After considering goal-setting and a general approach to musical practice as similar to marathon training, it is helpful to look into specific workouts runners employ in training. A marathoner’s goal is fairly straight-forward: to train the body to run 26.2 miles, as fast as possible. For many, simply finishing the race is the main objective. Others will have more specific goals, such as: finish without walking, set a new personal record, or qualify for the Boston Marathon. While endurance is typically the key factor to consider, it would be a mistake to think that the training process is simply to run frequently, always at a similar pace, and increase the distance until the race. Rather, a training plan is much more nuanced and specific. In the same way that a more general view of a training plan shows cycles that include higher and lower intensity periods, each week itself contains different kinds of workouts.

Below are explanations of two of these workouts. The rest, as well as ideas for how musicians might similarly design their practice sessions, will follow in the next post.


The weekly long run may be the most critical element in training for a marathon, as it is targeted to build stamina. As with the cyclical nature of building the weekly mileage, the long run also fluctuates. Non-runners may not realize that in training, a runner may not run a single run that is more than 20 miles. This sets up a psychological challenge for a first time marathoner who passes the 20-mile mark and realizes that she has never completed a run greater than that distance. The weekly long run in training is not always 20 miles, either. A common training plan is 16 weeks long and will contain only three 20-mile long runs. Thus, the early stages of the training plan focus on building the weekly long run up to 20 miles. The first long runs may be as low as 8 or 10 miles, depending on the runner’s experience and current level of fitness. The long run will increase, but not in a linear fashion—every fourth or fifth week will have a shorter long run and overall weekly mileage, to allow the body to rest and recover. After completing the first 20-mile long run, the focus may shift to increasing speed, as well as the distance of the other weekly workouts to build up the weekly mileage. Speed workouts may also become more demanding during this phase.


Speed workouts obviously focus on getting the body accustomed to a faster pace. They are typically set a few days apart from the long run in order to allow the body to recover. If the long run is placed on Saturday or Sunday, the speed workout will be in the middle of the week, and typically will alternate with a tempo run week-to-week. Speed workouts are typically run on a track, and are timed repeats of 800m (1/2 mile) or 1600m (1 mile) distance. These timed repeats push the body to run near its fastest limits while also building endurance. Here is a sample speed workout: 4 x 1600m at 6:45 pace + 800m easy recovery between repeats + warm up and cool down = 8 miles overall. Throughout the training program, these workouts will demand a faster pace and additional repeats.