much out of one day, distance, or number! The issue of altitude might initially seem like a problem, as the Kenyans and Ethiopians live and train at 6000 feet or more above sea level. 

But keep in mind that they were born and raised there, so they can run much closer to their sea-level best at altitude.  Silas Kilagat, for example, ran a 3:31 1500m at altitude to win the Kenyan Championships in July.  So for a sea level resident training at sea level, there shouldn't be too much of an adjustment compared to an altitude resident training at altitude.

Third, don't sweat the details. Canova is often exasperated when LetsRun posters barrages him with questions about very minor details of little real importance—what pace exactly constitutes "moderate," whether his athletes walk during their recovery, what type of exercises his runners do before workouts, etc.  All while failing to grasp the underlying principles! While I might nit-pick about seemingly minor details here, I'm trying to divine the logic behind the workouts—to connect theory and practice.

Finally, take my interpretations with a grain of salt.  The schedules above are faithful reproductions of Canova's posts, but my interpretation below is only my own

I don't claim to speak for Canova or anyone else.  Realize that any sort of scholarly examination of a topic necessarily involves putting it into perspective.

Observations and analysis of Renato Canova's track training schedules

Disregarding specific workouts for a moment, what are the components that make up Canova's schedules in the last month of training? A quick glance at the schedules reveals the main points: Frequent doubles, moderate distances and efforts on non-workout days, and fairly spaced-out hard days.  Clearly, while consistency in training is important (hence frequent doubles), Canova considers workout quality the most important aspect of this phase of training.

Even a cursory examination of the schedules shows some obvious differences between Canova's training and a "traditional" schedule for a Western athlete.  What's a traditional schedule look like? Usually they are based on 7 or 14-day "cycles," where the same workouts or types of workouts recur frequently (and on the same day of the week).  Virtually every college or high school runner has had a two-week block that looks something like this:

M— 4-8 miles hard ("tempo run")
T — easy run  
W — long repeats (1mi, for example) at race pace with long recovery
T  — easy run
F  — hill workout or easy run
S — long run
S — easy run
M — long repeats with short recovery (threshold-type workout)
T — easy run
W — short repeats with short recovery (ex 10x400m)
T — easy run
F — easy run/pre-meet
S — race
S — long run  

And usually, this pattern repeats itself 5-6 times over the duration of a season.  While predictable, it is also seen as tried-and-true.

Canova's program is anything but predictable.  In the one-month block we see here, no athlete ever does the same workout twice.  The workouts are constantly evolving, so even though a type of workout might occur twice (cut-down repeats, for example), the next session is longer, faster, or more varied than the previous.  It's unfortunate we don't have several months' worth of training; if we did, we could see exactly how these workouts evolve over time.

These schedules also reveal that Canova's athletes are much more conscious about recovering from their workouts.  In this final month before the World Championships, none of the athletes ever run longer than 70 minutes in a single run (barring one or two workouts, which may take longer including warm-up and cool-down). 

While a 60min easy run in the morning and another in the afternoon might not seem like a "recovery" day, keep in mind that these are elite athletes—if Imane Merga was doing 30 km at 4:50 mile pace earlier in the summer, an hour's worth of running at an easy pace isn't going to significantly tax his body. 

More importantly though, Canova's athletes never take less than two days of easy to moderate running between workouts (the one occasion on which some of them do is the day before they leave for Daegu, so they were presumably unable to take the customary two days between). 

The reason Canova opposes "symmetric" training schedules with the same workouts on the same days is that it forces athletes to curtail their workout intensity or their recovery between workouts.

So, on the "classic" college schedule I outlined above, you could NEVER do a workout that required more than one day's time to recover, because if you did, you'd never have a chance to recover from it!

In fact, after the "special block" during the middle of the month, which involves two challenging workouts in the same day, Canova's athletes took two very easy days prior and took four days of easy to moderate running to recover afterward before their next track session. 

If you've read Something New in Training, you know that Renato Canova is a big believer in modulation: varying the intensity of workouts to challenge the body with different stimuli.  Accordingly, as athletes become stronger, they need higher-intensity workouts, but this must be paired with greater recovery.  In his posts, Canova recounts how Abel Kirui ran 40km at 3:15/km pace at altitude on a hilly, muddy road during his preparation for the World Championships marathon.  After this, he took a full week of recovery before his next workout!

Specific track workouts used by Renato Canova's athletes

Moving on to the workouts, by comparing the four schedules, you can see that they are all quite similar (though there are some important differences, which are detailed below). Out of the 7-9 workout days, most or all of the schedules contain the following:

Two long cut-down style interval workouts with long recovery

Example: 3000m at 94% of 5k PR (5min recovery), 2000m at 98% (5min), 6x400m at 104% (1min between reps, 5min before next set), 6x400m at 109.5% (3min)

All four runners do some variant of this workout.  The two 5k-only runners do precisely the same workout; the 1500m runner (Kiplagat) does LESS total volume (swapping the 3k for a 2k and the 2k for a 1600) but at the SAME absolute and relative intensities (assuming a 3:29 runner can come close to 12:5x for 5k) for all the repeats: 65sec quarters for the 2k, 60sec for the first set of 400s, and 57 for the last set.  The 10k runner (Merga) does MORE volume—both per repeat and overall—at a slightly LOWER intensity.  While Longosiwa and Kibet (the 5k runners) do the 3k at 92.5-94% of 5k, the 2k at 94.5-98%, and the two sets of 400s at 103-104% and 107.5-109.5%, respectively, Merga instead does two 3ks and two 2ks, at 90% and 92.5% of his 5k PR, respectively, followed by eight 500s at 101.5% of 5k.  Interestingly, when compared to percentages of Merga's 10km PR, the percents match up quite nicely: 94% for the 3k, 97% for the 2k, and 105.5% for the 500s. Why doesn't Kiplagat run at 95% of 1500m race pace for his long repeats? Well, it simply isn't possible!

We'll see this pattern repeat itself again: for some workouts workouts, Merga's pace is the same relative percent of race pace, but in his case it's 10k pace, not 5k pace.  He compensates for this by doing more total volume.  Kiplagat also usually follows this trend, but in his case, he often must adjust either by doing less total volume or backing the intensity off somewhat, simply because the 1500m is a high-speed event and Canova reports that Kiplagat is more of a "strength" 1500m runner than a "speed" runner.  In fact, he says that Kiplagat can't run any faster than 48.8 or 49.0 for the 400m flat-out! If this is indeed the case, 115% of race pace would be practically an all-out sprint, so this might be why some of the short, fast repeats (as we'll see in the next bullet point) are not at as high of a relative intensity.

Two (three for 1500m) short high-speed cut-down style interval workouts

Example: four sets of (600m at 101-102.5% of 5k, 500m at 101.5- 103.5%, 400m at 103-105.5%, 300m at 105-108%, 200m at 112.2-114%.  2min between repeats, 5min between sets.

Again, all four runners do this exact workout early on in the month.  The only difference is that Merga does one more set with slightly less recovery, and Kiplagat and Merga (1500m and 10km) match the absolute pace, not the relative intensity—presumably, they are both 12:5x caliber 5000m runners.  In the second outing, the 5k and 10k runners interrupt the fast repeats with a long repeat at 97.5-101% of race pace (1500m or 3000m) in the middle of the workout. 

Kiplagat's second outing involves four sets of 300m repeats at progressively faster speeds.  Kiplagat also does a third workout of short, fast repeats, though it's much more familiar: 10x400m at 101-101.5% of 1500m race pace with 90 seconds recovery. 

This is a staple session for milers all across the country, though it's interesting to note that Kiplagat does his repeats about 1% faster than PR pace and takes 90 seconds recovery instead of the customary 60 seconds.  Taking more recovery probably allows him to run all of his repeats slightly faster than race pace, effectively "practicing" setting a PR.

These workouts seem focused on building the athlete's ability to accelerate off of race pace.  Each workout involves simulating the final mile or two of a distance race multiple times: each set begins with a longer repeat close to race pace, and each successive repeat gets shorter and faster, until the last 200m is at championship-race closing speed (27-28sec for the men). 

The total volume in these workouts is fairly high for the 5k/10k runners: 8-10km for the first, and 6500-9600m for the second (interrupted) workout. 

The relatively long recovery, both between repeats and between sets, makes me think that Canova is not so much interested in practicing running fast while tired, but rather sees accelerating near the end of a race as a skill that needs to be repeated multiple times (while relatively fresh) to perfect. 

If the point was to run fast while tired, why not do just one set of "step-down" repeats, as was the case in the long moderate-speed interval workouts discussed above? And why not take less recovery? I don't doubt that Canova's runners would be able to do these workouts without as much recovery. 

In fact, long recovery is an aspect of Canova's training that will come up over and over.  Indeed, the second long cut-down style interval workout done by his runners is a variant of 2km + 1600m + 1200m + 800m + 400m, each progressively faster, but with six minutes of recovery time between the repeats. 

It would seem that running each repeat at the proper (high) speed is of the utmost importance in Canova's workouts. Recovery is usually generous.  Again, because we can't see how training progressed over the last few months, we can't say for sure whether Canova's athletes always take long recovery between repeats.  But during the last month of training before a championship race, they certainly do.

A "special block" consisting of a fast, continuous run and an interval workout

Example: Morning: 30 min moderate + 6km on trails at 88-92.5% of 5k.  Afternoon: 30 min moderate + 10x600m at 102.5-104.5%

A "special block" in Canova's parlance is a day in which the athlete does two difficult workouts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Special blocks can be used once a month or so, and this one occurs about three weeks away from the championship race. 

Care must be taken, however, so that the athlete is well-rested before the special block and recovers well afterwards.  Being able to produce a strong effort in these workouts is very important.  An athlete tired from a previous workout will not reap the benefits of a special block. 

On the schedules, the athletes take 2 days of 50min easy / 50min easy prior to their special block, and take four days of easy to moderate running afterwards.  The reasoning here is day-one physiology: improvement is based on supercompensation, when the body adapts to handle a stressful workload. 

The more intense the workload, the longer the recovery has to be to allow the body to adapt.  This seems like a simple principle: you need more time to recover from a marathon than a 5k, for example.  But looking at most runners' schedules, you'd think they never knew!

If you artificially constrain recovery by imposing an external schedule (ex. "We must always work out on Mondays and Wednesdays") you either have to scuttle your improvement by curtailing much-needed recovery after an intense workout or sacrifice the ability to vary the intensity of your workouts.  Not all of Canova's workouts are highly stressful, however. 

On August 4th or 5th, all the runners do 70min easy with short bursts of speed every two minutes, and this is the day before their first long repeat workout! By not following a strict workout schedule, Canova can implement low-stress workouts like this fartlek session, which doesn't require more than 24 hours of recovery, as well as high-stress workouts like the special block, which require up to four days of recovery.

Silas Kiplagat, the 1500m runner, does not do a one-day special block like the other athletes. However, he does have two days of consecutive workouts, and the workouts on each individual day mirror the morning and evening workouts of the other three runners' special blocks. 

Whether this is standard practice for 1500m runners or an individual exception, I'm not sure.  Possibly because he has 24 hours between the workouts, Kiplagat only takes two days of recovery before his next workout.

In general, Canova's special blocks stress different system in the morning and afternoon workout. The first workout for all of the athletes is 20-40min of moderate running plus a 6-10 km fast continuous run.  I'm tempted to call this a "tempo run," but that comes with a host of connotations, the meanings of which are dependent on whom you talk to. 

For the physiology fans, Jack Daniels (whose conversion factors I trust more than any others I've seen) says that the aerobic threshold (or "marathon pace" in his own words) is about 86% of 5k pace and the anaerobic threshold is about 92% of 5k pace. 

Remember, this is Canova percent, so you cannot just divide 5k pace by 0.92.  But anyways, the speed of the fast continuous run falls close to or just under the anaerobic threshold. 

The fast continuous run, however, is done on trails through the forest, after 30-40min of moderate-paced running.  So it's a good strong effort, not a half-hearted tempo run.  The effort may in fact exceed the anaerobic threshold by a small amount.

The second workout is more varied, depending on the athlete.  My best guess to the logic behind this is that it is tailored to the particular strengths or needs of the athlete. 

Sylvia Kibet (5k) does 10x300m very fast (112% of 5k) with 4min of recovery, while Longosiwa (5k) does 10x600m not quite as fast (102.5-104.5%) with less recovery (3min). 

Kiplagat's (1500m) second day alternates between 1200s at 90% of 1500m pace and 300s at 107% of race pace.  Finally, Merga (5k/10k) does 10x1000m at 97.5-99.5% of 10k pace. 

So perhaps Sylvia Kibet needed more speed development, Merga more endurance, and the other two somewhere in the middle.  Or perhaps Kibet is a speed-oriented 5k runner whose strength is her speed, and Merga is a strength-oriented 10k runner whose strength is his endurance.  I don't have the answers on this one.

One fast continuous run of 6-16 km 

Example: 20min warmup + 10km at 83.5% of 5k pace

The fast continuous workout day appears to be fairly similar to the fast continuous run that was part of the special block, discussed above.  The male 5k athletes both run 10-16km at 83.5% of 5k.  Kiplagat (1500m) "absorbs" this workout into his two-day special block (see above).  Sylvia Kibet seems to run at only 74% of 5k, but this is a day on which Canova made a typo, so I'm not comfortable drawing any conclusions from my "interpolation" of 8k in 29:20.

One "alternating" interval workout

Example: 4-6 sets of (1000m at 99.5% of 5k + 300m at 114-116% of 5k) 2min between reps, 5min between sets

This is the last workout the athletes do before they fly to Daegu.  Merga misses this workout, likely because the Ethiopian national team appears to have left three days earlier than the Kenyan national team.  More than anything else in the final month of training, this highlights how Canova prepares his athletes to race, not just run a fast time.  Anyone who's watched an Olympic or World Championship final knows that the pace can be erratic, jumping from practically jogging to 60-second quarters at the drop of a hat.  Additionally, placing in the top three requires the ability to launch into an explosive kick with 400 or 300m to go.  Elite men's fields typically close in 51-53 seconds, and women close in under 60 seconds.  So Canova's athletes all practice being able to switch gears very rapidly.  If they were preparing for an evenly-paced race, like an attempt at a personal record, would their final workout be evenly-paced? I'm not sure.

10x200m fast, 3-4 days out from the first race

Remember, all of the athletes have more than one race to run.  The 1500m and 5k have preliminary rounds at the World Championships, and Merga was doubling back after the 10k.  In every case, the last workout before the athletes' first race is 10x200m fast but relaxed—109-113% of 5k.  The recovery interval is not set, rather, it is up to the athletes to take as much recovery as they need.  Compared with the other workouts in the final month, this last workout is (understandably) quite laid-back.  It's the only workout they do after they arrive in Daegu.

The remarkable thing about the schedules after the athletes depart for Daegu isn't this final workout, which is a fairly standard "final workout" before a big race.  It's that they are fairly carefree about what goes on in the final week or two before the big race.  Canova commented later that he never schedules days off for his athletes, because often issues come up that require athletes to take a day off anyways: they get sick, or have to travel to the capital for a passport, or they have to take the multi-day trip to Daegu, first from their hometown to Nairobi, then from Nairobi to South Korea.  And then they have to travel to the athletes' village, move in, etc.  There's no interval workouts in the airport walkways or calisthenics on the 12-hour flight to South Korea.  The trip is a reality of life, and the athletes aren't going to be able to run that day.  So they don't! I remember reading somewhere about how Americans are often neurotic about getting their run in, even while travelling (I'm certainly guilty of this).  When they arrive at the hotel after a long flight when traveling to a race, they immediately need to go out for a "shake-out jog" to loosen their legs up.  The Kenyans just go to bed.

This attitude about the final week or so of training echos some words of wisdom I heard from my college coach: "There's nothing you can do in the last week to run any better, but there's a whole lot you can do to run worse."  Seems like Canova would agree.  He'd rather they miss a few workouts than try to sneak them in after a tiring multi-day flight, plus jet lag.

Canova's schedule for a hypothetical 10k runner

Canova also posted a hypothetical training schedule for an elite 10k runner after being asked why he doesn't use "classic" workout cycles of 7 or 14 days.  I've reproduced this schedule in calendar format too. 

Canova didn't specify where during the overall training cycle this roughly one-month period would occur, but seeing as the workouts are longer and less race-specific, in all likelihood it would be 2-4 months before the "big race." 

Out of the seven workout days on the hypothetical schedule, four are some variant of the fast continuous run: either short and fast (6-8 km "very fast," probably at 95-100% of 10k pace), medium distance and pace (10-15km at 90-95%) or long and moderate (30 km at 80-85%). 

The other three sessions are comprised of one long interval session (1-3 km per repeat at 95-98%) and two short to medium-length interval workouts (400-1000m) at 100-105%. 

The volume of all of the workouts is also significantly higher than the workouts we saw in the final month of training, but there is a distinct lack of any substantial running faster than 105% of 10k pace (barely faster than 5k pace!). 

The short uphill sprints every two weeks or so likely are a precursor to the short fast repeats at 105-115% of 5k pace that we see during the last month of training.

So what does this hypothetical schedule add to what we know? It's a fairly safe bet that the distribution of speed (105-115%), speed-endurance (95-105%) and endurance (85-95%) workouts shifts from being endurance-oriented several months out to a more even-handed balance in the last month, as the athlete will have to draw on all of these aspects of training in his or her race.  Exactly how this distribution shifts can't be answered using only these schedules.


If we zoom out from examining the individual workouts and focus on the global picture of how workouts come together in the final month before a championship, we can identify a few overall trends.  This is the important stuff.  Running nerds like me get excited about specific workouts, distances, paces, and times, but if you're just looking to take away some wisdom about the last month of training before a championship race, here's what you need to know:

  • The principles behind these schedules allow them to be used by runners from 1500m up to 10000m with only small changes.
  • Athletes always practice accelerating and changing speeds throughout their interval workouts
  • The schedule contains a fairly even mix of longer repeats and continuous runs to build endurance at 85-95% of race pace, medium repeats to build specific "speed endurance" at 95-105% of race pace, and short repeats to build speed at 105-115% of race pace.
  • These are often combined into "cut down" style workouts which begin with longer repeats at moderate paces and progress to shorter repeats at successively faster speeds.
  • Recovery during workouts is usually generous, as is recovery between workout days
  • High intensity workout days like the "special block" require an athlete to be well-rested before and to recover very well after.
  • If the "normal" schedule is based off 5k training, a 1500m runner modifies it by doing more short/fast repeats with medium to long recovery and less fast continuous runs; a 10k runner modifies it by doing longer and slower repeats with more total volume at the same intensity relative to 10k pace instead of 5k pace.
  • The final workout before the first championship race is always fast, relaxed 200s.
  • Athletes "roll with the punches" of travel, long flights, and time-zone changes and don't fret if they have to miss a day of running or change some details about their training program.

 Back in the spring of 2009, when Renato Canova made several lengthy posts about his coaching philosophy on LetsRun in this thread, one of my roommates marveled at the unparalleled access Canova had granted the running community into the training of his athletes. 

"Every coach in the world should be reading this thread," he said.  This is one of the perks of belonging to a "small-time" sport.  Could you imagine the coach of the Green Bay Packers posting the daily practice schedule and playbook for the 2010 season online?

Even among running coaches, most elite training groups are somewhat secretive about their methods, afraid that someone will "steal" their workouts and outfox them in a race. 

Canova is confident and generous enough to share his philosophy with the wider athletic community, and given the unparalleled success he's had, both with the Italian national team and the multitude of Kenyans and Ethiopians he's coached, every coach and athlete in the world can learn something from his training schedules.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with my interpretations? Did I miss anything?

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Marathoner Emile Cairess, coached by Renato Canova

Modern marathoning with Renato Canova: Analysis of Emile Cairess’ training before the London Marathon

Renato Canova is one of the greatest coaches in all of athletics: his runners have won global medals and set records at distances from the 800m to the marathon. Canova’s training methods have their roots in the “Italian School” of training that developed during the 1980s and 1990s. Canova later refined his training approach through ... Read more

A comprehensive overview of Canova-style percentage-based training for runners

Percentage-based training is a mathematical approach to planning workouts for runners. Percentage-based methods are used by many top international coaches, most notably Renato Canova, to train runners at distances from 800m to the marathon.  I could write a whole book about percentage-based training for runners (in fact, maybe I will someday), but the goal of ... Read more

The Keys to Marathon Training: Modern changes to Renato Canova’s elite marathon training methods

While researching my blog post on Renato Canova’s marathon training book, I came across a lecture that Canova gave at a coaching conference put on by Spanish marathoner and coach Antonio Serrano in 2017. The talk, called The Keys to Marathon Training[1] was held in conjunction with the 2017 Valencia Marathon. This lecture directly answers ... Read more
Photo of the book Marathon Training - A Scientific Approach by Renato Canova and Enrico Arcelli

Review and summary of Marathon Training - A Scientific Approach by Renato Canova

How do the best marathon runners in the world train? While you might catch a workout or two on Instagram or hear rumors about epic training weeks on message boards, there’s precious little information on the systematic approaches that elite coaches use with top marathon runners–and even less information on the science that backs up ... Read more

Preparing for championship races with Renato Canova: Caleb Ndiku's training before the Commonwealth Games 5k

Today, we're taking a look at a short block of training done by Commonwealth 5000m champion Caleb Ndiku of Kenya.  Regular readers will remember Ndiku: I analyzed Ndiku's training schedule before his victory over 3000m at this year's World Indoor Championships.  Ndiku's outdoor campaign this spring and summer included a 13:01 win at the Prefontaine ... Read more

Championship Racing with Renato Canova: Caleb Ndiku's indoor 3k training

Renato Canova is one of the most successful running coaches in the world.  Canova, born in Italy, rose to prominence by coaching many top Italian runners in the '80s and '90s, but today he is best-known for his work with elite Kenyan runners.  The Olympic and World Championship medalists he has coached are far too ... Read more
Renato Canova-coached athlete Moses Mosop winning the Chicago Marathon

Elite Marathoning with Renato Canova: The Training of Moses Mosop and Abel Kirui

Renato Canova is a widely-renown coach of some of the most elite middle and long-distance athletes in the world.  His runners routinely medal at World Championship and Olympic races and place highly at major marathons.  Unlike many other elite coaches, Renato Canova has no reservations about sharing his training philosophy and the workouts of his ... Read more
Photo of Silvia Kibet at starting line of World Championships 5000m

Preparing for championship races with Renato Canova: training for the 1500, 5k, and 10k

Renato Canova is an Italian coach of considerable fame.  He worked with the Italian national team during the '90s and helped propel them to success on the world stage, and more recently, he has worked with elite Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.  His training has propelled his athletes to become some of the most successful in ... Read more

Something New in Training: The Methods of Renato Canova

Renato Canova is a world-famous coach who instructs many of the best athletes in the world.  He has worked with the Italian national team in the past, but today, he works mainly with athletes in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda.  His athletes have won Olympic and World Championship medals, as well as setting national and world ... Read more

About the Author

John J Davis, PhD

I have been coaching runners and writing about training and injuries for over ten years. I've helped total novices, NXN-qualifying high schoolers, elite-field competitors at major marathons, and runners everywhere in between. I have a Ph.D. in Human Performance, and I do scientific research focused on the biomechanics of overuse injuries in runners. I published my first book, Modern Training and Physiology for Middle and Long-Distance Runners, in 2013.

15 thoughts on “Preparing for championship races with Renato Canova: training for the 1500, 5k, and 10k”

  1. Awesome post, lots to think about here. Thanks for all the work you've put in on this topic. I'm surely going to use it as I think about my own training.

  2. Great post. I have been following Canova for some time, and you do a great job on summarizing his training and philosophy. Thanks for the contribution to the running wold.

  3. Great post!
    Do you also think he is using long recovery (2-3 days) between the hard session during base training also?

  4. Sorry Anonymous, but that's just not true! To use just one example, Renato Canova has coached Moses Mosop since 2002. In 2005, he got a bronze at the WC 10k, he was 2nd at World Cross Country in 2007, ran a 59-minute half marathon in 2010, and of course ran 2:03 at the Boston Marathon and set the world record for the 30km last year.

  5. your math does not seem right. if you look at canova's postings about mosop's training leading up to 2011Boston and chicago he provides paces for his training intensities and also relative percentages for each intensity. your 5:00/100*10+ 5:00 does not compute for the easier paces... in fact you have regeneration miles (≤70% of PB) at ≤8:30 pace (≤ meaning slower than). Where as if you take 5:00*0.3+5:00 this equals ≤6:30. the percentages he uses for finding intensities changes with what distance you are using

    you can see this here:
    and here:

  6. ^^^ actually let me rephrase that math


    so if you took (5:00*(1.00-1.00))+5:00 = 5:00 or 100% of pace of PB in x distance


    (5:00*(1.00-0.50))+5:00= 7:30 or 50% of pace of PB in x distance

  7. Ah I think you are mistaking the percentages he posts for percents of race pace. In that post they are actually percentage of the mileage he runs that particular week. So for example Canova says that, in January, Mosop did ~60% of his total mileage (speaking in terms of volume) at "regeneration" pace, which is 3:50/km or slower. If you read my previous article on Renato's coaching methods in general: I write that "regeneration" is ~60-70% of an athlete's race pace.

    Mosop's race pace in a marathon is just under 3:00/km so if we say it is 2.95min per km (2:57 or 2:04:30 marathon pace), we can do

    2.95/100*(100-70) + 2.95 = 3.835, which is 3:50/km—right what we expected.


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