Renato Canova is an Italian coach of considerable fame. He worked with the Italian national team during the '90s and helped propel them to success on the world stage, and more recently, he has worked with elite Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. His training has propelled his athletes to become some of the most successful in the world, and athletes under Canova's guidance have won multiple medals at many international track and road running championships. Most recently, his athletes won four medals at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, which concluded a few weeks ago. Unlike many other coaches, Renato Canova's faith in his training methods is so strong that he willingly shares the training of his elite athletes with the general public. The main avenue through which he does so is the infamous LetsRun.com message boards. Typically, he will post a month or two's worth of training for one athlete, for example in this thread on the training of Moses Mosop before the Boston Marathon, where Mosop finished second (and ran the second-fastest marathon of all time). But after the 2011 World Championships, Renato Canova posted the schedules for the last month of training for all four of his track runners (as well as Abel Kirui, the marathoner who won the World Championship marathon). In the following post, we'll examine and discuss the training in the last month or so of Canova's track athletes. We'll take a look at Abel Kirui's marathon training at a future date.
The training schedules that follow were prepared by Renato Canova for Sylvia Kibet, Silas Kiplagat, Imane Merga, and Thomas Longosiwa, who all competed at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. Sylvia Kibet is a Kenyan with a 14:31 5k PR; she won a silver medal in the 5000m at the world championships. Silas Kiplagat of Kenya is one of the top 1500m runners in the world, with a PR of 3:29. He won a silver medal as well. Imane Merga is an Ethiopian with a 5k PR of 12:53 and a 10k PR of 26:48. He competed in both events at Daegu, winning a bronze medal in the 10k and finishing 3rd in the 5k, though he was later disqualified for stepping on the infield. Finally, Thomas Longosiwa is a Kenyan 5k runner with a PR of 12:51. In the 5000m final in Daegu, he was running comfortably in the lead pack with less than two laps to go, but was tripped by another runner and fell. He got up, worked his way back into the pack, but finished 7th (and was later moved up to 6th when Imane Merga was disqualified). Despite his fall, he finished less than four seconds behind the winner, and many believe he would have contended for a medal had he not fallen.
The training philosophy
I have written about Renato Canova's training philosophy in the past. You can read a 9-page pdf, titled Something New in Training, detailing the basic principles of his training program here. Theory is very nice, but it is good to see what the training schedules actually look like in real life. Further, when presented with the training schedule for only one athlete, it's hard to tell the reason for a particular workout. The schedule might be adapted to the preferences or situation of the athlete in question. But when you can examine schedules for multiple athletes all preparing for the same or similar events at the same competition, you really have the power to connect theory with practice.
A note on Renato Canova's math
Renato Canova computes many of the paces he prescribes based on percentages of an athlete's personal record. It's important to discuss how this is calculated, because it is not straightforward. For example, if we say "run at 90% of 5:00 mile pace," many people would divide 5:00 by 0.90 and get 5:33.3 minutes per mile. Renato, however, does his math differently. To him, deviations from PR pace are measured quite literally in per cent—parts of one hundredth of the original pace. So, when Renato says "90% of 5:00 pace," he means "10% slower than 5:00 pace." To compute this, you do the following:
5:00/100*10 + 5:00 = 5:30 pace
Below, I've posted both the original schedules and the schedules with the paces translated into relative percents of the athlete's personal record. In doing so, I have used Renato Canova's method for calculating percents. Keep this in mind if you want to do some math of your own. Here are two simple formulas that will aid you:
To calculate the resultant pace N by going P percent of race race (RP)
N = RP*(2-P/100)
As you can verify yourself, this formula works equally well if P is greater or less than 100 percent. For 110% of 5-minute mile pace, N = 5*(2-110/100) = 4.5 minutes per mile, or 4:30 mile pace. For 90% of 5k pace, N = 5*(2-90/100) = 5.5 minutes per mile or 5:30 mile pace.
To calculate what percentage P (faster or slower) than race pace (RP) some new pace N is, use this formula:
P = 100*(2-N/RP)
Some of you math wizards out there can probably show there's an easier and simpler way to do this, but math was never my best subject, but this is the simplest form I've found. I use these formulas because I know they are correct, i.e. my own calculations correspond to Renato Canova's calculations.
The Training Schedules
I have transcribed the daily workouts of all four athletes onto a one-page calendar for August 2011. I have one version with the original prescribed paces, and another with these paces expressed as percents of the athlete's PR, which will be useful if you want adopt or replicate any of the workouts.
Original training schedules for August 2011
Training schedules with paces as relative percents of 1500/5k/10k PR (11"x17" version—recommended)
Training schedules with paces as relative percents of 1500/5k/10k PR (8.5"x11" version—if you want to print them out but do not have access to a 11"x17" printer)
Renato's "Sample Schedule" for a hypothetical elite 10k runner
In the Google Docs viewer, click File>Download Original to access the original pdfs. The Google viewer is somewhat sloppy, so I recommend viewing/printing them from your pdf viewer directly.
You can view the original thread on LetsRun.com here:
Glossary of terms
You'll need to know these three terms to understand all of the workouts:
Regeneration—A term Renato Canova uses to indicate a very easy pace. The purpose of a regeneration run is not to build fitness, rather, it is to flush out the legs and recover before the next workout, so the speed is of little or no importance. Somtimes denoted reg. or regen. in the schedules.
Fartlek—Swedish for "speed play." A low-key workout that involves surging and recovering during a run. Usually the efforts prescribed for the surges are general terms like "fast" or "moderate" instead of specific paces.
Diagonals—A low-key workout popularized by Kenyans. It involves running the diagonal between corners on a soccer field quickly, and jogging along the goal line to the other corner. This is repeated either for a number of diagonals or for a specified length of time.
Things to keep in mind, and a refresher on principles
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when viewing these schedules. First, these are some of the best athletes in the world. Even when translated into relative paces, they will be able to handle higher workout volumes than most runners. So whereas a 16km (10mi) run at 88% of 5k pace might be right for Imane Merga, a less-experienced runner might consider shortening the distance covered. Furthermore, if you haven't read my article on Canova's training principles, you need to know that a major tenet of his philosophy is extension of specific training speeds. It's quite likely that Merga started out doing perhaps 10 or 12 km at 88% of 5k pace during the summer and extended it to 16km or more in the months prior. You ought to do the same. In the sample schedule, Canova recommends an elite 10k runner work towards being able to run 85% of his 10k PR for up to thirty kilometers. Imane Merga is an experienced athlete, so it's likely that he has gone much further than 16km at 3:00/km in training.
Second, you shouldn't read too far into any one workout, distance, or time. I noted at least two typos in Renato's original posts (one which reported that Sylvia Kibet's workout was 8 kilometers in 39:20, which hardly seems becoming of a 14:30 5k runner). I've noted these on the schedules, but as you know, it's very easy for one slip of the finger to cause major confusion. 9, after all, is just above 6 on the number pad, and 6km at 75% of 1500m pace is very different than 9km at the same pace...In addition to Canova's typos, I'm sure I've made a few mistakes myself. I've done my best to check over the schedules, but nobody's perfect. So don't make too much out of one day, distance, or number! The issue of altitude might initially seem like a problem, as the Kenyans and Ethiopians live and train at 6000 feet or more above sea level. But keep in mind that they were born and raised there, so they can run much closer to their sea-level best at altitude. Silas Kilagat, for example, ran a 3:31 1500m at altitude to win the Kenyan Championships in July. So for a sea level resident training at sea level, there shouldn't be too much of an adjustment compared to an altitude resident training at altitude.
Third, don't sweat the details. Canova is often exasperated when LetsRun posters barrages him with questions about very minor details of little real importance—what pace exactly constitutes "moderate," whether his athletes walk during their recovery, what type of exercises his runners do before workouts, etc. All while failing to grasp the underlying principles! While I might nit-pick about seemingly minor details here, I'm trying to divine the logic behind the workouts—to connect theory and practice.
Finally, take my interpretations with a grain of salt. The schedules above are faithful reproductions of Canova's posts, but my interpretation below is only my own. I don't claim to speak for Canova or anyone else. Realize that any sort of scholarly examination of a topic necessarily involves putting it into perspective. In my article on Caova's training, I was pilloried for comparing Canova's various paces to Jack Daniels'. Many people thought I was attempting to say that "Canova's training is the same thing as Daniels'," when really, I was putting Canova into perspective for a Western athlete by contrasting it with a few specific aspects of Daniels' training philosophy (namely, that it is physiologically expedient to run at certain paces in certain ways, and that the aerobic and anaerobic thresholds can be predicted from race times).
Observations and analysis
Disregarding specific workouts for a moment, what are the components that make up Canova's schedules in the last month of training? A quick glance at the schedules reveals the main points: Frequent doubles, moderate distances and efforts on non-workout days, and fairly spaced-out hard days. Clearly, while consistency in training is important (hence frequent doubles), Canova considers workout quality the most important aspect of this phase of training.
Even a cursory examination of the schedules shows some obvious differences between Canova's training and a "traditional" schedule for a Western athlete. What's a traditional schedule look like? Usually they are based on 7 or 14-day "cycles," where the same workouts or types of workouts recur frequently (and on the same day of the week). Virtually every college or high school runner has had a two-week block that looks something like this:
M— 4-8 miles hard ("tempo run")
T — easy run
W — long repeats (1mi, for example) at race pace with long recovery
T — easy run
F — hill workout or easy run
S — long run
S — easy run
M — long repeats with short recovery (threshold-type workout)
T — easy run
W — short repeats with short recovery (ex 10x400m)
T — easy run
F — easy run/pre-meet
S — race
S — long run
And usually, this pattern repeats itself 5-6 times over the duration of a season. While predictable, it is also seen as tried-and-true.
Canova's program is anything but predictable. In the one-month block we see here, no athlete ever does the same workout twice. The workouts are constantly evolving, so even though a type of workout might occur twice (cut-down repeats, for example), the next session is longer, faster, or more varied than the previous. It's unfortunate we don't have several months' worth of training; if we did, we could see exactly how these workouts evolve over time.
These schedules also reveal that Canova's athletes are much more conscious about recovering from their workouts. In this final month before the World Championships, none of the athletes ever run longer than 70 minutes in a single run (barring one or two workouts, which may take longer including warm-up and cool-down). While a 60min easy run in the morning and another in the afternoon might not seem like a "recovery" day, keep in mind that these are elite athletes—if Imane Merga was doing 30km at 4:50 mile pace earlier in the summer, an hour's worth of running at an easy pace isn't going to significantly tax his body. More importantly though, Canova's athletes never take less than two days of easy to moderate running between workouts (the one occasion on which some of them do is the day before they leave for Daegu, so they were presumably unable to take the customary two days between). The reason Canova opposes "symmetric" training schedules with the same workouts on the same days is that it forces athletes to curtail their workout intensity or their recovery between workouts. So, on the "classic" college schedule I outlined above, you could NEVER do a workout that required more than one day's time to recover, because if you did, you'd never have a chance to recover from it! In fact, after the "special block" during the middle of the month, which involves two challenging workouts in the same day, Canova's athletes took two very easy days prior and took four days of easy to moderate running to recover afterward before their next track session. If you've read Something New in Training, you know that Renato Canova is a big believer in modulation: varying the intensity of workouts to challenge the body with different stimuli. Accordingly, as athletes become stronger, they need higher-intensity workouts, but this must be paired with greater recovery. In his posts, Canova recounts how Abel Kirui ran 40km at 3:15/km pace at altitude on a hilly, muddy road during his preparation for the World Championships marathon. After this, he took a full week of recovery before his next workout!
Moving on to the workouts, by comparing the four schedules, you can see that they are all quite similar (though there are some important differences, which are detailed below). Out of the 7-9 workout days, most or all of the schedules contain the following:
- 2 long cut-down style interval workouts with long recovery
All four runners do some variant of this workout. The two 5k-only runners do precisely the same workout; the 1500m runner (Kiplagat) does LESS total volume (swapping the 3k for a 2k and the 2k for a 1600) but at the SAME absolute and relative intensities (assuming a 3:29 runner can come close to 12:5x for 5k) for all the repeats: 65sec quarters for the 2k, 60sec for the first set of 400s, and 57 for the last set. The 10k runner (Merga) does MORE volume—both per repeat and overall—at a slightly LOWER intensity. While Longosiwa and Kibet (the 5k runners) do the 3k at 92.5-94% of 5k, the 2k at 94.5-98%, and the two sets of 400s at 103-104% and 107.5-109.5%, respectively, Merga instead does two 3ks and two 2ks, at 90% and 92.5% of his 5k PR, respectively, followed by eight 500s at 101.5% of 5k. Interestingly, when compared to percentages of Merga's 10km PR, the percents match up quite nicely: 94% for the 3k, 97% for the 2k, and 105.5% for the 500s. Why doesn't Kiplagat run at 95% of 1500m race pace for his long repeats? Well, it simply isn't possible!
We'll see this pattern repeat itself again: for some workouts workouts, Merga's pace is the same relative percent of race pace, but in his case it's 10k pace, not 5k pace. He compensates for this by doing more total volume. Kiplagat also usually follows this trend, but in his case, he often must adjust either by doing less total volume or backing the intensity off somewhat, simply because the 1500m is a high-speed event and Canova reports that Kiplagat is more of a "strength" 1500m runner than a "speed" runner. In fact, he says that Kiplagat can't run any faster than 48.8 or 49.0 for the 400m flat-out! If this is indeed the case, 115% of race pace would be practically an all-out sprint, so this might be why some of the short, fast repeats (as we'll see in the next bullet point) are not at as high of a relative intensity.
- 2 (3 for 1500m) short high-speed cut-down style interval workouts
Again, all four runners do this exact workout early on in the month. The only difference is that Merga does one more set with slightly less recovery, and Kiplagat and Merga (1500m and 10km) match the absolute pace, not the relative intensity—presumably, they are both 12:5x caliber 5000m runners. In the second outing, the 5k and 10k runners interrupt the fast repeats with a long repeat at 97.5-101% of race pace (1500m or 3000m) in the middle of the workout. Kiplagat's second outing involves four sets of 300m repeats at progressively faster speeds. Kiplagat also does a third workout of short, fast repeats, though it's much more familiar: 10x400m at 101-101.5% of 1500m race pace with 90 seconds recovery. This is a staple session for milers all across the country, though it's interesting to note that Kiplagat does his repeats about 1% faster than PR pace and takes 90 seconds recovery instead of the customary 60 seconds. Taking more recovery probably allows him to run all of his repeats slightly faster than race pace, effectively "practicing" setting a PR.
These workouts seem focused on building the athlete's ability to accelerate off of race pace. Each workout involves simulating the final mile or two of a distance race multiple times: each set begins with a longer repeat close to race pace, and each successive repeat gets shorter and faster, until the last 200m is at championship-race closing speed (27-28sec for the men). The total volume in these workouts is fairly high for the 5k/10k runners: 8-10km for the first, and 6500-9600m for the second (interrupted) workout. The relatively long recovery, both between repeats and between sets, makes me think that Canova is not so much interested in practicing running fast while tired, but rather sees accelerating near the end of a race as a skill that needs to be repeated multiple times (while relatively fresh) to perfect. If the point was to run fast while tired, why not do just one set of "step-down" repeats, as was the case in the long moderate-speed interval workouts discussed above? And why not take less recovery? I don't doubt that Canova's runners would be able to do these workouts without as much recovery.
In fact, long recovery is an aspect of Canova's training that will come up over and over. Indeed, the second long cut-down style interval workout done by his runners is a variant of 2km + 1600m + 1200m + 800m + 400m, each progressively faster, but with six minutes of recovery time between the repeats. It would seem that running each repeat at the proper (high) speed is of the utmost importance in Canova's workouts. Recovery is usually generous. Again, because we can't see how training progressed over the last few months, we can't say for sure whether Canova's athletes always take long recovery between repeats. But during the last month of training before a championship race, they certainly do.
- 1 special block consisting of a) a fast, continuous run and b) a short to medium-length interval workout
Silas Kiplagat, the 1500m runner, does not do a one-day special block like the other athletes. However, he does have two days of consecutive workouts, and the workouts on each individual day mirror the morning and evening workouts of the other three runners' special blocks. Whether this is standard practice for 1500m runners or an individual exception, I'm not sure. Possibly because he has 24 hours between the workouts, Kiplagat only takes two days of recovery before his next workout.
In general, Canova's special blocks stress different system in the morning and afternoon workout. The first workout for all of the athletes is 20-40min of moderate running plus a 6-10 km fast continuous run. I'm tempted to call this a "tempo run," but that comes with a host of connotations, the meanings of which are dependent on whom you talk to. For the physiology fans, Jack Daniels (whose conversion factors I trust more than any others I've seen) says that the aerobic threshold (or "marathon pace" in his own words) is about 86% of 5k pace and the anaerobic threshold is about 92% of 5k pace. Remember, this is Canova percent, so you cannot just divide 5k pace by 0.92. But anyways, the speed of the fast continuous run falls close to or just under the anaerobic threshold. The fast continuous run, however, is done on trails through the forest, after 30-40min of moderate-paced running. So it's a good strong effort, not a half-hearted tempo run. The effort may in fact exceed the anaerobic threshold by a small amount.
The second workout is more varied, depending on the athlete. My best guess to the logic behind this is that it is tailored to the particular strengths or needs of the athlete. Sylvia Kibet (5k) does 10x300m very fast (112% of 5k) with 4min of recovery, while Longosiwa (5k) does 10x600m not quite as fast (102.5-104.5%) with less recovery (3min). Kiplagat's (1500m) second day alternates between 1200s at 90% of 1500m pace and 300s at 107% of race pace. Finally, Merga (5k/10k) does 10x1000m at 97.5-99.5% of 10k pace. So perhaps Sylvia Kibet needed more speed development, Merga more endurance, and the other two somewhere in the middle. Or perhaps Kibet is a speed-oriented 5k runner whose strength is her speed, and Merga is a strength-oriented 10k runner whose strength is his endurance. I don't have the answers on this one.
- 1 fast continuous run of 6-16 km
The fast continuous workout day appears to be fairly similar to the fast continuous run that was part of the special block, discussed above. The male 5k athletes both run 10-16km at 83.5% of 5k. Kiplagat (1500m) "absorbs" this workout into his two-day special block (see above). Sylvia Kibet seems to run at only 74% of 5k, but this is a day on which Canova made a typo, so I'm not comfortable drawing any conclusions from my "interpolation" of 8k in 29:20.
- 1 interval workout which alternates between short/fast and long/moderate repeats
This is the last workout the athletes do before they fly to Daegu. Merga misses this workout, likely because the Ethiopian national team appears to have left three days earlier than the Kenyan national team. More than anything else in the final month of training, this highlights how Canova prepares his athletes to race, not just run a fast time. Anyone who's watched an Olympic or World Championship final knows that the pace can be erratic, jumping from practically jogging to 60-second quarters at the drop of a hat. Additionally, placing in the top three requires the ability to launch into an explosive kick with 400 or 300m to go. Elite men's fields typically close in 51-53 seconds, and women close in under 60 seconds. So Canova's athletes all practice being able to switch gears very rapidly. If they were preparing for an evenly-paced race, like an attempt at a personal record, would their final workout be evenly-paced? I'm not sure.
- 10x200m fast 3-4 days out from the first race
The remarkable thing about the schedules after the athletes depart for Daegu isn't this final workout, which is a fairly standard "final workout" before a big race. It's that they are fairly carefree about what goes on in the final week or two before the big race. Canova commented later that he never schedules days off for his athletes, because often issues come up that require athletes to take a day off anyways: they get sick, or have to travel to the capital for a passport, or they have to take the multi-day trip to Daegu, first from their hometown to Nairobi, then from Nairobi to South Korea. And then they have to travel to the athletes' village, move in, etc. There's no interval workouts in the airport walkways or calisthenics on the 12-hour flight to South Korea. The trip is a reality of life, and the athletes aren't going to be able to run that day. So they don't! I remember reading somewhere about how Americans are often neurotic about getting their run in, even while travelling (I'm certainly guilty of this). When they arrive at the hotel after a long flight when traveling to a race, they immediately need to go out for a "shake-out jog" to loosen their legs up. The Kenyans just go to bed.
This attitude about the final week or so of training echos some words of wisdom I heard from my college coach: "There's nothing you can do in the last week to run any better, but there's a whole lot you can do to run worse." Seems like Canova would agree. He'd rather they miss a few workouts than try to sneak them in after a tiring multi-day flight, plus jet lag.
The hypothetical 10k schedule: differences and similarities
Canova also posted a hypothetical training schedule for an elite 10k runner after being asked why he doesn't use "classic" workout cycles of 7 or 14 days. I've reproduced this schedule in calendar format too. Canova didn't specify where during the overall training cycle this roughly one-month period would occur, but seeing as the workouts are longer and less race-specific, in all likelihood it would be 2-4 months before the "big race." Out of the seven workout days on the hypothetical schedule, four are some variant of the fast continuous run: either short and fast (6-8km "very fast," probably at 95-100% of 10k pace), medium distance and pace (10-15km at 90-95%) or long and moderate (30km at 80-85%). The other three sessions are comprised of one long interval session (1-3km per repeat at 95-98%) and two short to medium-length interval workouts (400-1000m) at 100-105%. The volume of all of the workouts is also significantly higher than the workouts we saw in the final month of training, but there is a distinct lack of any substantial running faster than 105% of 10k pace (barely faster than 5k pace!). The short uphill sprints every two weeks or so likely are a precursor to the short fast repeats at 105-115% of 5k pace that we see during the last month of training.
So what does this hypothetical schedule add to what we know? It's a fairly safe bet that the distribution of speed (105-115%), speed-endurance (95-105%) and endurance (85-95%) workouts shifts from being endurance-oriented several months out to a more even-handed balance in the last month, as the athlete will have to draw on all of these aspects of training in his or her race. Exactly how this distribution shifts can't be answered using only these schedules.
Overall patterns and conclusion
If we zoom out from examining the individual workouts and focus on the global picture of how workouts come together in the final month before a championship, we can identify a few overall trends. This is the important stuff. Running nerds like me get excited about specific workouts, distances, paces, and times, but if you're just looking to take away some wisdom about the last month of training before a championship race, here's what you need to know:
- The principles behind these schedules allow them to be used by runners from 1500m up to 10000m with only small changes.
- Athletes always practice accelerating and changing speeds throughout their interval workouts
- The schedule contains a fairly even mix of longer repeats and continuous runs to build endurance at 85-95% of race pace, medium repeats to build specific "speed endurance" at 95-105% of race pace, and short repeats to build speed at 105-115% of race pace.
- These are often combined into "cut down" style workouts which begin with longer repeats at moderate paces and progress to shorter repeats at successively faster speeds.
- Recovery during workouts is usually generous, as is recovery between workout days
- High intensity workout days like the "special block" require an athlete to be well-rested before and to recover very well after.
- If the "normal" schedule is based off 5k training, a 1500m runner modifies it by doing more short/fast repeats with medium to long recovery and less fast continuous runs; a 10k runner modifies it by doing longer and slower repeats with more total volume at the same intensity relative to 10k pace instead of 5k pace.
- The final workout before the first championship race is always fast, relaxed 200s.
- Athletes "roll with the punches" of travel, long flights, and time-zone changes and don't fret if they have to miss a day of running or change some details about their training program.
So, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with my interpretations? Did I miss anything?