From our basic understanding, most marathon training plans play with 2 parameters to get you in to the optimum shape for the big day: length and pace. There is so much knowledge about “flat” marathons that you’re almost guaranteed to achieve whichever time objective you aim for by following the corresponding training schedule. We have found the My Asics site to be good for this, but there are many options out there.
In hill runs another parameter comes into play: elevation. And we found no standard plan that would allow us to achieve any specific target. We also found it much harder (actually impossible) to play with the “pace” parameter in our training. It probably would have made sense to try and introduce it but, in all honesty, the pace was always set to “as fast as we can do it”. Dealing with length and elevation was sufficient.
We stole the length progression from a conventional marathon training plan and tried to have climb in most (those not specified as recovery) of our runs with an average elevation rate that would be close to that of the marathon. For the Glencoe marathon, based on a distance of 42.2 km and an elevation of 1200 m (on strava referential - see note on measuring elevation below) the average incline was 5.7%.
14 week training plan
The training plan we ended up following got us to run 470 km, climb a total of 9750 m, resulting in an average incline of 4.2%. Despite the lack of scientific evidence for it, we wanted to share our plan as we feel that if you can follow it you should end up doing the same time as us. Also, again with no evidence for it, if you had a target which is 10% faster or slower, it may be that aiming for a pace which is 10% faster or slower for each individual run in the plan will get you to the right point. Click here or on the picture to download.
Some analysis on pace vs incline
To finish this page with a bit of analysis… Most of the runs were around 10 and 15 km long and there was sufficient data about these to plot this graph showing our average pace (min / km) vs average climb rate (%). You can see that for shorter runs (~10 kms), we managed to keep a pace around 5 min / km almost regardless of the climb rate. However as soon as the run become longer, there is a much greater reduction of pace with increasing climb rate.
Note on measuring elevation
We noticed throughout our training that various apps and online route planners consistently reported different elevation values. Taking the example of the reccie run, strava reported 545 m while endomondo reported 750 m. For the marathon itself, Strava reported 1190 m while the organisers, who must be using another tool, mention 1600 m. Our training plan is based on the Strava measured elevation.
From what we could ascertain, this difference between devices arises from the different algorithms that the software uses to determine whether a change in elevation should be counted. For example, runkeeper uses the change in elevation at every pointed measured, which for a phone sample rate of 1Hz, is a position every one second. However, Strava only records a change in elevation if the change has occurred over a 10 m distance, this has the benefit of smoothing out elevation changes and removing spurious measurements that can occur if one gps point is significantly off track and suddenly records you as falling off a cliff, before the next point corrects this and puts you back on a path. Therefore, we believe that Strava probably underestimates the actual elevation but other devices may overestimate the elevation significantly as a result of spurious point being counted. Thus, in order to err on the side of caution, we stuck to the Strava elevation and accepted the consistent underestimation.