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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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 this post is to give a clear, comprehensive, and readable overview of percentage-based training as a system—a set of principles that can be used to guide training decisions.

To this end, we’re going to focus on the concepts and rationale behind the percentage-based training method, as opposed to exact training calendars. This post does include an appendix with recommended workouts for every event from 800m to the marathon (even the 3k!), but event-specific full training calendars will be a project for another day.

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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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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

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

Renato Canova-coached athlete Moses Mosop winning the Chicago Marathon

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 athletes.  2011 was a banner year for Canova, as several of his runners won medals at the 2011 world championships, including Abel Kirui, a young runner who won his second marathon World Championship. 

Additionally, Moses Mosop, a long-time Canova runner with sub-27 10k credentials, made his debut marathon in an earthshaking 2:03:06 for second place at the Boston Marathon, then later smashed the 25k and 30k world records at the Prefontaine Classic meet in Eugene, Oregon. 

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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

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