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Marathon Training

How Masters Competitor Hilary Corno Embraced Simplicity to Train for Boston

Corno shares her mindful, relaxed training plan and the key workouts that have her feeling “scary good” going into the Boston Marathon.

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A perfect run for Hilary Corno has nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with opening her heart while she’s running. 

“Running has always been very spiritual for me; I find it to be very zenful. It’s a soul cleanser,” says Corno, an elite Masters runner with a marathon PR of 2:42:14, who often slips out the door during the calm, quiet hours of the early morning, well before anything else can claim her energy.

As a full-time employee at a technology company and parent of a 10-year-old son, plenty can — and does — claim her energy. To manage the rigors of marathon training and life, Corno builds conveniences into her day, like working from home, living next door to her son’s school, and having her massage therapist come to her house — all things she’s incredibly grateful are possible for her. More importantly, Corno strives to be mindful in whatever she’s doing because, otherwise, she feels like she is running on autopilot, jumping from one thing to the next. 

“If I’m present in what I’m doing, I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing something else, but rather spending that moment the best way I know how and showing up for that person, thing, or experience that I’m involved with,” says Corno. 

Corno grew up in rural New Hampshire where she was surrounded by the world’s biggest playground: nature. Born into a family who has a love for movement, she skied (cross-country and downhill), hiked, and biked, all of which formed Corno’s deep appreciation for movement and the outdoors, and likely built a strong aerobic base for her future relationship with running. That passion really kicked off when she moved to San Diego in 1999. 

“A group of women approached me one morning while I was running at the UCSD track and asked if I wanted to join their running club,” says Corno. “We instantly hit it off, and I was thrilled to have some friends to train and compete with within the XC series.” Corno has been running with the Prado Racing Team ever since, and she continues to PR in all distances. 

Hilary Corno crossing the finish line of a half marathon, breaking the tape.
Hilary Corno winning the female division of the half marathon during the 2013 Long Beach International City Bank Marathon with a time of 02:55:17. (Photo: Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

To help earn those PRs, Corno began working with her current coach, Mario Fraioli about 10 years ago. Traditionally, when Corno is training for a marathon, she’ll do a 12-week block (or longer), but this year hasn’t been remotely close to traditional. Worn down by all of the stressors of living through a pandemic, Corno was feeling less than motivated to do her usual aggressive workouts. Instead, she wanted a plan that would leave her sharp and fit, but not at the expense of driving herself into the ground. Fraioli and Corno landed on a 10-week training plan for Boston. 

“The main goal with the 10-week training block was to re-introduce structure back into Hilary’s weekly routine,” says Fraioli. “Hilary had been running solid, steady mileage without any specific workouts. Once we got rolling in the buildup for Boston, I was careful not to complicate it: We kept her weekly mileage the same, brought a mid-week speed workout back into the mix, and then did either a tempo run or marathon-specific long run on the weekend.”

The trust Corno and Fraioli have in each other has been instrumental to her running success. Fraioli understood that for Corno to successfully prepare for Boston, her training needed to be a bit more relaxed and lighthearted compared to previous years — like spontaneously jumping in races, including a third-place finish at the Surf City Half Marathon. Yet they also wanted to take into account everything they’ve learned over the years. For example, when Corno got stuck in the 2:53-2:55 range, Fraioli changed the intensity of her workouts and increased the volume of her long runs, and they implemented those two principles in this training block as well. 

It appears to be working.

One week out from Boston, and Corno is feeling “scarily good.” 

“The perfect run is going to be the 2021 Boston Marathon,” says Corno. 

And that has nothing to do with what she hopes her finishing time will be and everything to do with how she feels. 

“Growing up in New England, October was always a very special time of year for me,” says Corno. “An October Boston Marathon, which may never happen again, and my coach starting 15 minutes behind me. So special!”

Here’s how Fraioli structured Corno’s weeks and four key workouts she repeated throughout her leadup to Boston. 

Typical Weekly Schedule

Monday

Rest/Recovery coming off a big weekend and an opportunity to recharge for the week ahead.

“Most of the time, I run easy,” says Corno. “That’s six to seven miles at no specific pace, just getting out there and moving my legs. If my load was really heavy over the weekend, I won’t run and I’ll go for a walk or easy bike ride instead.”

Tuesday

Enjoyable, aerobic mileage at a conversational pace to improve/maintain general endurance.

“I meet a friend and at no specific pace, we go out for a 10-mile run,” says Corno. “She’s 10 years younger than me, and her average pace is about seven minutes per mile, so we get a good run in on Tuesdays.”

Wednesday

Interval session either on the track or on the roads.

“Depending on the week and what we’re focusing on, the meat of the session will usually total 3-6 miles of work at a 5K-10K effort. These workouts improve/maintain running economy and help her run more efficiently at marathon pace,” says Fraioli.

Thursday 

Medium-long run (12-14 miles) at a comfortable effort.

“This is a good opportunity to absorb some of the work from the day before while still getting in some good mileage to build additional aerobic/muscular endurance,” says Fraioli.

Friday

Recovery day, but lower on the mileage (around 8) to prepare for a big weekend of work.

Saturday

Depending on the week, Corno will either do 1) a tempo run or longer interval session totaling 6-8 miles of work at 10K to half-marathon effort or 2) an easy 10 miles at a comfortable, aerobic effort because she’s doing a demanding marathon specific long run the next day.

Sunday

Long Run 

If Saturday was a tough workout, the long run on Sunday will be similar to the Thursday medium-long run in terms of effort, but longer (18–22 miles). If Saturday was an easy 10 miles, Sunday’s long run will be 18–22 miles with between 6-15 miles worth of work at or around marathon effort in the form of longer intervals, steady-state, or a progression, which allows her to work on pacing, fueling, etc.

4 Key Wednesday Workouts During Marathon Training

10 x 800m

Run at 5K pace/effort. Corno starts at 2:45 and works down to 2:40, taking a 2-minute recovery between 800m reps. 

4 x 1.5 miles

Run at half-marathon pace/effort with recovery at marathon pace. Corno does the 1.5-mile segments at 5:55/mile and recovers for 0.5 miles at 6:15/mile pace.

4-3-2-1 miles

Start at marathon pace/effort and work down to 5K pace/effort. Corno does 6:10/mile for the 4 miles, 6:00/mile for the 3 miles, 5:50/mile for the 2 miles, “go” for the final 1 mile. 

3-5 x 3 miles

Run at marathon pace/effort.  Corno hits 6:10-6:20/mile for the 3-mile reps, slowing to 7:10-7:20/mile for the 1-mile “float” recovery between reps.