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Boston-Bound: Focus On Building Strength With 10 Weeks To Go

Coach Greg McMillan talks about the best workouts for weeks 3 and 4, or 9 and 10 weeks out from race day.

In the first article in this series, you learned the ideal workouts for this early stage in the training. You were also encouraged to seek out routes that mimic the Boston course since you’ll need to do lots of course-specific running in the coming weeks. And, if you need to lose a few pounds to reach your ideal racing weight, now—while we’re still in the early part of the training plan—is a great time to do so.

In this second article, let’s talk about the best workouts for weeks 3 and 4, or 9 and 10 weeks out from race day.

I want to reiterate that I’m just going to present the key workouts and long runs in each week. Each reader will be different in the number of runs completed each week, so I’ll let you fill in the other easy runs, cross-training and off days based on your usual running schedule.

Week 3

Our focus with 10 weeks to go until race day continues to be on improving VO2max, leg turnover, leg strength and mental toughness. I suggest another hill workout and a long run for this week. Advanced runners accustomed to doing two workouts and a long run each week can do another progression run as we did in Week 1. The main difference in this week’s workouts is that we’ll do a few more hill repeats and extend the total time of the progression run.

Workout No. 1: Hill Repeats. Warm up with 15-30 minutes of easy jogging, then run 8 to 12 times up a moderately sloped hill (6-8 percent grade) at 5K effort or harder for 60 to 75 seconds. Jog back down the hill as recovery between repeats, then cool down with 15-30 minutes of easy jogging.

Workout No. 2 (advanced runners): Progression Run. Run easy for 70-90 minutes with the last 10-20 minutes at a slightly faster pace (around tempo effort).

Long Run: 2:00-2:30 for sub-3 hour marathoners; 2:30-3:00 for 3+ hour marathoners.

Again, your goal is to complete these long runs on as little external sugar as possible. Slow-release carbohydrates are acceptable to get you through the run (if you need them), but try to limit fast-acting sugars like gels and sports drinks. We are trying to teach your body to become ultra-efficient at using your internal energy stores. We’ll practice race fueling later in the training cycle but for now, we want to limit fueling.

RELATED: Carbohydrate Manipulation For Better Performance

We also want your brain to get used to running in a fatigued and low-fuel state, so that on race day your brain won’t perceive marathon fatigue as anything it hasn’t experienced before. According to the “central governor” and other psychological models, your brain won’t “cut the power” to the working muscles. A happy brain = less fatigue and more power.

Week 4

If you’ve followed my advice over the years, you know that every few weeks, I suggest you take a “down” week where you reduce the training volume by 15-20 percent to allow the musculoskeletal (the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and fascia—the tissues runners most often injure) and the mental systems to catch up and stay fresh and ready. An example would be if you normally run 40 miles per week, cut this week back to around 30-35 miles. You can accomplish this by omitting an entire run (i.e., take an extra rest day) or reducing the duration of some runs across the week. It’s your call.

In this down week, I have my athletes do their first “test” workout. It’s called a Steady State run (check out the McMillan Calculator to get your exact pace) and it’s a continuous run at an easy to medium effort. This pace is slightly faster than your easy run pace but isn’t as fast as a tempo run.

Steady state runs test your aerobic threshold. The aerobic threshold isn’t as well known as the lactate or anaerobic threshold but it’s vitally important for marathoners. It’s the point where lactate begins to gradually rise in your blood. This is in contrast to the lactate/anaerobic threshold, which is the point where lactate begins to rise rapidly.

When running at your easy run pace, lactate levels are low, barely above resting levels, because the lactate shuttle is removing the lactate as fast as it’s being produced. As you transition from your easy run pace to steady state pace, your lactate levels increase but only slightly. If we stay in this zone, the lactate shuttle gets a good workout and this is exactly what we’d like to see. If you run faster, e.g., tempo run pace, then the lactate shuttle reaches maximum capacity. We’d like to stay away from that in this steady state run and for marathoners, efficiency in the lactate shuttle is really important.

Workout No. 1: Steady State Run. Warm up with 5-10 minutes of easy jogging, then run 30-45 minutes at steady state pace. Cool down for 5-10 minutes when you’re done. Resist the temptation to progress to tempo run pace. Keep it easy-medium for the entire run and try to see how easily you can run at steady state pace.

Workout No. 2 (advanced runners): Progression Run. Run easy for 70-90 minutes with the last 10-20 minutes at a slightly faster pace (around tempo effort).

Long Run: 90-minute Progression Run. In this recovery week, I suggest you run a shorter long run. But, instead of just running easy, pick up the pace every 30 minutes. Start the run slower than you normally would and 30 minutes into it, progress to your usual long run pace. Finally, in the last 30 minutes. pick up the pace a little more (the effort will feel like your steady state pace). It’s a fun, shorter long run to finish off your recovery week.


Assignment 1: Get Boston Strong with non-running quad prep. A big part of success in Boston is durability. Weak legs get overworked on all the downhills so start now to get them “Boston Strong.” Much of your leg strength will come from your hilly runs and workouts but I suggest you also add some non-running eccentric exercises to add even more durability to your legs. These exercises don’t have to be complicated, intense or extensive but doing them can pay big dividends on race day, especially if you aren’t naturally a good downhill runner.

While you could hire a personal trainer to build a full program, some easy at-home exercises are squat jumps, Burpees, lunges, and jumping rope/jumping jacks. Basically, any movements where you accentuate the landing motion of running will help develop Boston strong legs. And, you don’t have to do a lot of it. Just once or twice per week, do a few reps and build over time. You should never be sore from these so they should not negatively impact your running. If you are sore, then you are progressing too quickly and should do fewer repetitions.

Assignment 2: Prehab Plan. Every runner has his or her “Achilles heel,”  or the parts of your body that are the first to complain. For me, it’s my calves. For others, it may be the hamstrings, IT band or hips. No matter what, you know the area(s) that are your weak points. As you get going on this training plan, you must create a prehab plan to keep these areas happy and healthy. Like many things in running, your prehab routine will be unique to you and your issues. Get ahead of the game and be proactive. Do the things that you know you should be doing but probably don’t do until you have pain. A daily 5-10 minute prehab routine can often mean the difference between limping into Boston or arriving feeling fit, fast and strong.

Final Thoughts

Consistent mileage is one of my key indicators for marathon success. I’d much rather you run a few less miles but be able to hold a higher average mileage level than to have really high-mileage weeks followed by low-mileage weeks. For the marathon, consistent mileage, while allowing for the occasional down week, is a very big indicator of success. Don’t get greedy. Train so you can keep training.


About The Author:

Greg McMillan, M.S. provides training plans and online coaching for runners of all abilities through his website Outside Magazine calls his McMillan Running Calculator the “Best Running Calculator” and his latest book, YOU (Only Faster), continues to receive rave reviews from runners and coaches.