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 his work with top Kenyan and Ethiopian runners in the 2000s.

Today, he works with top athletes from all over the world, including runners from Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Kenya, and, pertinent to the topic of this article, the United Kingdom.

Canova-coached marathoner Emile Cairess, a 26-year-old from northern England, had an extraordinary season this spring, clocking 60:01 at the Naples Half Marathon in February and 2:06:46 for third place at the London Marathon in April. He is now the second-fastest UK marathoner ever, second only to Mo Farah.

Cairess’ short-distance PRs are good (13:26 for 5k and 27:34 for 10k) but not incredible—24 Americans ran faster than his 5k PR in 2023 alone. So, how does a young, talented 5k/10k runner become the second-fastest marathoner in UK history?

Well, we don’t have to speculate—Renato Canova posted his full training schedule for the 16 weeks leading up to London!

This article takes an in-depth look at Emile Cairess’ training, both in terms of individual workouts and overall themes and patterns.

Long-time readers will know that I’ve done this kind of analysis before with Canova-coached athletes like marathoners Abel Kirui and Moses Mosop, 3k/5k specialist Caleb Ndiku (twice!), and a series of World Championship medalists in the 1500m and 10k, so if you enjoy this kind of analysis, check out those articles as well.

However, Emile Cairess’ training schedule is something very special because it’s a long, uninterrupted, multi-month block of training leading up to a major race.

There’s a ton to learn from Cairess' training, even if you’re aiming for something more modest than a 2:06 marathon, so let’s dive in.

Emile Cairess’ marathon training calendars: PDFs and spreadsheets

If you just want to look at the training schedules yourself, check out the PDFs below. I’ve transcribed Canova’s raw text posts into printable calendars.

The schedules come in two forms: absolute paces, which provide workout paces in min/km, and relative paces, which show workout paces as percentages of marathon pace (% MP, conveniently 3:00/km).

I recommend using the relative paces version as it will be the most useful way to build intuitions for your own training and coaching. As a reminder, I have a free web app to calculate Canova-style percentages and a full write-up on how to apply “full-spectrum” percentage-based training to any event.

One consideration: Emile Cairess spent several weeks at altitude in Kenya during this training block. I did not adjust or compensate for altitude when calculating these relative paces. We’ll look at the use of altitude and whether it affects the interpretation of the training calendar later on in this article.

Download the calendars as PDFs here:

🗓️ Emile Cairess training schedule - relative paces - (recommended version)

🗓️ Emile Cairess training schedule - absolute paces - (with paces in minutes per km)

I also have a spreadsheet version of the training calendar. This spreadsheet breaks up workouts as much as possible, i.e. warm-ups, repeats, recovery intervals, and cool-downs are separate rows.

This spreadsheet is optimized for computer analysis (it's how I created the visualizations below) so while it is human-readable, the calendars are the easiest way to look at the day-to-day workouts.[1]

Download the spreadsheet here:

📊 Emile Cairess training schedule - spreadsheet form

The original LetsRun thread with Canova’s posts can be found here.

The final week before London is blank, because Canova’s training calendar ends on April 14. This really does not matter very much because the training you do the week of the marathon is almost completely irrelevant. When analyzing the training calendars of many of Canova’s Kenyan athletes, their final week of training before a major competition often includes three days of all-day travel with no running at all!

Now, let’s get into some training analysis. First, we’ll look at some high-level principles, then we’ll dig in deeper into specific workouts and periodization.

As always, remember my usual caveat—I am not Renato Canova, so this is only my interpretation and analysis of his training principles; I’ve likely made some mistakes or read too much into certain aspects of the schedule.[2]

I’ve used Canova’s principles with extraordinary success in my own coaching and training, but I don’t claim to have unparalleled expertise. That’s why I’ve provided the raw calendars above, so you can analyze them and reach your own conclusions if you are so inclined.

Principles of modern elite marathon training

Underneath the individual day-to-day workouts, there are several foundational principles of modern marathon training that are visible in Emile Cairess’ preparations for London.

Consistently high mileage and doubles

The first thing that becomes obvious when you look at Emile Cairess’ training is that he runs a lot. He runs twice a day, nearly every single day. A plot of his daily mileage over the 16-week period is extremely impressive:

Plot of 2:06 marathoner Emile Cairess' training volume over time. He averages between 15 and 20 miles a day for most of the 16 weeks of training.

It’s clear that consistently high mileage, between 15 and 20 miles a day, is a key cornerstone of Cairess’ success in the marathon. Notably, this mileage is typically split into AM and PM sessions of 20 km and 10 km (circa 80 and 40 minutes, respectively)—Cairess almost never does “normal” long easy runs that last more than ~80–90 minutes.

This consistency is very much in line with how other Canova-coached marathoners train. When analyzing Moses Mosop and Abel Kirui’s schedules, the same pattern emerged; they very consistently do an AM/PM split in volume (often 40-80 min in the morning, and 40-60 min in the evening, and virtually never use long easy runs.

The training is only modestly less intimidating when you plot training volume as hours per day:

Plot of 2:06 marathoner Emile Cairess' training volume over time in hours per day. He averages between 1.5 and 2.5 hours per day for most of the 16 weeks of training.

Workout nihilists” might claim that Emile Cairess’ high weekly mileage is the only thing that really matters—in their view; there’s nothing new or novel under the sun, workout-wise. I reject that view, in part because Emile Cairess’ mileage—while high—is not unusually high among competitive marathoners.

Nor does he run most of his mileage particularly fast: much of Cairess’ mileage is at around 4:00/km (6:26/mi). That might sound quick, but keep in mind that it’s the same relative pace (~65-70% MP) as around 7:30/mi for a 2:30 marathoner or 9:00/mi for a 3:00 marathoner. Plenty of men’s DI cross-country teams would be pulling away from Cairess on normal training runs.

Cairess’ runs are not always at the same effort. Some runs are “regeneration” or “easy” runs, others are what Canova refers to as “basic mileage,” with a few at more of a moderate or strong effort.

Here’s a chart providing exact and approximate MP percentages for each of these efforts:

Nominal pace Pace per km % MP (exact) % MP (approx)
Very easy / regeneration >4:25/km >53% >50%
Easy 4:25–4:15/km 53–59% 50–60%
Basic mileage 4:15–3:50/km 59–72% 60–70%
Moderate 3:50–3:45/km 72–75% 70–75%
Strong* 3:45–3:35/km 75–81% 75–80%

* No runs are explicitly labeled as “strong”; I used this designation for runs in the 3:25–3:35/km range.

Avid Canova fans will notice that the high end of this pace range for “non-workout” runs lines up with Canova’s threshold of “80% race pace” being the cut-off for training that is directly in support of race fitness.

Full-spectrum training across all speeds

The real key to Cairess’ success is the distribution of intensity. Renato Canova’s marathon training approach is that it is emphatically not “polarized”—it works the full spectrum of paces.[3]

Histogram of the distribution of paces during 16 weeks of elite marathon training. The paces are distributed across a wide range of slow, medium, and fast speeds.

No pace goes untouched: during his marathon buildup, Emile Cairess works the full range of speeds from very easy “regeneration” runs at 8:00/mi or slower, up to sub-4:30 mile pace (2:45/km). Indeed, he even incorporates short uphill sprints and strides, so that 2:30/km bin is actually not zero—it’s just so small you can’t see it.[4]

Careful focus on marathon-specific workouts

Another important observation: Canova’s marathon training approach puts the greatest emphasis on marathon-specific speeds. Cairess logs the greatest workout volume at speeds very close to marathon pace, which for him is 3:00/km.

This emphasis is easiest to see when looking at more finely-grained workout paces, using Canova’s percentage-based system to analyze workouts.

Histogram of the distribution of paces during 16 weeks of elite marathon training, relative to marathon pace. The paces are distributed across a wide range of slow, medium, and fast speeds.

The plot clearly shows how Renato Canova plans training to focus on marathon-supportive and marathon-specific speeds.

The relative lack of running at 95% MP is something we’ll come back to in more detail later—Canova specifically commented on it in some later discussion, and it has to do with Emile Cairess’ long-term progress over time as an athlete (keep in mind that at 26 years old, Emile Cairess is quite young for a high-level marathoner).[5]

This careful focus on marathon pace emphasizes a key principle of Canova’s training approach: your race-specific training is the most important training you do, and all other training exists to support your ability to do your race-specific workouts.

Long-term development

Canova’s broader comments regarding Emile Cairess’ training show that he sees Emile’s progress as a marathoner occurring over the course of several years. He’s not trying to squeeze out as much performance as possible in just one training cycle.

Some of the seemingly-peculiar aspects of this schedule make more sense when this training block—long as it may be—is viewed as just one small part of a long-term project.

Many of the apparent “holes” in training (discussed below) may in fact be areas in which Canova is aiming to grow training year over year. So, they are not so much “holes” as “headroom for growth.”

Modulation

The biggest workouts (including the Naples HM) are followed by several days of easy “regeneration” running. This follows Canova’s principle of “modulation,” meaning pairing greater training stress with greater amounts of recovery.

Likewise, the biggest workouts are usually also preceded by shorter and easier running: two days of AM/PM 40 min runs lead up to the biggest long fast run, for example. This technique ensures athletes arrive ready to run well during the most important training sessions.

Constantly-evolving workouts

Emile Cairess never does the exact same workout twice.[6] Even though he spends a lot of time at a fairly narrow range of speeds (90-105% MP) during the final months of training, every single workout he does is constantly evolving in some direction.

Sometimes the workouts evolve in an obvious way. Take the example of his long fast runs: from early January to mid-March, Cairess uses a series of 30, 32, 37, and 45 km long fast runs at 90% MP. Then, at the end of March, he drops the distance back to 35 km, but increases the pace to 98% MP.

This strategy is classic Canova— “extending the quality, and qualifying the extension,” as he would say. First, you extend the distance you can run at a given speed; then, you use your newfound endurance to run shorter distances at a higher intensity.

Other workouts, like alternating kilometers, evolve in a more sophisticated way, manipulating workout volume, recovery pace, or “extension”—how long you sustain a given speed in an interval session before stopping to recover.

To understand how these more sophisticated workout progression strategies work, we need to take a look at the primary types of workouts that Renato Canova uses in marathon training.

Primary workouts in modern marathon training under Renato Canova

There are a few classic Canova workout types that are used several times in Emile Cairess’ training. These can be hard to spot, since (as we just saw), Cairess never actually does the exact same session twice. He does, however, repeatedly use the following types of sessions:

Long fast runs

The long fast run at 90-98% MP is a mainstay bread-and-butter session for Canova’s marathon training approach. Emile Cairess does one of these sessions on a regular, steady beat, typically once every two weeks over the full 16 weeks of training (see the grid visualization below).

These long fast runs progress first in terms of volume, then in terms of intensity. Here’s the full progression of all seven of the long fast runs:

Week Distance Pace
1 30 km 89% MP
2 32 km 89% MP
4 37 km 90% MP
7 30 km 85% MP
7 15 km 100% MP
11 45 km 91% MP
13 35 km 98% MP

According to Canova, his marathoners always build up to one long fast run of 45 km (28 mi) at about 90% MP during training.

Canova notes that Emile still has a ways to grow in this direction, noting that other athletes like Sondre Moen (2:05) and Moses Mosop (2:03) ran faster, or the same speed but at altitude, during their marathon preparations.

One ingredient used by many of Canova’s other marathoners that’s conspicuously absent in Emile Cairess’ training is the long fast run at 95% MP.

When asked about this in subsequent discussions, Canova noted that Emile is quite early on in his career as a marathoner—Canova’s initial goal was to increase his mileage and add intensity, while maintaining the same “internal load,” meaning the relative difficulty of the workouts.

Canova suggests that the progression of long fast runs at 90% MP achieves exactly this effect—after several weeks of training, the 37 km at 90% MP is the same relative stress on Cairess’ body as the 30 km long fast run the first week of training.

Another potential reason for the lack of 95% MP work might be the long block of time in Kenya at altitude. At the high elevation in Iten, the effort required to hit 95% MP might just have been too high to be productive.

Marathon pace intervals with fast recovery

Another staple session used throughout training is marathon pace intervals, often (but not always) with 1 km fast recovery at 90% MP. These are used to build marathon-specific fitness, and frequently use a step-down or progressive structure.

These MP intervals follow a more sophisticated pattern of growth and development—it isn’t merely a matter of doing more, though increasing “extension” (the length of the longest rep) is a major element.

Week Workout Longest rep MP vol. Total vol.
3 2 sets of 1-2-3-3-2-1 at 97–103% w/ 2’ / 6’ rest (on track) 3 km 24 km 24 km
5 6 x 3k at 100% w/ 1km at 78–84% recovery 3 km 18 km 24 km
6 6-5-4-3-2-1k at 98–103% w/ 1k recovery at 77% 6 km 21 km 26 km
9 17’-15’-13’-11’ at 100% w/ 5’-4’-3’ rest (on treadmill) ~5.7 km 18.7 km 18.7 km*
10 10-1-7-1-4-2k at 95–102% (10, 7, 4, 2k) / 107–107% (1ks) w/ 1k at 75% recovery 10 km 25 km 30 km
14 6-5-4-3-2k at 98–105% w/ 1k rec. at 78% 6 km 20 km 24 km
15 2-3-4-4-3-2-1k at 101% w/ 1k recovery at 85% 3 km 19 km 25 km

*I suspect this workout was altered because of poor weather, see this footnote for details.

There’s a lot I could comment on here, but here are the most important highlights:

  • In most cases, the total volume is not colossally high. These are free-standing workouts, not “long runs with quality,” per se.
  • Most workouts use reps of different distances to “explore” the pace range within 1–3% of MP, vs. doing all reps at the same pace.
  • Volume at MP does not increase much over time.
  • Extension (the length of the longest continuous block at MP) does increase, from 3 to 6 to 10 km.
  • At the end of training, Cairess is running the same speeds for the reps, but is able to do the recovery faster.

Clearly, there are many different ways to progress MP workouts over time. Some get quite sophisticated—the 10-1-7-1-… workout is one I haven’t seen before. Ripping some fast Ks in the middle of long blocks of MP might stress the body in a new and unusual way, fostering more improvement, or it might be a specific preparation for high-level marathoning, which often involves dramatic surges and breakaways.

In later comments, Canova noted that MP intervals, done relatively early in training and on the track, are an especially important part of training for older marathoners:

In my group, for example, Tadesse Abraham won this year Barcelona in 2:05:01 and is 44 years old. In training, when we go for long run (between 35 and 40 km), he's the one showing the higher mental adaptation to the distance, while suffers [during] the fast test on track, but without this training of specific speed (always high volume on track) […] he was not able running better than 2:06:40 already 8 years ago.

Cairess’ first MP interval session fits this mold: high-volume long intervals on the track at marathon-specific speeds. This early-season workout has a walk/jog recovery, instead of the fast kilometers used for recovery later on in training.

Notably, these early-season MP intervals on the track are in Kenya, at altitude—doing them as track sessions with standard recovery might let you hit speeds close to goal marathon pace, even if the lack of oxygen makes these paces metabolically unsustainable from a fitness perspective.[7]

Later MP intervals use the classic Canova formulation of long, uninterrupted bouts at speeds within 1-2% of MP, alternated with one kilometer at 80 to 85% MP.

Marathon pace workouts are often used in “couples” of two sessions within five days (see grid plots below); I’m not sure if this is by design or merely a function of where these workouts best fit into the training plan, given the other sessions.

Alternating kilometers

Alternating kilometers are another classic Canova workout that Emile Cairess uses three times in training. These sessions alternate between 1–2k at 105% MP and a fast recovery kilometer at 90% MP. Here is the progression that Cairess used during his London buildup:

Week Workout
5 11 x (1k at 3:17 / 1k at 2:52.8) - (90% / 104% MP)
7 6 x (2k at 2:52 / 1k at 3:41) - (104% / 78% MP)
11 12 x (1k at 3:26 / 1k at 2:49.6) - (85% / 106% MP)

These workouts use multiple strategies for progression: increases in extension (from 1k to 2k), and increases in volume (from 11 sets to 12 sets).

These sessions are “specific speed” for marathon pace, because they occur at 5% faster than MP, but they are also a specific workout for the half marathon. Not surprisingly, two of the three alternating kilometer sessions were done in the weeks leading up to the Naples Half Marathon.

Sometimes, Canova’s athletes will use an alternating kilometer session with even faster recovery (circa 95%) as one of their final sessions, about 10-14 days out from the race. Both Abel Kirui and Moses Mosop used such workouts prior to their major marathon races, for example. Not so for Emile Cairess—at least for this build-up.

Progressive runs

Canova’s approach makes liberal use of progressive runs. These are typically mid-week sessions used as a more low-key, less-structured way of adding in more quality at 85–100% MP.

Structurally, these progressive runs are a bit of a mix: some are traditional “Kenyan-style” progression runs without explicit pacing guidance (at least on the schedule), while others are more tightly controlled step-wise progressive runs with prescribed paces—e.g. 24 km done as 4 x 6 km progressing from 75 to 90% MP.

The main advantage of progressive runs is their flexibility: they can be used to hit on a broad range of faster paces without imposing too much stress on the body.

Canova often uses these as an interlude between faster or longer workouts, and occasionally puts them the day before a more formal quality session—e.g. the progression + 300m / 400m combo on March 20 and 21, or the progression + MP intervals done about two weeks out from London.

In his 1999 book, Canova and his coauthor Enrico Arcelli talk extensively about how different kinds of progressive runs can be used to target the aerobic capabilities of fast-twitch muscle fibers—perhaps that’s the goal here as well, given Cairess’ track background.

Secondary workouts in Canova’s marathon training approach

There are a few other recurring types of workouts worth highlighting before we get into periodization and programming. I’ve nominally termed these “secondary” workouts, but that’s an ad-hoc definition, based mostly on them being either less frequent or at paces further from marathon pace than primary workouts.

Strides & hill sprints

Strides and hill sprints are used often during the first ten weeks of training, typically twice per week. Canova has mentioned before that short, high-intensity sprints—especially uphill—are essential for building the ability to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers in marathon runners.

Here’s what Canova said about these elements of training in a 2017 lecture at the Valencia Marathon:

Don't look at shorter sprints as something useless because you run a marathon. The final goal for this is a physiological goal. We need to be able to have the connection between the brain and the fast fibers. When we never use fast fibers, we lose the possibility to work with fast fibers.

And what about the energy, about the fuel? We have about 3-5% of the fuel that is inside the fast fibers. But if we don't have the key of the fuel store for opening the door, we can never use this type of fuel.

So this type of training at the end [of training] can produce the possibility to last and to still have fuel in the last 3-4-5 kilometers. Nothing to do with full speed [sprinting]. It has a physiological reason.

Interestingly, Cairess does not use these at all in the final month of training. This might be because he’s already acquired the “raw materials” of fitness, and now needs to focus on assembling those materials to build marathon-specific speed.

However, it might also be due to a few hiccups with a sore glute and a sore soleus muscle—these sprints would probably be the first thing you’d pull from your training schedule if a muscle was feeling a bit iffy.

Short fartlek and short repeats

Based purely on how often Emile Cairess uses short fartlek and short repeats, you might reasonably consider them a primary workout. The paces on these do not seem to be very tightly controlled, though; Canova does not prescribe (or at least record) exact paces for the individual repeats, in most cases.

My understanding is that these short fartlek sessions serve two purposes: first, as speed support for longer intervals at 105% MP (e.g. alternating kilometers and long intervals), and second, as a way to maintain what Canova calls “aerobic power”—your metabolic power output at 5k/10k pace, which you might associate with VO2max under a physiologically-based view of training.[8]

There is an odd-one-out workout in this category that’s worth commenting on, which is the 3*10x400m session during week 13.

To be honest, I’m not sure about the purpose of this session!

It might be a way of progressing time-based short fartlek workouts into something more structured and more tightly controlled, or it might be a precursor to longer repeats of 1k, 2k, or 3k oriented at “aerobic power” that Cairess will do in subsequent training cycles.[9]

In the training intensity heat map below, a lot of these sessions fall into the “105% MP” bin, but you should take that with a grain of salt because:

  1. Many of these workouts are at altitude and probably on dirt roads
  2. The “105% MP” bin includes paces as slow as 102.6% and as fast as 107.4% MP
  3. I made some educated guesses as to the paces that Cairess was running these on, based on assuming 4:30-5:00/km pace on the recovery intervals. If he jogged the recovery he easily could’ve gone much faster on the repeats.

In any case, these time-based fartlek sessions, especially with a mixed-structure (e.g. 3-2-1 min), are classic Kenyan-style fartlek sessions, done by Kenyan runners of all levels, even those not doing Canova-style training.

Toby Tanser’s Train Hard, Win Easy and More Fire both mention these classic time-based fartleks, done by effort, as core parts of training (and both are great reads if you want a broader perspective on the “Kenyan Way”).

Canova emphasizes these workouts to a greater degree in weeks 8-13, perhaps to ensure Cairess retains enough “aerobic power” to carry him through the marathon.

Long repeats

One of my big surprises when looking at Emile Cairess’ training was the relative rarity of repeats of longer (1–4 km) repeats at 105-110% MP.

These are often staple sessions in other Canova schedules, especially for 5k/10k specialists but also marathon runners.

Cairess, however, only did two: two sets of 1-2-3-3-2-1 at 97–103% MP soon after arriving in Kenya (covered above in the MP interval section), and 10 x 1600m at 104% MP a few weeks later, also in Kenya.

That 10x1600 session was actually filmed by the crew at Sweat Elite—you should absolutely check out that video, plus their recent extra footage from the same session with more of Canova’s thoughts on training and some conversations with German 2:04 runner Amanal Petros and Swiss runner Tadesse Abraham, who are also coached by Canova.

As with the 95% MP workouts, two explanations seem plausible to me:

  1. Emile Cairess is quite young for a marathoner, and he will incorporate more of these longer repeats later on in his career—possibly at faster paces.
  2. It is too difficult to hit these paces at altitude in Kenya, so it is better to do these workouts at 105% MP, or use shorter fartlek sessions at 105–110% MP instead.

Either way, long repeats (in the classic sense, with jogging rest) are used early in training, but not at all in the final several weeks.

Fast continuous runs

Fast continuous runs are short, continuous runs, usually 5 km at 100–103% MP, typically used as a mid-week or tune-up workout to get in more marathon-specific training.

These are not particularly tough sessions, but are used here and there to add more total time at MP to the training calendar. Fast continuous runs become much more common in the final several weeks of training.

Another way of looking at them is as a way of consolidating and maintaining the gains from the 15–30 km long fast runs at 98–100% MP with shorter "reminder sessions" to maintain that fitness. Steve Magness' book has some nice discussion on why you don't need very much workout volume to retain fitness gains.

Special blocks and volume blocks

Unlike some of the previous Canova schedules I’ve analyzed, there are no true single-day “special blocks,” though in later comments Canova noted that sometimes he will instead use two back-to-back days of marathon-specific work as a special block as well.

Strictly speaking, Cairess’ schedule does not include any of these, either, though the 38 km basic mileage run followed by the 10k-1k-… MP intervals on the 4th and 5th of March might be a precursor to this kind of thing in later training blocks.

Nine days out from London, Cairess does two workouts in a day, but they are both relatively light—12 km at 83–86% MP + 5 km at 102% MP.

Again, this might be a precursor to true special blocks in future training cycles, or a way of getting in a good amount of quality at MP but in a way that’s less stressful on the body.

Periodization and programming in modern marathon training

Having the full 16-week arc of training makes it easy to visualize how different workouts are used across the training cycle. Here’s how Renato Canova distributes the primary workouts in Emile Cairess’ training:

Grid showing distribution of primary marathon workouts over 16 weeks of training

This figure really nicely illustrates Canova’s idea of “building a funnel” where you progressively narrow in on race-specific workouts over time.

Notice how MP intervals are introduced in week 5 and become a regular fixture of training thereafter, while alternating kilometers become less common.

The “funnel” strategy is even more starkly visible when you consider the placement of secondary workouts:

Grid showing distribution of secondary marathon workouts over 16 weeks of training

Long repeats and sprint work, which build support for marathon pace, are used early on in training, while fast continuous runs at speeds closer to MP are introduced later on. Short fartleks and short repeats are used throughout training to maintain fitness at faster speeds.

Do note here that "primary" and "secondary" are arbitrary classifications that I came up with for the visualizations; Canova makes no such distinction.

One more way of visualizing the progression from marathon-supportive to marathon-specific speeds is by “binning” workouts into 5% increments and visualizing them over time.[10] Here’s the same grid plot, but with the different “special” and “specific” speeds highlighted:

In this visualization, the progression over time to greater emphasis on 100% MP, and lesser emphasis on 105% MP, becomes quite obvious.

(If you want to see the full range of 80 to 115% MP, you can see a version of that plot here. It's a bit messier, so I didn't include it in the main article. It' also a bit misleading in that some of the faster sessions also include slower running at 80 or 85% MP as a precursor that isn't always reflected in the grid plot.)

Some further observations on Emile Cairess’ training

There are a few other details in Emile Cairess’ training that don’t necessarily merit a full discussion, but are worth pointing out:

Short tapers

Emile Cairess uses relatively short tapers. His mileage is completely normal until about a week out from a race, though his last big workouts are more like 10–14 days out.

Time at altitude

According to Canova, Cairess’ stays at altitude this year were shorter than in the past, because your body can develop a “memory” for adaptations to altitude.

In previous years, he has spent 3–3.5 months total at altitude, splitting time between Iten, Kenya and Sestriere, Italy.

Basic mileage pace increases over time

Canova notes that Emile’s pace for his “basic mileage” has increased since last year from around 4:10–4:20/km to 3:55–4:00/km.

Over several years, Canova aims to move more of this mileage to 3:45–3:50/km to better support Cairess’ marathon fitness. 3:45/km is 75% of MP.

Even great training is not perfect

Cairess gets sick, backs off because of some small injuries, and takes rest days when doing long-haul travel. As always, Canova athletes roll with the punches of real-life training.

Sophisticated and progressive workout structure

Relatively few workouts follow an “X by Y at Z” formula. Most use a finely-structured progression across reps of different lengths, at faster speeds for shorter reps. Even the 3*10x400 workout adjusts the rest intervals across sets to allow for a progressive structure.

Cool downs aren't very important (for elites)

Cairess either does not typically cool down after workouts, or does not log it.

Either way, it’s clear that cool downs are not that important for high-level runners doing marathon workouts.

Recap: Adapting Canova marathon training for non-elite runners

As with other schedules from Renato Canova’s athletes, I believe you can learn a lot by carefully observing how the best runners in the world train—not so you can copy their workouts or their mileage, but so you can uncover the principles of training that are being used to plan and adjust the schedule.

The high-level principles of training we’ve seen above lead to several practical takeaways, even if you aren’t aiming for the podium at next year’s London Marathon:

Consistency. Steady day-to-day volume is the foundation that supports your ability to do long, fast, marathon-specific work. Emile Cairess’ easy runs are often at only 55% MP—what’s your easy run pace?

Full-spectrum training. Canova’s schedules work the full spectrum of training speeds, from easy regeneration runs at 8:00 mile pace in the forest, all the way up to maximum-speed sprinting up steep hills. Marathon-specific paces are emphasized most strongly, but no speed is neglected.

Long-term development. You don’t need to transform your training overnight. Playing the long game and leaving headroom for growth in your training can help you improve in the marathon year after year.

Continuous evolution in workouts. Not once in 16 weeks does Emile Cairess do the exact same workout twice. Canova-style training is always evolving, and always seeking a new way to stimulate the body.

Long fast runs. As Canova says, “If you want to beat your PB, you must run LONG and FAST. Running fast intervals and slow long run is not enough.” Emile Cairess builds up the distance he can sustain at 90% MP, while also occasionally using long fast runs at 98–100% MP.

Even if you aren’t doing a jaw-dropping 45 km workout, adding shorter long fast runs to your training (and recovering well afterward) will give you an enormous boost in fitness.

Marathon-supportive training first, then marathon-specific workouts. You can enhance your ability to do long, high-quality, marathon-specific workouts by first focusing on building support at 90, 105, and 110% MP, then shifting your focus over time to using 100% MP more often.

Bigger stress, bigger recovery. After doing a long, high-quality workout, you should take several days of shorter or easier running before diving into another big training session. You should also make sure you arrive at these big training sessions well-rested so you can make the most of them.

The opposite is also true: After something lighter, like some mid-run pickups or a relaxed progressive run, you might be able to come back and do another low-key workout the very next day. This is Canova’s principle of “modulation” in action.

Learn more about modern training methods

Hopefully you’ve found this in-depth training analysis useful. If you did, you can support my work by sharing this article with friends or posting about it on social media.

I also have a book of my own if you want to see how I adapt high-level training principles for 800m–10k training. My book shows you how to use a simplified version of Canova-style principles to build race-supportive endurance and speed, while incorporating physiologically-based workouts that target VO2max, running economy, and lactate threshold.

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Footnotes


[1] For the spreadsheet I made a few informed guesses: Sunday Jan 14 was a blank day; for creating the visualizations I assumed AM/PM runs of 10 km each. For days with no recorded pace, I used predictive mean matching to impute plausible durations for the run given the distance and the effort (“easy” or “basic mileage”). I also nominally assigned paces of 2:30/km for hill sprints and strides. So, 10 x 100m strides is logged as 1 km in 2.5 minutes.

[2] Real-world training always has some mix of general principles and things that are particular to the individual athlete or even the individual day. I do my best to parse out the general from the particular, but it’s not always easy. One possible example from this calendar is the treadmill workout on March 20—my guess is that this was supposed to be something like 6-5-4-3k outside with fast recovery, but there was heavy rain and high winds in Leeds, UK on that day, which probably explains the change.

[3] I’m not much of an 80/20 training believer, and apparently neither is Canova: Emile Cairess’ training is more like a 70/30 split if you take Canova’s guideline of 75–80% MP and faster being “directly relevant” for the marathon. You can try out different breakpoints with the spreadsheet data if you want, and I’m sure somebody will use it to make an 80/20 argument. But outside of explicitly polarized training schemes, such dichotomization does not really make sense anyways.

[4] By my estimate, Emile logged a total of ~9.2 km during his hill sprints and strides.

[5] Canova-coached marathoner Tadesse Abraham, who ran 2:05:10 at last year’s Berlin marathon, is over fifteen years older than Emile Cairess!

[6] On Feb 6 and April 5 he does two very similar workouts: 6-5-4-3-2-1k vs. 6-5-4-3-2k, but the April one is significantly faster and happens only three days after taking a rest day for a sore glute, so it may have been dialed back from a “full blast” MP workout.

[7] One of the reasons I did not adjust Emile Cairess’ paces for workouts at altitude is because he does not seem to adjust his own paces that much—the workouts are instead adapted to make it possible to hit nearly the same speeds at altitude as he does at sea level, e.g. by taking more rest.

[8] It’s a little more complicated than VO2max, since there’s also the matter of maintaining your running economy at faster speeds, which requires practice running at those speeds.

[9] When I see a workout I don’t understand, or that seems to not make much sense, in a training cycle of a high-level runner, I try to take it as a reminder that I don’t know everything about training. This one really does stump me—even after a decade of coaching, I clearly still have plenty left to learn!

[10] This binning into 5% chunks necessarily sacrifices some information, because Canova does not strictly think about paces in only five percentage point increments. He will often use workouts at 98%, 103%, or some other point between adjacent speeds. As with many things, dichotomies are an illusion here; all speeds exist on a smooth, continuous spectrum, with a smooth gradation in benefits and appropriate workout volumes

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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.

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