Hard Marathon Training with Mike Gratton

Since June this year, 1983 London marathon winner Mike Gratton has been coaching three forum readers, live on the forum for everyone to share. (They had marathon goals of four hours and 3:15, and we called the threads Hard Training).

The threads have been among our most popular, and some of our more experienced readers have asked for some help in the build-up to the Flora London Marathon.

On this new thread, Mike is obliging with training schedules for robust, serious runners who want to train near their limits. He'll post schedules each week, and answer questions where he can (but don't be offended if he can't reply to them all; he's generously volunteering his time).

Mike offers up two levels here; the first is aimed at regular daily runners who don’t want to start afresh each new season, and the second is a glimpse at what is needed to excel at the highest level – in fact, it is Mike’s actual training plan leading to his victory in 1983.

The Hard Training plans do not work on the basis of ability level, more a desire to do more than the normal in order to make improvement. There are no specific speeds set: the long runs are based on time on your feet, and the speedwork is based on relative speeds at various distances – you need to make the adjustments yourself.

Mike’s elite schedule is based on the specific distances and times he did, based on years of elite preparation (he was already a London Marathon third-placer and Commonwealth Games bronze medalist from the year before).

These are no easy options, and only very regular runners should attempt the schedule. Most days offer two runs; if you're not ready for 14 runs a week, start out with seven, and add extra runs gradually over the months. If time doesn’t permit that, simply stay at seven runs, choosing the key session each day.

Here goes!

Week 1 – December 5 to 11:

Hard training:
Sunday: am - 2 hrs steady (70% max HR), pm 30 to 40 mins easy
Monday: am – 30-40 mins easy, 1 hr steady
Tuesday: am 30-40 mins easy, pm 1 hr fartlek – 12 to 15 efforts varying between 1 min and 5 mins
Wednesday: am 30-40 mins easy, pm 1 hr steady
Thursday: am 30-40 mins easy, pm 1 hr steady
Friday: am 30-40 mins easy, pm rest or 30 mins easy
Saturday: am 1 hr steady, pm 40 mins hill circuit (continuous run on 1km circuit with approx 500m shallow uphill, 500m downhill)

Mike’s elite training:
Sunday: am 22 miles steady, pm 6 miles easy
Monday: am 5 miles steady, pm 8 miles group fartlek
Tuesday: am 5 miles steady, pm 8 miles Canterbury loop with club (5:45 miling)
Wednesday: am 5 miles steady, pm 13 miles steady
Thursday: am 5 miles steady, pm 10 miles steady
Friday: am 5 miles steady, pm 5 miles steady
Saturday: 11 miles steady cross country, pm 6 miles easy

(There's more about Mike and some of his key answers from the original Hard Training threads here.)


  • I had pleasure in being handed Mike's 7- to 14- times a week schedule (link above) at Club La Santa in September, and having looked at various other marathon schedules, this is the one I'm going to be following.
  • I wish!!! but I will be following with interest and will try and adopt some of the ideas that come up!!
  • MG, can you explain the thinking behind the second run on a Sunday after the long run? Is this not the most crucial time for recovery? What benefits would it bring apart from more miles in the bank?
  • MG, would it be okay to do 30-40 easy x-training instead of the running on some days?
  • Wow Mike, I can see why you'd need to be very serious to follow the schedule. I will follow and adapt where necessary.

    I note in your elite schedule there is no easy/recovery running. How did you manage to keep the speeds up without any kind of rest?
  • Believe it or not BR, the second run on Sunday is a recovery run, at this level of training, and with sufficient background, active recovery is essential to get the miles in.....obviously this is deliberately set to the highest level of achiever and should be watered down depending on the individual background. Hopefully the schedule will give some structure to the training of people who dip into it.

    The schedules are not plucked out of the air, but in various forms have evolved from the training of a lot of good club runners in the golden mid-80's period where the target was to get close to, or under 2.20 for men and sub 2.50 for women - the depth was fantastic because a lot of good club runners were motivated to pile on the training. In my own Club Len Slater ran a couple of 2.21 marathons and was only ranked 6th in the club. He was a 51 min 10 mile runner and once a week ran 15 miles each way to/from work and did his long runs with the rest of us. Possibly in the climate now he might have only aspired to run a 2.30 as I think people rise to the standards set around them.

    I think there has been a bit of damping down of training schedules since then - rightly so with so many new people coming into the sport now, but it might be that it has reduced the ambitions of the commited runner. I hope this thread will lift the level a bit for those ready to move on in the sport.
  • Ditto. My old bones won't take twice-a-day running any more. That's why I do tri - I CAN manage to do two sports per day.

  • Jane, at this level training is very specific to the demands of the event, but it would be acceptable to substitute some sessions for gym work or even some bike work if the amount of running seems too much to handle. It hasn't been put in the elite schedule but I did regular weight training and circuit training on top of the running.

    Hilly, as with the answer to BR's question....to get to the quantity of miles required there is a lot of active rest. One of the things about achieving at the highest levels is the ability to absorb training, which depends on a combination of good conditioning and reasonable biomechanics and running efficiency. There are lots of very talented runners out there with better 10km speed than I had but didn't often convert to good marathon runners because they broke down physically from the demands of the training. As Sean mentioned in the intro I had already been 3rd in LM and bronze medallist in the Commonwealth Games the year before so I was ready to accept the training having had so much background conditioning going into it.

    It's worth noting that the Commonwealth Games were in the October and I had reached 140 mile weeks leading up to that, so by early November I was already comfortably handling this mileage.

    Nice to hear from you Susie.
  • Can't turn the clock back JJ and Ironwolf, but I hope the idea behind this motivates you to do just a bit more.
  • Thanks Mike. My coach does not like me doing doubles on a Sunday but that's because the last time I did them for a spell I teetered on the edge of injury and illness for a week.

    Your comments on the decline in standards are very interesting - you reckon that it is a vicious circle - the fewer decent runners, the lower the overall aspirations, thus even fewer 2:20 runners?

    Was the 140mpw at the time you were still teaching or were you a full time athlete by then? Did you gradually up the milege over the previous few years to the point you could manage 140?

  • I was still teaching, but I did it through the summer hols - which fell at just the right time for the CW games which were in Brisbane at the beginning of the Aussie summer. I did my first 100 mile week at 18 yrs of age, but became more consistant at 100mile plus only when I started to look at marathons - I guess when I was around 23 to 24 yrs old. In 82 I averaged 113 miles per week for 52 weeks of th year - max 140, minimum around 30 in the week after LM and CWG.
  • Mike, how did you feel when running that amount-tired, bone tired, hold your eyes open with matchsticks tired?:o)

    Do you think women can abzorb as much training as men?
  • It's not the only reason for the decline BR, but if you look at the targets people aim at they tend to be things time getting the championship start qualifiying times. I think the smaller base of senoir runners in clubs also contributes and the times required to win local road races. Runners in a strong club tend to get drawn along by being part of a good training group, and if you can win most 10kms in 30 to 31 mins, there is little incentive to try to run 28 mins - with the obvious knock on.

    I also think that that there has been a diminishing insentive to put in the hard work. In the old days of the British Board you would be rewarded by getting a trip abroad for doing well in the better UK road races, I got my first trip from finishing 2nd to Eamonn Martin in a ding dong battle in the Rochester 5 miles, we both got picked for a 10km road race in Barcelona. Most of those trips have now dried up because the races now recruit through the agents, so up and coming British runners have to join the queue for a trip behind all the Kenyans, North Africans, and a few Italians, Spanish and Portuguese runners. It's the way of the commercial world, so not sure what can be done about it.
  • I just didn't feel that tired Hilly, at least not that I can remember - my family may disagree of course.

    I think women can absorb more that men as they tend to be relatively speaking at the endurance side. I think that for most women it is the more powerful type speed training that is more difficult. I trained with Sarah Rowell (2nd in LM and ran 2.30 at LA Olympics) and she definitely did mote training than me. If we did hill circuits she would lap us men - she was slower on the up, but just kept going on the down, she had such a good aerobic capacity she seemed to not need a recovery.
  • I meant absorb!:o)

    I dislike speed work although I agree it's needed. It's my belief that one is more likely to suffer injury from fast running than doing lots of steady miles.
  • And I would agree with you.
  • Thanks Mike, I do go out and train twice a day on two days a week, but on one day I do an easy gym session (keeping HR low) and a steady run pm with a fast last mile. On the other day I do a steady run am and then take out a group of beginners pm and run max of 30 mins with walking breaks. I guess its okay to try to juggle the runs around a bit but any tips on what not to juggle about, ie what runs not to do back to back. At present I will stick to the one run per day for the rest of the week, but how do you fit in racing?
  • Hilly wrote

    " I dislike speed work although I agree it's needed. It's my belief that one is more likely to suffer injury from fast running than doing lots of steady miles."

    Are you by any chance related to the hilly who used to post on RW Forum who tried to run eyeballs out 3 times per week?:)
  • My twin and I have different ideas these days BR!:o)
  • Sean - it's a great idea to have the ability to interact with MG in the build up to FLM.

    Will you be printing his advice in the mag as well as one thing I think it has lacked in the last few years is anything below the sub 3hrs programme.

    Maybe this links to trying to raise standards as MG referred to earlier? If your wider readership can see what it takes to maximise your potential maybe some will take up the challenge and improve the standard of British distanc running.
  • A question I posed on Hilly's thread, how many runners, in actual numbers, do you think there are in Britain, now, running over 100 miles a week ? I'm a member of a long established club, that, I understand had a substantial group of guys running that sort of mileage in the 80s. Now there are only perhaps 3 or 4 of us that even run more than 60 mpw.
  • Partly in answer to my own question, partly in response to Mike's comment about the rewards of international competition for winning top races, my impression is that there are a lot more serious, ie training twice a day, triathletes around. Are the 70s.80s runners successors more turning to tiathlons because that is where they find a culture of harder training ? Or does the incentive of winning a British vest (even if in 5-yr age categories) give impetus to improve ? Could the standard of club marathon running be improved by sending teams of 3 or 4 of each age-group to compete in a European marathon against similar squads from other countries ? (Even if the athletes have to pay for it themselves, as happens in the triathlon world)

    (sorry to be diverging from the actual training thread; but already done a cross-country race, plus long warm up and down, and 5 ml run in afternoon, and its not time to go out tomorrow yet:-))
  • I'm reading this and drooling. Feeling real withdrawl symptoms from running but got to do what the doctor orders.

    BR - what do you think your average mileage will be in the build up to London?

    Mike - I agree with all you say about the declining standards in UK road races, but I'm not sure what the solution is. At 24 I think I was one of the very youngest at the AAAs start last year, and no one younger than me ran faster than my 2:33 last year. People who I came through the age groups with who are still in the sport don't seem to have moved onto the marathon.

    I know Bud worked hard last year to try and get together a squad, with the idea of getting some sub 2:20 times, and took a team to the Reims half marathon in the autumn I'm sure more representative trips like this are part of the answer.
  • Tigger's mate - or is it that your average kenyan / ethiopean doesn't have a bike - meaning that it is much easier to be at competitive at international level.

    I'd say there are probably less than 300 runners in the uk who regularly run 100 mile weeks, and the same number again who occasionally do, but average closer to the 80s. Just a wild guess though!
  • Mike - I plan to run as many miles as I can whilst doing what I need to do quality wise and staying illness and injury free. I'm one of your category who occasionally run 100 mile weeks (about 6 or 7 this year) and will average just under 80 for the year (including tapering and recovering from 2 marathons).

    Boy, I wish I'd started in my mid-20s.

    That's another question I'd like to ask here...

    How much difference is there between taking up running in your late 20s rather than your mid to late teens? Would it be the same difference between a 30 year old and a 40 year old?
  • I think provided you do the right things it's as much to do with how long you've been running as how old you are (within reason)

    I don't think Martin Rees or Keith Anderson would have run the times they did as vets if they had been at the top of the sport since their late teens. My bigger worry is that talented juniors never take the step up to the marathon until it's too late. The mentality at the moment for many seems to be to wait until the mid 30s before trying the marathon, which would be a real pity if this is your strongest natural event.

    Of course I'm not suggesting that Mo / Thommo should be made to run a marathon now, and they are doing well as very young seniors after success through the age groups.

    There just seem to be alot of guys in their mid 20s to early 30s who turn out a quick 10k - half marathon once a year, but may never try their best event until they are almost worn out from 20 years of hard training, and doing it as an after thought.
  • BR

    I certainly want to write up summaries of what Mike's saying on these threads, as we go along.

    We turned some of the early conversations with Mike on the thread about Tracey Morris into some fascinating Q&As about hard running.

    We'd also like to put together a 'lessons leant' article based on what Mike, Dawn, Hilly and Awww Spud have discovered over the last five months on the original Hard Training coaching threads - I just need to find a little time to coordinate it.

    All this will definitely appear here on the website; nothing is set in stone for the magazine...
  • Go on Sean - you know it makes sense - one less page of recipes and one more of MG's training advice:)

    MikeB - based on what you've said I wonder how John Mayock will fair in his marathon debut in April? He clocked 64:30 at GNR the day after racing the 1 mile race up there.
  • MikeB, aren't those guys who turn out a quick 10k once a year footballers, gym enthusiasts or the like, with loads of talent, but who can run fast over short distances on very little training ?
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