Frank Horwill



  • These articles were first published many year's ago and whilst some are as relevant today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Marathon Training (Letter to Running Fitness)

By Frank Horwill

First of all, congratulations on the content of the magazine over the past few months. Is there any chance of you starting up a similar magazine in the UK? Your last issue raised two interesting points. 1) Marathon standards. 2) The vertical leap measurement.

A few years ago on a lecture tour of South Africa, I put forward a theory about training for the marathon. (In 1974 I put forward another theory about training at five different paces over 14 days – Coe adopted it successfully). The marathon theory was as follows:-

  1. Five times the 10K time minus 10 minutes was a good predictor of marathon time.

  2. If we accept (1) above, we must train weekly to improve the 10K time. In any case, 10K work is 90 per cent of the VO2 max.

  3. In order to improve the 10K time, it’s necessary to have a good 5K time (twice the 5K time plus 60secs = 10K potential). So, 5K pace work must be fitted in to the marathon schedule. It’s 80 per cent aerobic and 95 per cent of the VO2 max.

  4. A good 5K time is dependent on a good 3K time. The 3K is 60 per cent aerobic and 100 per cent of the VO2 max. 3K speed must be part of the schedule.

  5. If we wish to run a marathon at 5 minutes per mile, we must rehearse that speed weekly, starting with 9 miles and add a mile when achieved up to 18 miles.

  6. Psychologically, it makes sense to be on one’s feet for the same duration as the marathon target time. If the target is 21/2 hours, we must build up to run for that duration even though we may only run 22 miles in that time.

  7. The volume of running required for the marathon has been grossly exaggerated. It’s somewhere between double the marathon distance (52 miles) and treble the distance (78 miles).

Six months later back in England, I received a letter from a coach in Cape Town. After my lecture there, he went back to his female marathoner and said these words to her, “I’ve just listened to a mad Englishman who has a theory on marathon training…” They decided to give it a try. Her schedule was as follows:-

Day 1 – Duration run, building up to 21/2 hours.

Day 2 – Recovery run – 35 mins

Day 3 – Marathon rehearsal run – 9 miles at 6min/mile up to 18 miles.

Day 4 – Recovery run – 35 minutes

Day 5 10K pace session – 3 x 2 miles - with 90 sec rest.

Day 6 – rest

Day 7 – 5K pace session - 4 x 1 mile with 60 sec rest

Day 8 – Recovery run – 35 minutes

Day 9 – 3K pace session – 8 x 800m with 90 sec rest

Day 10 – Recovery run – 35 minutes

Day 11 – Start Day 1 again

The athlete in question was ranked 5th in South Africa when she entered the national marathon championship held in blistering heat (90oF). She won in 2hrs 39 and later run sub 2hrs 30.

Five of my athletes entered the London Marathon. They all had marathon times before joining my squad. All five ran personal best times using the above programme. By the way, an athlete’s success is 90 per cent down to the athlete and 10 per cent the coach. Not vice versa as many think.

With regard to the vertical jump, this is a misleading assessment. Two athletes may both leap 18 inches (45cm). But if “A” weights 140 pounds and “B” weights 130 pounds, “A” has greater leg-power because of the extra weight he has had to lift. Therefore, the Lewis Nomogram for determining anaerobic power from jump-reach score and body weight is the most reliable measure of leg-power.