For 45 weeks a year, Geoffrey Mutai devotes himself to marathon training in the high-altitude hills of Kapng’etuny, Kenya. He runs 110-125 miles per week with speed workouts conducted at 4:50-mile pace. He coaches himself and leads a group of elite Kenyans who provide daily competition. He spends long stretches away from his family home in Eldoret, Kenya.
It is a simple, disciplined life where in which Mutai focuses on maintaining his status as the world’s fastest marathoner, where he dreams of more success in the Boston Marathon during punishing long runs.
Imagine running almost 25 miles on hilly terrain at an altitude of 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) at a pace that drops quickly from 7:15-minute miles to 5:35-minute miles. This is a typical Thursday during the most intense weeks of Mutai’s training cycle. Every Thursday, he gets up around 4 a.m., eats a light breakfast and begins his long run around dawn. Mutai said the routine ‘’is like the day of a race.’’ The early start is necessary because of the sun’s intensity at such high altitude.
During long runs that build to a peak of 25 miles, a truck shadows Mutai and the other elite runners along the dirt roads of Kapng’etuny, distributing fluids and picking up runners who don’t go the whole distance.
‘’We start to run at 5:30 a.m.,’’ said Mutai. ‘’Where we run is very hilly, up and down, up and down. We don’t really do a hill workout. Most of the time it’s hilly, even where we do speed work. Once I finish the long run, I know the hard part of the week is done.’’
Still, Mutai also runs two tough speed workouts each week.
Tuesday afternoons include a session with 1 kilometer intervals repeatedly run at a 4:50-mile pace, slightly slower than the 4:42-mile pace Mutai ran last year in Boston. Between each fast kilometer, there is one minute of relatively slow recovery running.
‘’That program is so hard,’’ said Mutai. ‘’That’s the toughest. Sometimes we are tired, but we must finish the program.’’
Mutai also runs a speed workout on Saturday with shorter, two-minute repeats at roughly the same pace. While other elite runners might do one interval speed workout on the roads or dirt trails and one track workout per week, there is no track where Mutai trains.
When not running fast-paced long runs or speed workouts, Mutai takes it slow and easy, at least that’s how he sees two-hour runs at roughly an 8-minute mile pace. Monday, Wednesday and Friday feature morning and afternoon workouts that basically serve as medium-length recovery runs. The idea is to make sure his legs are primed and ready to go hard on the days when the schedule calls for it. He also complements his training with stretching and core strengthening.
When asked his favorite day of the week, Mutai doesn’t hesitate to name Saturday. But that is because he travels 40 miles to his family in Eldoret. He takes off Sunday and attends church with his family, then returns to Kapng’entuny in the evening.
‘’That’s the part where I am happy to finish a good week,’’ said Mutai. ‘’I finish and I go home.’’
One Week in the Training Life of Geoffrey Mutai
a.m. 2 hour easy run (5-4 minutes/kilometer pace/8-6:30 minutes per mile)
p.m. 1 hour easy run (5-4 minutes/kilometer pace/8-6:30 minutes per mile)
a.m. 50 minute run (5 minutes/kilometer/8 minutes per mile)
p.m. Speed workout: 30 minute warm up; 12x 1 kilometer intervals at (3 minutes/kilometer/4:50 mile pace) with 1 minute recovery run in between repeated kilometers; 30 minute cool down
a.m. 1 hour 50 minute easy run (5 minutes/kilometer pace/8 minutes per mile)
p.m. 2 hour easy run (5 minutes/kilometer pace/8 minute mile)
40 kilometer (25 mile) long run (starts at 4:30 minutes/kilometer pace/7:15 minute mile and decreases to 3:30 minutes/kilometer pace/5:35 minute miles)
a.m. 1 hour 50 minute easy run (5 minutes/kilometer pace/8 minute miles)
p.m. 2 hour easy run (5 minutes/kilometer pace/8 minute miles)
Speed workout: 30 minute warm up; 20 x 2 minute intervals at (3-3:30 minutes/kilometer/5 minute miles) with 1 minute recovery in between; 30 minute cool down