Preview: Joe’s Team

(from the introduction) It's instructive what you can hear while running when you aren't too busy talking and don't have recorded music or news talk plugged into your ears. Here's what I heard one morning:

Two runners came up behind me. One did most of the talking, his volume growing as the gap between us shrunk. The first words I caught were "new marathon training program". Then "only run long every other week". And louder, "They only go over 20 miles once, peaking at 21".

The men passed me with a small wave from one and a nod from the other. They didn't know me, or that I'd overheard them. The gap between us grew again. The last words I heard were, "not enough training".

Says who? Themselves, from their marathon experiences? Another writer whose schedules they've read? They weren't reading my writing. And their experience didn't match mine.

They were talking down a training program being adopted for the first time locally. That was my schedule, written for a marathon training team that I was coaching that winter of 2005. The runners whose critique I heard were right in their description. But they were wrong, I had to think, in their conclusion.

Yes, the long runs would come every other weekend, going up by two-mile steps from 11 onward. (This came after an first month when runners built by one weekly mile from seven to 10, testing if they could or wanted to continue.) Yes, the distance would peak at 21 miles, the only training run above 20. And yes, these runs would be long enough for most runners. (The most common cause of breakdowns in training that I'd seen was too many too-long runs with too little recovery between.)

These ideas weren't wild guesses at what might work in marathon training. I didn't make any of this up lately just to attract shortcut-seekers. This type of training already had a long history, starting with my own entry into marathoning in 1967.

Ten years later, readers first saw an early version of this program in a Runner's World article of mine. The latest incarnations of the schedule appeared in two editions of my the book Marathon Training, published initially in 1997 and revised in 2003. The text changed, that is, but not the training plan, which had long since passed the testing of time.

I heard from very few of the books. readers, which wasn't a bad sign. You know how we runners are: we don't quietly swallow our disappointments. Anyone who felt led far astray by Marathon Training, version I or II, would have let me know quickly and vociferously. Yet these complaints were rare.

The books silently answered the early-morning talkers who'd concluded "not enough". A better rebuttal would come in June 2005 at Newport, Oregon, when my first team reached its graduation day. This was a small group, numbering just 16. All finished, most for the first time.

None of the teams since then has grown beyond a few dozen. In fact, I now limit team size to 40 so I'll know each runner by name, face and life story . and so they'll all know that I'll care for and about them as if they were family members. That could never happen when I wrote articles and books for far larger but largely anonymous audiences.

We originally named this group Joe Henderson's Marathon Team. The runners themselves soon abbreviated it to Joe's Team, which was a better fit. It focused less on me because the coach could have been any old Joe, and also because the team included half-marathoners from the start.

Our numbers per team remain small, but they add up. I write here from the ninth year of this marathon coaching. The completed rounds of training (of four months each) now total 19. The finishes (including multiples by some runners) now top 500 and the finish rate is 99 percent.

The program works. This book outlines how it developed, how it has played out for our team hundreds of times over and how it might take you where you want to go as a marathoner.