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

Marathoner Emile Cairess, coached by Renato Canova

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!

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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 one of the questions I had when writing up my analysis of Canova’s book–what’s changed since 1999? From his answers in a 2011 interview, I knew that Canova believed some important things had changed, but that video didn’t go into too much detail. Canova’s talk at this conference goes into much more depth, so I wanted to do a more formal write-up on it.

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

Photo of the book Marathon Training - A Scientific Approach by Renato Canova and Enrico Arcelli

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 these approaches for designing marathon training programs.

One exception to this general rule has been the Italian coach Renato Canova, arguably the greatest living running coach and the topic of several of my previous posts on Running Writings. Canova freely discusses his training philosophy and posts example workouts or even full training schedules for the athletes he has worked with, which include Olympic and World Championships medallists.

In 1999, Canova even co-authored a book on the science of marathon training—however, there’s a bit of a catch: this book was printed through the IAAF (now World Athletics), not a traditional publishing company or printing press. As a result, Canova’s book is extraordinarily rare. I had heard of this book probably a decade ago, but in the intervening years I couldn't find any substantive information on its contents. Until now.

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Podcast: How to fuel for a marathon (plus show notes)

water bottle, banana, and running shoes

I recently appeared on Joe Sell's excellent Marathon Running Podcast for a second time to talk about fueling and nutrition for the marathon (see my first appearance here in case you missed it).

The impetus for this podcast was my recent blog post on how to plan fueling for elite marathoners who have "bottle service" at their race, but in the podcast we talk about fueling for all kinds of runners.

We had a great time and went really in-depth on the science behind optimal fueling (both hydration and sports drinks + gels) for marathoning. Check it out here!

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How to prepare water bottles and gels for elite marathon racing

Getting your personal water bottles placed at aid stations in a road race is one of the perks offered to people fast enough for elite or sub-elite status at major marathons. It’s amazingly convenient to be able to place your own nutrition and hydration along the course, but since this perk is such a rarity among the broader running population, there’s very little information out there about how to change your nutrition strategy if this is an option for you.

The advantages of personal nutrition are manifold: you’re free to choose the form and flavor of the nutrition you consume, you don’t have to physically carry the gels and fluids with you, and you can drink out of an actual water bottle, which is much easier than drinking out of a paper cup.

Additionally, marathons sometimes make questionable decisions about the official hydration sponsor; I know of more than one major race that has historically offered a low-carb or calorie-free hydration mix as their official fluid at the general public aid stations! Using your own nutrition frees you from worrying about this problem.

A few of the athletes I’ve worked with over the years have been fast enough to get “bottle service” at major city races, and I’ve learned a few tricks from other coaches and athletes for how to optimize a nutrition plan for this scenario. Let’s say you’ve just qualified for the elite field at a big race, and you find out you get to supply your own nutrition–what do you do? In this post, I’ll walk you through how to design your fueling plan and how to prepare the bottles themselves, using an example from a real athlete and a real marathon.

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Brief Thoughts: Long easy runs in marathon training

The long run is a central piece of marathon training for everyone from recreational marathoners all the way up to national-level competitors.  There are a lot of reasons why distance runners, and marathoners in particular, do long runs; these include increasing mitochondrial and capillary density, improving leg strength and resilience to the pounding of a ... 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

Did you know I have a book? Check it out here!